Classical Music Concert Etiquette

Classical Pianists of the Future

The great problems in presenting this topic are: (1) how not to make it sound condescending to the experienced concert goers, and, (2) still keep it instructional to the newcomer. While the following comments and observations extend to all types of classical concerts I slant them toward (piano), my having had the most experience in this arena. So then at the risk of boring the anointed, forgive me; and to those of you who are first timers at a classical concert I would suggest that even the more obvious elements of protocol and propriety may not always be evident. So let me give it a somewhat lighthearted try.

BEFORE ARRIVING

Dress

It is said that decorum at classical concerts is in transition. Of course, what isn’t? However, that being said, I am more a traditionalist in this regard and would suggest that attendees reflect on the thousands of hours the artist has devoted over many years in refining that which he or she would present to you. An outfit you would choose to wear to a job interview or a business meeting would be appropriate. Children should be dressed in shirt and slacks or dresses. It would also be advisable to go very light on fragrances. Many people are allergic to perfumes and colognes.

Children

Some venues will not let (young) children in the door so it is best to find out ahead to time what the policy of the house is. In general, a five or six year old would be welcome – but only if you are confident control will be maintained and that may be difficult to predict. (I remember an instance of a youngster rolling a ball into the pedals of a piano in the middle of a performance.) Leave the toys home. If, with the best of intentions, a youngster should become unruly, it is best to escort him or her out at the earliest moment with least disruption possible.

Advance Review of the Program Selections

If you can find out in advance what the repertoire will be, it would be very advantageous to listen to the selections (perhaps you can find a CD containing them). Reading through the musical score, if you have that skill, will also enhance your enjoyment. The internet is a great help in this.

ARRIVAL, AND AFTER

When to Arrive

It is good to arrive ten to fifteen minutes ahead of a performance. Remember, you always forget where you put the tickets while you are trying to get out the door. And it usually takes longer to find a parking spot then you think. Give yourself adequate time. If you do arrive late, please expect to be seated between selections. Even if an usher is not present, follow this courtesy.

Once Seated

There are open seating or reserved seating events. Just purchasing your seat ahead of time does not guarantee you a ‘specific’ seat if it is an open seating event. If it is open seating it is first come first served. If you have reserved a specific seat it will be awaiting your arrival. Unless otherwise stated, children’s seats are expected to be paid for. It is important to stay seated except in cases of dire need or emergency.

Applause! Applause!

It is a sign of recognition and respect to applaud the soloist as he or she appears on stage. As you read your program you will note that on the more major compositions several (movements) may be listed as subcategories. It is best not to applaud between movements of these works. (At times there may be spontaneous applause from the audience when a particular movement is particularly well executed.) Often the artist will choose to continue from one movement to another with little or no pause. (This is another good reason for having heard the music before attending.) One can always follow the lead of the more experienced concert goers in this matter.

The Dash to the Parking Lot (Concert Grand Prix)

Do the few minutes you might gain leaving early (while the artist is being applauded) really make up for the wonderful encore(s) you might miss or the people you disturb while walking over them? It is considered disrespectful to leave before the concert is over and the concert is not over until the artist has received his or her final curtain call.

GENERAL COMMENTS

Distractions

Sometimes things just happen. A chair collapses. The lights go off. A door slams shut. However it is best not to try unwrapping candy and snacks. Leave the food at home, or wait for an intermission to refresh. Digital/electronic anything – OFF. (It is amazing the things that can be overlooked. Once at a competition I was hosting, a particularly noisy phone, playing the Minute Waltz, started to ring and everyone was looking around to see who caused this faux pas – only to have the artist stop playing and reach into his tux to retrieve his phone. A friend wanted to know how he was doing!) As a general rule, cameras, camcorders and the like are not well received at concerts. Many venues strictly forbid their use. Copyright laws are often in effect. If pictures are to be taken, it is best to obtain them before or after the performance. Often a reception is given and this is usually a good opportunity for a picture. (I recall an instance at a competition where a gentleman in a front row seat, and this was in close proximity to the piano, with his large camera that sported a huge telescopic lens, began blasting away as the playing started. The artist had the good sense to stop his performance and coolly asked the gentleman to desist.) Even the more quiet cameras can sound like a gun going off – at the wrong time. I read someplace that a particular artist was so distracted by noise (and this is an extreme case) that he had his programs printed on silk!

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