Sunday, November 25, 2007

How to Tie a Half-Windsor Knot

Note to self: For future reference, this is how you tie a half-Windsor knot in your tie (click to enbiggen):

For years, I've been tying a shabby and lopsided four-in-hand knot in my tie. Why did I never learn to tie my tie properly? Perhaps because I seldom wear a tie. I can tie a square knot and a bowline and a sheet bend and, for tying the boat to the dock, a clove hitch—but I never mastered the basic half-Windsor around my neck. So last night, as I was dressing to go to the Minnesota Orchestra, I used my internet searching skills to rectify the situation. Google: "how to tie a tie." Welcome to all of my fellow sartorially-challenged people who have come to this blog after running a similar search.

The concert was preceded by an elegant dinner at Manhattans on LaSalle (next to the State Theater box office). I had pan-seared sea scallops. Scallops are one of those things that I love so much that I restrain myself from having them too often. Certain things need to be reserved for special occasions, or their specialness is diminished. For me, that list includes scallops and Brahms' Clarinet Quintet. There was nothing like that on the orchestra program last night, but there were some favorites: the Bach double violin concerto, the Schumann Conzertstuck for four horns, and the Mendelssohn Fourth Symphony ("Italian"), all conducted by Gilbert Varga, with soloists from the orchestra. Clara played the Bach double when she was in high school, and I—well, I played the French horn, but never like the four Minnesota Orchestra horn players played last night.

I've been going to classical music concerts since I was in my single digits. I was conditioned at a young age to sit very still and not make a sound. The same cannot be said of most people who attend the Minnesota Orchestra. The women behind me seemed to be zipping and unzipping their purses through the entire concert, occasionally blurting out a comment in something more than a whisper. After each item on the program, there was a patchy standing ovation. It's not as bad as the Guthrie Theater, where I don't think I've ever attended a performance that wasn't given a standing ovation. Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling could stand on stage and cough (he wouldn't be the only one), and he would receive a standing o. The Guthrie also has more than its share of restless, blurting audience members. My favorite example of this was when an old man behind me, during an especially tense moment of silence in Sophocles' Oedipus the King, blurted out: "I don't like where this is going."

Okay, I'm a snob. I like a quiet audience. And I like standing ovations to be like scallops—reserved for special occasions.

Special Feature. One of the special treats of living in England for a year was being able to listen to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue on BBC Radio 4. You can treat yourself by using the BBC's excellent Listen Again feature, available by following the link.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that preferring a quiet audience constitutes being a snob, but I quite agree. I must say that applause apart, New Yorkers are never backward in telling irritating audience members to 'shush', which I would never do, but thoroughly enjoy vicariously when it happens, which it does, often ;)

As for ISIHAC, rave on Humphrey...I have been trying to get tickets to be in the audience for a while. Unfortunately, the latest series isn't visiting Brighton this time around.

Jim H. said...

My dad taught me the half-Windsor and I've never used anything else. But I can't seem to teach it to my kids. Try as I might, I always end up tying it around my own neck, then loosening it enough to transfer the tie to the son's neck.

It bugs me. They don't care because they so rarely wear ties and to them a granny knot would do.


Question: What percentage of the men in the Orchestra Hall audience wore neckties?

Penny said...

I think the standing ovations last night were hometown fans giving it up for hometown soloists, and there's a place for that. I go occasionally, and have certainly seen concerts with no "o."

Classical orchestras have been working pretty hard to unstuffify the experience, to become more appealing to a generation or two that have grown up very casual. They've run focus groups, etc., to see how they can cultivate younger listeners, which is absolutely essential to the survival of classical music. The formality and the sense that there are lots of ways to make a faux pas are among the things that scare at least some people off. An example I remember from discussions I heard about in my WCAL days was that at most other types of concerts you could feel comfortable sitting with your arm around your date, but at classical concerts people feel they have to be so stiff. Hey, Bach can really rock along, as we heard last night (we went, thanks to my friend's generosity with his tickets, because Hallie, like Clara, has played the Bach double) and I've heard the argument that Beethoven was the Springsteen of his time. We don't want the audience clapping along, exactly, and the musicians need respectful attention, but I think a lot of them would be happy to see people having an emotional response to the music and a somewhat more casual demeanor if it means more butts in the seats and the promise of continued audiences in the decades to come. (Some, of course, would heartily wish that no such compromise were necessary.)

Bleeet said...

As a frequent (I'm sure some would say "too frequent") performer, nothing gets me more upset than a standing ovation that has not been deserved.

While it may feel nice to be lauded and applauded, most folks I've acted with can tell when a standing ovation is "real" and when it just feels too awkward for all.

There are two distinct types of standing ovations: the peer-pressure standing ovation and the spontaneous standing ovation. I have been to many performances where the peer-pressure standing ovation occurred: a couple stalwart enthusiasts (often parents of one of the actors or musicians or dancers) stand, and slowly, sometimes painfully so, the rest of the audience pulls themselves out of their seats.

As an actor who has been on the receiving end of a couple of those types of ovations, it's embarrassing. I swear sometimes you can feel the resentment steaming off of those who were socially pushed into getting vertical.

Maybe I'm just too harsh about my own performances, but I'd much rather receive a deserved round of applause from a seated house than a half-hearted standing ovation.

I think I have been part of the cast for two performances that have received what seemed to be genuine, spontaneous standing ovations.

What's the difference? It's two-fold: First, a significant portion of the audience rises emphatically out of their seats. Not a handful, we're talking somewhere in the 30-50% of the house standing right away, with the rest following suit quickly. Second, your fellow performers can all look each other in the eye later on and say "Yeah, we deserved that."

It is a great feeling, but, like your scallops, it needs to remain rare to remain real.

John Mutford said...

I've had that very same windsor-knot page favourited for some time now. I used to run to my grandfather to tie all my ties before, but the Internet is the next best thing.

I could deal with the standing ovations in that scenario. At movies I have no time for- yet have experienced at least twice.

Anonymous said...

Tying a good Windsor is like learning to prepare and serve a great dish. Start with a recipe, try it on your own a few times, and then line up enough occasions to have another opportunity to practice the art for your friends. Pretty soon you will become known for how well you do it.

I found this page while searching for comments about the Guthrie. I've had Saturday night season tickets since the mid-90s, and there have been a large number of performances where the crowd did *not* stand up at the end. This happens about ninty percent of the time, with the actors sometimes standing up there looking a little bit irritated with us. Shakespeare almost never gets one, unless there is a big-name guest playing one of the lead roles.

I was wondering if the Gurthie happens to be a particularly hard place to get a standing-o. Maybe it's just the nights I go. :)

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .