Printer-friendly version
Jayanthi Joseph

Concert Etiquette: Some Dos and Don'ts for the Modern Concert Hall

April 8, 2013 at 7:20 AM

*This 'article' was inspired by real life experiences experienced by the author and is intended to be funny.

The modern audience is very different from audiences in the past. It retains the discerning ear and adds on some newer elements-products of 'modern times'. The role of the audience at any concert is an important one, and I have compiled a brief list of some of the more advanced techniques employed by audiences around the world. Although these complex skill-sets have taken decades to accrue and thousands of combined practice hours, they are surprisingly easy for the Modern concert enthusiast to pick up. I guess it has something to do with how amazingly good humans are at adapting to new situations. But I digress.

1) The Ringtone Medley

This is probably the most basic of all audience techniques and will form the foundation for more advanced exercises (don't worry; we will get to these later). Remember that request to turn off your cellphones at the beginning of the concert? If you don't do it, it's probably because you have already instinctively mastered this technique. If you do remember, IGNORE this ridiculous 'request' as if your life depended on it. Be cool though, we don't want anyone to suspect anything. Teamwork is essential if this technique is to be successful. The perfect performance of the ‘Ringtone Medley’ involved multiple cellphones going off simultaneously. Performers will never admit it but they LIVE for these stolen moments during concerts! Musicians really love music.It's what they think about 24/7. Any good musician should be extremely thrilled to hear a distorted techno version of Fur Elise in the middle of their solo performance of a Bach Partita. If a performer tells you otherwise; it means that they are afraid that the ringtone will sound better than their playing. In conclusion, ALWAYS LEAVE YOUR CELLPHONE ON!! It's a rookie move to turn it off, seriously.

2) The Chatterbox

This technique requires more mental focus than the 'Ringtone Medley'. The premise is simple: one deeply committed audience member decides to give a running commentary on the performance, similar to the sort of thing a sport commentator does. If a duet performance is required, two people can indulge in rambling small talk about last year’s weather in loud whispers for the duration of every slow movement on the program. Although this skill is focused on solo performances by audience members, any beginner can pick it up easily. Just remember to ignore disapproving looks-avoid eye contact at all cost!

3) Laughter is the Best Medicine

Laughing is something we all do naturally and easily. Well-timed laughter is often what makes or breaks a performance. Here are some pointers:

a. Laugh loudly and often

b. Always laugh in between movements (this fills in those awkward silences quite nicely)

c. Laugh whenever the performer makes a mistake (it helps diffuse the tension)

Laughing in the concert hall is way better for you than laughing outside the concert hall. If you laugh during concerts you will probably live twice as long!

4) When to Start Clapping

Are you always unsure when to clap? Do you ask yourself questions like: “Should I follow the crowd or strike out on my own?” Well, it’s really simple if you remember these rules:

a. Clap as soon as the performer starts playing the final note (or whatever you think is the final note, it doesn’t matter in the end)

b. Clap in between movements (IMPORTANT!!)

c. If you are really enjoying yourself at ANY point, CLAP along with the music-preferably out of sync with the performer’s tempo-no one wants to hear a fake metronome.

5) A Note on Programs

Since most concert-goers are flummoxed by these crinkly pieces of paper; I think this topic deserves its own bullet point. Some members of the audience insist on reading the program. Well, do what you must, but please try to do it during the quiet sections of the performance. The performer will appreciate hearing the crackling of programs during an Adagio movement because it means that there is a small chance that audience knows what he or she is playing.

6) The Pianissimo Solo

This is probably the most advanced technique of audience performance repertoire and requires tremendous focus and hours of dedicated practice. Only the most serious concert-goers even attempt this: novices beware! To begin, simply pay close attention to the dynamics of the piece and once you hear a decrescendo, start imaging the Sahara desert. This is very mentally taxing so it is probably a good idea to try this out in the safety of a practice room with a recording before attempting it during a live performance. Thinking of the Sahara desert should make you thirsty, which in turn should make you feel like coughing. It is an excellent way to ‘warm-up’ for your performance. Once the musician on stage reaches pianissimo, cough as loudly as you can. Skilled audience members some times throw in a sneeze or two as well, but that sort of thing is like the Paganini caprices of audience repertoire, so don’t be disappointed if it takes you decades to be able to perfect this technique.

7) The Cough Drop Maneuver

Even the youngest concert-goers can accomplish this tricky maneuver with ease. Basically, pretend that you are in a slow motion scene of a sci-fi movie (this will get you into the correct mental state) and proceed to unwrap a cough drop as slowly as humanly possible. The crackly-er the better!

However, if you are planning a number 6 performance I would not suggest eating cough drops.

Well, I think I covered everything. Happy Concert Going!!!! ;)
(c) J. Joseph 2013

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 9, 2013 at 5:14 PM
You missed one:

The importance of bringing a toddler to an evening concert.

Everyone knows how important early exposure to classical music can be, much more important than something as ridiculous as adhering to a set bedtime. You also know that everyone will admire you for doing all you can to aid in your young child's development. The child's shrieks of laughter as you chase him up and down the aisles during the performance can not help but brighten the experience for the other audience members.

When he falls and cries, as toddlers are want to do, you know the audience will commiserate with his obvious distress, especially if he happens to fall during a minor movement.

Rather than remain up in the balconies, with the lovely wooden floors that reverbate so well while being run upon, you could potentially take your active toddler downstairs to the lobby or the basement if he's feeling especially rambunctious, but don't do it. You would be depriving him of any possibility of hearing more wonderful classical music.

Make sure you take your child to every single concert that you can. You don't want this to be a one-time experience for your toddler, or the rest of that appreciative audience.

From Eric Rowe
Posted on April 9, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Very funny!

Then there's also the older child who loves being dragged (I mean taken) to a concert and squirms behind you the entire time kicking your seat while the parents blithely ignore his/her percussive tendencies.

There's nothing quite like a visceral reinforcement of the beat to help you appreciate Midori playing Mozart, especially when you have waited all year for it and paid for good tickets.

From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 12:39 AM
I might have been sitting beside you at that one too...

No wait, my mistake. That was during the Symphony performance that my daughter saved to buy me a ticket for (my Christmas present one year).

From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 12:58 AM
Oh dear, that's horrible. I left out the 'kid issue' because I think it's important to expose kids to music. However, I do agree that most of the time it doesn't work out very well. Yikes! Parents should definitely take responsibility...
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 10, 2013 at 2:21 PM
On a serious note: I agree that children benefit greatly by being exposed to (and then learning to play) music. I have 3 children(adults now) and I took them to many musical venues. There are kids programs, afternoons in the park, etc. If I took them to an 'adult' venue, and they didn't behave...we would head to the lobby or someplace where they couldn't disturb everyone. Or we went home.

But I didn't take them to a serious evening concert until I knew they were old enough to at least sit quietly if they were bored. Ages vary, but mine were around 10-12 before they could monitor their own behaviour in an appropriate manner.

From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 12:13 AM
You make a valid point. Most kids can't sit through the really long concerts until they are at least 8. But it really depends on the child...I know that one of my brothers could sit through long concerts at the age of 8 but the other one still gets fidgety at 12... If they get bored easily, they won't make it through a 2.5 hour program so it's best to start small, like you said. :) Cool.
From Eric Rowe
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 1:37 AM
Thinking of 4a) reminds me of an hilarious short I saw called "The Clap":

A regular audience member highly values his "contribution" to concert performances by being the very first to clap (wildly) at the very moment any piece ends. He even proudly points out his part on a live recording to some hapless missionaries or salesmen who come by to his house.

A sort of war develops with a pianist who desperately tries to thwart him by playing the newest piece he can get, but the clapper follows the score. In another concert he plays his own virtuosic improvisation of happy birthday, specifically so he can trip him up. The clapper, defeated, bows out of live concerts until the pianist, left with less enthusiastic audiences comes to appreciate him and finally gives him free tickets.

From Sarah Vandemoortele
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 12:12 PM
This reminds me of something I read recently in Taruskins History of Western Music. He cited a New York stagebill out of the 1980s:

Thou Shalt Not:
Hum, Sing, or Tap Fingers or Feet...
Rustle Thy Program...
Crack Thy Gum in Thy Neighbors' Ears...
Wear Loud-Ticking Watches or Jangle
Thy Jewelry...
Open Cellophane-Wrapped Candies...
Snap Open and Close Thy Purse...
Sigh With Boredom...
Arrive Late or Leave Early...


From N.A. Mohr
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 1:05 PM
LOL...actually, I'm fine with anyone reading - it shouldn't disturb anyone else. However, leave the knitting at home. The needles clack...audibly...
From Pavel Spacek
Posted on April 11, 2013 at 7:20 PM
Important part of your musical delight are the snorers. It is really artistic performance when they manage to give out a loud snore during the pianissimo.
From John Cadd
Posted on April 12, 2013 at 11:20 AM
Put this under The Chatterbox. It comes from a quotation by Brian O`Nolan the Irish writer.
"Often in the theatre I can hardly hear myself talking or assuring my doxy that so-and-so is the same fellow that played so-and-so in so-and-so,he`s very good,he`s a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture,I met a sister of his in Skerries & so on.Actors should conduct themselves like the rest of us,and practise the unobtrusive intonation of the gentleman ."
From Kim Vawter
Posted on April 14, 2013 at 10:34 PM
One poor chap was wearing his breathing apparatus. It was a large scuba tank device that made regularly spaced gurgling-gluck-gluck noises throughout the entire performance. It was spaced out in intervals of about 2 minutes so we got to anticipate this "voicing." I had the good fortune to have been invited to share very, very good seats in a balcony box area but all I can remember of the event was this poor fellow and his machine. I think that these oxygen devices are much improved since I have not heard another one like this since then.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine