Obama tattles on JFK as he greets White House classical music audience

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Etiquette and protocol probably figure into any proceedings in the East Room of the White House.

But with classical music on the agenda Wednesday evening, President Obama was alert to some special do’s and don’ts as he welcomed an audience for performances by violinist Joshua Bell, guitarist Sharon Isbin, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Awadagin Pratt, with some young student musicians sitting in.

Obama harked back to the Kennedy White House’s ‘Camelot’ legacy of cultural involvement, but not altogether reverently.

Here’s the humorous insider-anecdote he shared, as relayed by the White House press office in a transcript of the president’s remarks.


‘Now, if any of you in the audience are newcomers to classical music, and aren’t sure when to applaud, don’t be nervous. (Laughter.) Apparently, President Kennedy had the same problem. (Laughter.) He and Jackie held several classical music events here, and more than once he started applauding when he wasn’t supposed to. (Laughter.) So the social secretary worked out a system where she’d signal him -- (laughter) -- through a crack in the door to the cross-hall.

‘Now, fortunately, I have Michelle to tell me when to applaud. (Laughter.) The rest of you are on your own. (Laughter.)

‘This is, of course, a unique concert venue. But tonight, all across America, in community centers and concert halls, in homes and in schools, the sounds of classical music are lifting hearts and spurring imagination, just as they always have. And it’s easy to understand why. There’s precision, of course; but there’s also great feeling and improvisation. There’s structure; but there’s also creativity. It’s music that defies simple definition even as it speaks to a common, universal language.

‘So whether you are new to classical music, or have been an aficionado for many, many years, we hope that you enjoy tonight.’

-- Mike Boehm

[An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Joshua Bell as a cellist.]


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