Unbelieveably, there is an article not published on the web, so it falls on me to disseminate this article by the noted pianist Arthur Loesser on that scourge that is coughing in a concert hall. As I was unable to find this anywhere on the web I typed this article from my copy of the book Not Responsible for Lost Articles by Klaus George Roy, in which this appears. No copyright infringement intended.
"Coughing" (January, 1975)
by Arthur Loesser
This article is from Musical Etiquette, a series of short essays published by [now defunct] The Cleveland Press, 1947
COUGHING at public music events is a social error of the first magnitude, a veritable menace. To befoul the delicate web of a musical composition with an irrelevant mess of excretory explosions is to grossly affront all sensitive musical souls. Let no one think that his own little coughing noise is so slight as to be negligible. His bad example will corrupt the restraints of dozens of other people; presently an annoying, repulsive barrage will fill the room and a beautiful nocturne or love song will be converted into a pockmarked torso.
Only one apology has ever been offered for this misbehavior. It is that minor respiratory infections are widespread during certain seasons of the year. With all the colds and catarrhs about, the coughing is inevitable, we are sometimes told.
It is a poor excuse. A person suffering from an absolutely uncontrollable throat irritation ought not to go out in public at all. If the coughing impulse is suppressible, the concert hall is the proper place to suppress it. Normal civilized human beings are expected to inhibit all such urges to the last stage of physical discomfort rather than offend their immediate neighbors. A willingness to cough into music is a mark of disrespect for it and for those who want to listen to it attentively.
However, all this is not entirely to the point. The fact is that most of the petty coughing that bepimples our concerts and operas has no bodily cause at all. It is a reaction to mental, not physical distress. People tend to clear their throats nervously when they are compelled to sit still without having their attention sufficiently engaged. The coughing always increases when the music is long drawn out or difficult of comprehension. But that makes it all the easier to inhibit.
It can be pointed out in this connection that performers themselves almost never cough. A hundred orchestra musicians will go through a sniffly winter and spring, playing several concerts a week, without ever shooting off their throats while working. They are too busy.