The Kiss Hiatus

John Robert Brown

You've just enjoyed a wonderful concert performance of, say, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, given by a young attractive violinist. The final notes sound. Thunderous applause breaks out. Bows are taken. The orchestra members stand to acknowledge the clapping. Handshakes are exchanged between all the protagonists. The applause continues. Someone from the concert administration staff steps forward with flowers for the fair fiddler.

Observe carefully. The soloist accepts the proffered bouquet. If the presenter is of the opposite sex, it's likely that air kisses will be exchanged, or lips may well brush a cheek. These days there may even be what is known as a 'full-on', a real smacker. This is the precise moment when the kiss hiatus occurs. At the instant when the two heads move together, there will be a slight but perceptible hesitation in the barrage of applause.

Don't take my word for this. Observe. Maybe the salvo subtly sags for merely a second, but it's unmistakeable. As the kiss is given, the applause skips a beat. This is the kiss hiatus.

I first noticed this curiosity of interpersonal behaviour many years ago. In the circumstances I've described, it happens without fail. There's no evidence to suggest that this is a modern phenomenon but, equally, I've never seen or heard the kiss hiatus discussed by that or any other name. This could be its first recorded observation. Now I've described it, you'll realise that you too have witnessed this weird little fragment of collective uncertainty. Like me, you'll begin to wonder why the kiss hiatus has previously gone unnoticed in classical music circles.

A thousand questions come to mind. Indeed, there's enough material here to keep a whole university department of sociology research students in subject matter for several academic papers. Why do the applauding concert-goers hesitate? Is the phenomenon restricted to classical music audiences? Is there an observable difference between the behaviour of an early music audience and a Contemporary Music Network audience, or a Country and Western audience? What of jazz audiences? As the bestowing of bouquets isn't normally part of their fun, we'll never know. Unfortunately, the same applies to events such as weight lifting, heavy metal concerts and drag racing. No bouquets, and hence no puckering up, no kiss hiatus. Pity.

Do classical music audiences in other countries suffer from the same inhibition? Kissing doesn't translate exactly into every language and every religion. Would an Eskimo audience pause when nose rubbing commences? As people do not kiss or shake hands publicly in Japan, does a Japanese audience make an equivalent cessation - a bow hiatus, I guess - when the deep bending begins during what they refer to as crapping?

The kiss hiatus is probably triggered by embarrassment or curiosity. Is it the mere fact of kissing at a musical event that disconcerts the audience? After all, we are here to listen to Tchaikovsky's romantic music, not watch the unromantic kissing of strangers. Or is there more to this? Are we stopping our applause the better to concentrate on what other transaction takes place - a few words exchanged, or a handshake, maybe? Or - more likely - are we concerned that something will go wrong?

Will the couple opt for brushes of the cheek and accidentally bump heads, not knowing which cheek to select first? The dilemma may be whether to do one cheek, English style, or both cheeks, Continental style. If lips are to engage, maybe they won't know which side to place their noses? We could witness banging of teeth, too much tongue or trawling for tonsils. How will the delicate violin and bow be protected? What to do with hot hands? What happens to the bunch of flowers? One party may have a moustache, lizard lips, a tooth brace, loose dentures, a tongue stud, poor saliva control, five o'clock shadow or halitosis - not all at the same time (I hope), but anything on that list would be a daunting prospect for a first-timer. These are the occupational hazards of the international soloist, not usually addressed by a conservatory education, but well worth considering for inclusion in the syllabus when academic planners are seeking to make teaching provision look more generous by increasing staff/student contact time.

Scientists have to ensure that the act of observation doesn't interfere with the results of the research. Similarly, the worry I have now is that the act of sharing this observation with you will have an inhibiting effect on the behaviour described. My description may be the beginning of the end, the eradication of the kiss hiatus. Determined not to be fazed by a petty public pucker, there will be bold concert-goers who will henceforth clap unrelentingly through any onstage mwa mwa. And the bestowers of bouquets may subsequently be carefully selected for good oral hygiene, deportment and kissing skills.

If that happened, it would be a pity. One more mysterious bit of interesting human behaviour will have been ironed out and eliminated.

So, let's keep this between ourselves.

First published in Clarinet and Saxophone magazine, Spring 2002.
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