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Jan 16 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Concert hall etiquette the musicians on stage wished you knew

Playing the concerts this past weekend has gotten me thinking about concert hall etiquette. So many people just don’t know how or why a concert hall is different from other venues. This is very personal, so bear with me.

The musicians on stage…when you go to a classical music concert, you are looking at thousands of hours of hard work, sweat, and more than a few tears. Let’s say a single musician on stage is 40 years old. She has been a violinist for 35 years and, on average, has practiced 6 hours a day over those 35 years. Every.Single.Day. Thirty-five years multiplied by 365 days (I’m going with rough averages here…ignore Leap Year for me, ‘k?) is 12, 775 days. Times 6 hours a day (again, averages…no five year old is pulling a 6 hour practice session…but I guarantee she did twice that in college!) is 76,650 hours. Now let’s multiply that by 90, roughly how many musicians are on stage: 6,898,500. Hmmm. Higher than I thought. You are looking and listening to millions of hours of hard work, sweat, and an ocean full of tears.

The musicians on stage don’t just show up and play a concert. They teach private lessons, either at a college or in their own studios. They write music. They do community outreach. They don’t get paid a whole lot.

The musicians on stage are harder on themselves than any critic can ever be. It is essentially the only profession where you are expected to be 100% perfect 100% of the time, no matter what. You are only as good as your last performance.

So as I run through this list, please bear in mind the hard work and love these musicians have put into their craft from the time they were very young, and respect that.

  1. Turn off the cell phone. Concert-goers are a LOT better about this than they used to be. When I first got a cell phone (only a few years ago), it was difficult to find one with a vibrate ring function. Now they all have it. Just please remember to use it! Turn off the ring when you sit down, and double check it before the concert starts. Oh, and texting isn’t ok either. Just sit and let the outside world do its own thing without you for awhile.
  2. Leave the food at home. Seriously, Tom and I went to a concert once where the woman next to him was eating something from a paper bag. I thought my gentle husband was going to rip out her eyeballs and feed them to her. He settled for telling her to knock it off. She and her companion left at intermission.
  3. Get a sitter. Oh my stinkin’ heck, someone brought a baby (A BABY!!!) to the Sunday afternoon concert this weekend. And, of course, the baby started crying (CRYING!!!) at the extremely quiet end of the first movement. I have kids. I know how difficult it can be finding a sitter if you have no family nearby to watch the kids. But for crying out loud! It’s not like you forgot to turn off the cell phone: “Oh my gosh, honey, what’s that sound? (opens the big purse) It’s Junior! I forgot to take him out of my bag! What do we do now?” Please, make friends with a neighbor, pay a middle school kid, just get a sitter before the musicians rush the audience, take your child, and teach him to play drumset.
  4. Do you really need a picture? Enjoying the concert…good. Flash photography…bad.
  5. Shut.Up. Please. Do not talk. There is nothing so important that it must be discussed in a concert hall. If it truly is that important, skip the concert and get coffee. No one in the audience wants to hear about your appendectomy anyway.
  6. Ants in the pants? Yes, the seats in most concert halls are small, hard, and just pretty much suck all around. Trust me, they’re not much better on stage. It took me until the end of a week of rehearsals to figure out why my ass hurt so much: absolutely NO padding remained on my seat, it had been worn down by many hours and years of butts in rehearsals. I’m still recovering.
  7. Ricola!!!! We all suffer the occasional “WTF!?” coughing spell, so I understand if one comes out of the blue. But if you’ve been sick, or if it’s winter, or if Murphy’s Law is in effect (which it is, 24/7), have a cough drop nearby. And unwrap it prior to downbeat, trust me!
  8. When to applaud. A lot of music is made up of separate movements. They will look something like this:
    • Symphony No.5, Op.67                                                    Ludwig van Beethoven
      • Allegro con brio                     don’t clap here
      • Andante con moto                 no, not yet
      • Allegro                                    yeah, you’re dyin’ here…almost!
      • Allegro                                    NOW!!!!

      The conductor usually leaves his/her arms up to sorta let you know. At the very end, the conductor will lower his/her arms and obviously look more relaxed. When in doubt, wait for everyone else to applaud.

  9. Potty emergency! Pee before the concert. Pee at intermission. Cross your legs and don’t think about it the rest of the time.
  10. Fun with origami. Yes, you received a program when you entered the concert hall. In it, you will find information about the music, about the musicians, and upcoming programs. Please do not use it as a cooling device or to make paper airplanes.

Ok. I really tried. I even had my musician husband try to come up with more, but we’re stumped at 10. We can’t think of three more, and we’ve tried! Now, all those “rules” sound so stifling, but they’re really not. Most of them really are common sense and courtesy. Follow them, and the musicians and other audience members will thank you.

Now…when are you getting out there to support the arts?

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  1. Maria

    That’s funny that you did this. We just went and saw Lion King, and I almost laughed (cried?) and the symphony of “coughers” in the audience. One guy was coughing throughout the whole thing. I know the tickets were expensive, so he probably dragged his butt there even though he was sick. But hello?????

    Anyway, great TT!

  2. melanie

    My dream was to dress in black and play my flute when I was a kid. My Grandmother took me a lot..she believed we needed culture. I am glad she did. It has been awhile since I have gone..I should look into it soon. This was a great reminder. Thanks!

  3. Lara

    As one who loves going to Orchestra Hall here in Chicago, I think this is a great list! I’m not a musician, but come from a long line of them and I know they would appreciate every comment you made!!

  4. Denise

    These notions ring true for many other facets of society. Many times through out the day I question where our cultural norms are headed? Obviously we need to fine tune our awareness of others, maybe hold open a door, smile, and say thank you- just for a start!

  5. Robin

    GREAT list!

    I don’t go out to hear classical music that often anymore and tend to hear live music in venues that are a bit more relaxed, but common courtesy is common courtesy. The funniest concert cell phone story I’ve got though is when the musician’s OWN cellphone (!!) rang in the middle of a performance, right up there on the stage.

  6. karen (Pediascribe)

    As a theater mom, I’ve posted my pleas to teach children theater etiquette. And most recently, I lamented about going to High School Musical on Ice and dealing with poor arena etiquette.
    Rude people are making me hesitant to go anywhere anymore. 🙁

  7. Laura

    Great list…wish they still taught etiquette in schools…as society as a whole has lost all sense of etiquette, everywhere…Thanks for posting!

  8. cursingmama

    As an audience member can I include the following?:

    1.) no matter how hard it is to see – do not stand your child on the seat. Buy better tickets instead.

    2.) refrain from the use of all scented products – cologne, hand lotion, and heavily applied hairspray.

    3.) do not, under any circumstances use the seat in front of you as a foot rest or to prop your foot on.

  9. Nicholas

    Those rules aren’t stifling at all. They are just common courtesy and should be obvious to anyone, even though sadly they aren’t. Not just for concerts, but for live theatre as well. I can remember sitting in a theatre audience that contained at least one deaf old lady and her companion. Over and over we heard “What did he say?” “He said he knows where she has been hiding, dear.” “Oh” Pause “Where who has been hiding?” “His wife’s cousin, dear.” until I, and I think everyone else in the place, including the actors, probably wanted to scream.

  10. RC

    Sure. Next you are going to tell me not to crack my gum or blow bubbles… 😉

    Just giving you a hard time. Having worked part-time in a theatre setting in my past, I’ve seen/heard many things… I’m sure you’ve seen/heard many of the same things.

  11. Tendrils

    Great List! I’m with Denise……where is our society heading???? WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO COMMON SENSE????????

  12. karen (Pediascribe)

    Hey there. No new post for me to comment on today (where in the world ARE YOU???)
    You “almost” got an award today on my blog. Come on over and “almost” pick it up!

  13. cricket51

    Very interesting, as usual it is a matter of common sense and polite manners. Too bad both are a dying breed in our culture.

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