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Concert Etiquette: Not as Difficult as You Think

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Audience disturbances are not a 21st-century invention

Classical music gets a bad rap because people in the audience are expected to sit and listen to the performance.  Over the years, a few have managed to create this stuffy, stodgy aura about attending a concert that makes those who might give a performance a try shy away, thinking they have to wear fancy clothes, know the music inside out, and avoid clapping in the wrong spot.

If you think the person next you, behind you, or in front of you knows more about the music being performed than you do, you might be surprised.  If you don't know your arpeggio from a hole in the ground, the musicians do not care.  What they DO care about is that you are there, you want to hear them perform, and that they give you every last ounce of their skill to bring the music to life.

What they DO NOT want to do is to have to play loudly enough to drown out those who find their conversation more interesting than the performance.  Granted, there are musicians who are hired to provide music to accompany an event while not actually being the focus of that event.  Even then, it's still nice to acknowledge them once in a while...let them know you're enjoying their playing.

However, when musicians step onstage to perform at an event where their performance is-in whole, or in part- the reason you're there, why would you not listen?

I remember going to see a movie a few years ago.  The theatre was about a third full.  We are immersed in the story.  During a crucial scene, a cell phone goes off in front of me.  The person hurriedly dug it out of her purse to silence it, right?  Nope.  She answered the phone.  The conversation went something like this.

"Hello?  Nothing...just watching a movie."  She proceeded to carry on the conversation until I leaned forward and said, "Would you please either take that outside or hang up?"  She scowled, turned back to her caller and said, "I've gotta go."


I think most of us agree that surroundings and circumstances dictate what is acceptable behavior.  When people complain there are too many "rules" at classical concerts, I disagree.  I have attended concerts where spontaneous applause has broken out after a movement from a concerto because the performance was stunning.  It was well received, the concert went on, and I have to think that, based on my post-concert conversation with the soloist, it gave him a little adrenalin-boost which made the rest of the piece even more spectacular.  I have also been to concerts where I didn't get many of the musical references, because I was just beginning to listen to classical music.  All shapes, sizes, and levels of musical understanding populate the concert hall, which is a good thing.  Learning is half the fun of it.

Anne Midgette is Classical Music Critic and writes a column called The Classical Beat for the Washington Post.  She has a pretty good take on the state of the concert-going experience today, and how loosening up a little bit could make things a lot more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone.

Read How (NOT) to Behave: Manners and the Classical Music Audience (Washington Post)

Below is a clever ringtone medley by New York City-based ensemble CDZA.