Printer-friendly version
Brian Hong

Concert Etiquette-What has happened?

May 26, 2010 at 9:20 PM

 About a month ago, I attended a concert by the Takács String Quartet near my hometown.  This was the second time I had seen them live, the first being at the Music Academy of the West last summer, so naturally I was incredibly excited.  The concert hall itself was very nice too: the Strathmore concert hall in Maryland. 

As I sat in my seats at the hall, I noticed with much satisfaction the large range of ages in the hall.  Classical music in this age has ceased to become something that appeals to the younger masses, but here I saw plenty of young people mixed in with the more mature music lovers.  So, the concert must have been fantastic, right?

Wrong.  Well, half-wrong.  The music was great; as usual, the Takács proved to the world that they are one of the greatest chamber ensembles ever to have walked the earth.  That part of the concert was phenomenal.  However, much of it (at least from where I was sitting) was ruined by the terrible etiquette.  As I tried to enjoy the lushness of the Haydn that was first on the program, a man two rows down kept opening a Velcro case with a pair of binoculars in it to peer at the quartet for about five seconds, then would noisily put it away, only to rip open the Velcro again within the next few minutes.  You would think that a grown man would have the sense to just kindly keep the binoculars out…

Right next to me was a father and his 10 year old son.  They were both dressed in stained t-shirts and cargo shorts….not really attire to be wearing to a Takács concert at the Music Center at Strathmore!  However, I tried not to let that bother me.  It became increasingly difficult to do that, though, when the boy started climbing all over his chair, tapping his foot on the ground, and whispering nonstop.  Okay, sure, he’s ten, he doesn’t know better.  But shouldn’t the father stop his son from acting this way?  You would think so, but the father actually played along with his son, laughing when he climbed on top of the back of his chair and whispering conversations with him.  Meanwhile, a few chairs opposite from them was an old woman who kept taking out peppermint candies, unwrapping them, and eating them, the crinkle of the wrappers carrying across the hall and attracting many glares.  She didn’t even give them a glance.

That was only four people out of about fifty that I saw being rude during that concert.  What is with concert etiquette nowadays?  I went to this concert (and several more like it in the past several years) to enjoy quality music made in a formal setting, only to have the experience dimmed by rude behavior.  Yes, people like to cough between movements, but when half the audience starts hacking and making horrific noises, one wonders whether they are really clearing their throat or doing it because others are doing it.  Same for during the performances; sometimes it was hard to concentrate on the music because of the number of people making hacking noises deep in their throats as the musicians played.  I understand if they are sick…but what are the odds of 50% of the audience having a major bronchial issue?

To some, this may be an annoying rant made by a callous, over-dramatic, and arrogant teenager, but to me this is a genuine complaint against the behavior of many audience members during performances.  Not to say that all of them act this way...but the number has grown over the past few years.  What can we do?

Oh well, when I go to see the Dream Theater and Iron Maiden concert this summer, I will be standing up and cheering with the rest of them, so I’ll get it out of my system.  But until then, I would like my classical concerts to be Velcro free.

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on May 26, 2010 at 10:56 PM

I experienced the same thing about 2-3 years ago,  and everytime I watched any show a this theater here..I remember it was a quartet from Israel, couldn't remember the name, and the host has alreadys said to be quite as the audience can, because the quartet requested it, I thought for this concert, it would be different but, no sireee....the first mvt was ok, the audience were a little polite so to speak, but in the middle of the 2nd mvt? there were a lot of talks, walking here and there and at one point there was this man, who not only wave to a friend I but hail "how are you man? its been a long time"   and at that point the quartet stop playing, because everybody says "shhhhhh" at the same time. He apologized of course, but the moment has already ruined. the 3rd mvt has a feel of embarrasment and outrage for the man, because you can feel that the quartet just played it without any feeling at all. They just wanted to get done with it and leave. Can't blame them though.

So, etiquette you say? hmmm....



From Michael Divino
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 1:41 AM

 Agreed! P.S. I love the Stratmore!

From Emily Liz
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 2:15 AM

In an ideal world I'd hire out orchestras to play for me alone so I wouldn't have to deal with anyone else. Since that is sadly impossible, I always buy tickets in the front row or in the front row of the balcony. Then I don't have to deal with the people in front of me. I don't care if the sound is being thrown behind my head: it's worth it to be able to concentrate more on the performers. Plus, front row tickets are usually cheaper, which is nice. So I understand what you're saying.

Posted on May 27, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Yes, that's irritating... 

It would be good if we only had a cultured audience, but it's not the case. Be sure that it was not the first time the quartet faced this situation, and it will not be the last.

Sometimes the program of the concert contains some etiquete rules, and that is a good idea, I think.

In many cases the traditional audience of a given concert room may change a bit, such as in the case a concert is sponsored by some big companies, that will send tickets to their employees, who are not concert goers.

But anyway, we need sponsors, we need new audiences, and education is a long run process...

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 3:35 PM

You know how a short brief on ettiquette is shown before a movie in the theatre......such as turning off your cell phone, not speaking, and generally being considerate during showtime?  Maybe someone should make an announcement before performances to the same effect.  Sad that it has to happen, but in this day and age, it's proving almost to be a necessity.

---Ann Marie

From Ray Randall
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Partially to blame, in no particular order, rock music where the audience is anything but quiet,; parents, as parents do not discipline their br....children anymore; schools, where classroom discipline is also lacking these days; did I mention parents? Day care, parents don't parent anymore, they foist their br..I mean children off on someone else. The list could go on forever.

From Manuel Tabora
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 5:22 PM

Well, I think us classical musicians are walking a very fine line. On one hand, we try to make the concert experience more accessible to everyday folks because we need the support. If we only rely on the older people who have been going to concerts all their life, at some point we won't have any patrons left. On the other hand, we wish that this young audience that we are trying to attract would behave as quietly and as "politely" as we do. 

We have to remember, though, that we have had lots of exposure to classical music and the unwritten rules of how to behave at concerts. They have not. If they think about going to hear a string quartet the same way that they would think about going to a rock concert, to a football game, or to any other sort of entertainment, then you can't blame them for how they behave.

If everybody had been raised by my mom, everybody would have the courtesy to sit and shut up during a concert, but not everybody was raised by my mom :-P

From Tommy Atkinson
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 5:33 PM

It's interesting that orchestra concerts don't have the pre-show "Be courteous" sort of recording that you always hear at operas, plays, and musicals that reminds the audience to turn off phones and watch alarms, unwrap candy/cough drops, and when and how it is appropriate to leave during a performance.

Personally, I think a dress code for concerts can be pretty lame. When I go to see a show at the Kennedy Center, for example, I'm usually riding in hot public transit and walking around the city to get there. It's much more comfortable to head to a concert in something simple like shorts and a polo. I that introducing more casual concerts would be a nice change of pace. When I played in the Bermuda Philharmonic, we just wore all black and the audience was generally not super dressed up (maybe a consequence of almost everyone riding motorbikes to the concert venue). It was great!

From Annette Brower
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 6:06 PM

When I was in college, a faculty quartet was performing and in the front row was a group of people talking non-stop.  The 1st violinist got up, walked over, and asked if they were interupting their conversation.  A beautiful sight....let me tell you!

From David Beatty
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 7:13 PM

It had been several years since I went to a concert until about a month ago, had a similar though milder experience. Biggest problem was people playing with their cell phones through the whole thing, iphones are fun, but come on now.  Everybody was clapping between movements too, so maybe they really just don't know how these things work?


From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 8:05 PM

If everybody had been raised by my mom, everybody would have the courtesy to sit and shut up during a concert, but not everybody was raised by my mom.

Manuel -

You're right.  Once, I was playing simple Christmas music in a public forum when a kid left his mother's side and attempted to take my viola from me.  Mom just stood there. 

--Ann Marie

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 8:33 PM

Manuel - you make a really good point. 

It wasn't just my mom who taught me how to behave at classical concerts, but also the teachers in high-school.   We would either have visiting musicians play for us, or occasionally be taken out on a trip to a concert/opera.   Anyone who so much as thought they were going to be disruptive would be in big, big, trouble, so we behaved, and that has stuck with me all these years. I can still imagine the "death-ray look" that one teacher in particular would give us if we started getting fidgety and slightly annoying.

There are quite a few concert halls over here in Britain which do pre-concert announcements about turning off your cell-phone and muffling coughs.  Sometimes they seem to work, other times, um... well.. they don't.   I agree that it can be so irritating when one has spent money on a concert ticket, been looking forward to the event and then on the night everything is spoilt due to other people's selfish behaviour.

Mind you, look at the London BBC Proms, in the Royal Albert Hall each summer, where the Promenaders will stand, motionless, for up to 90 minutes.   Visiting orchestras (especially American ones) are often amazed at the high level of concentration shown.   In 2007 I went to an incredible Mahler 3 at the BBC Proms, conducted by Claudio Abbado, and that guy had such musical "Ausstrahlung" that for the entire piece, you could hear a pin drop...  Some musicians simply command absolute attention and involvement  from their audience.

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 27, 2010 at 10:05 PM


Maestro Hong, I agree that there are certain things that should be contained in their boundaries of context.......  to bad it is a shame that for the rest of humanity they believe that they are entitled to assert their rights of behavior weather in context or out!!!!!!!!!

ps: This Summer; Insane Clown Possie and RUSH!!!!!!!!! Just Kill Me Now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 12:43 AM

We are all laws unto ourselves. Last night I had a serious argument with a neighbor because he decided to put up a no parking sign in front of his house that indicated that the rest of the block was no parking. This is an act that requires signed neighborhood petitions and city parking department approval but he was annoyed so he took it on himself to solve his problem without worrying that he was creating a problem for others. 


From Brian Hong
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 12:49 AM

 Mr. Slack, are you comparing me and the rest of the responders to this neighbor of yours?  We are just offering little things that we all think would be helpful.  

Then again, I may have just read your post wrong.

From Timothy Kidder
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 1:29 AM

 I remember years ago attending a performance of Sweeney Todd at the Signature Theatre here in Northern Virginia. Before the performance began, a voice came over the loud speaker requesting that everyone note where the emergency exits are, turn off their cell phones, and, oh yes, please open their candy wrappers now so no one will disturbed by the crinkling noise during the performance. Sometimes a little humor can go a long way.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 1:54 AM

Not at all Brian. I am comparing my neighbor to the the oblivious people who act without thinking about the consequences to those around them. Like the man who snapped his velcro open and shut or the lady who unwrapped her candies.

From Kylie Svenson
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 4:21 AM

I second Manuel and those who advocated a pre-concert etiquette announcement.

However, I think it must also be remembered that present-day concert etiquette is actually quite a recent phenomenon, and one that happens to have coincided with a decided decline in the vitality and size of classical musical culture. The majority of the most widely revered art music in western culture was written for an audience that would have probably horrified that noisy ten-year-old's father. Coincidence?

That said, I happen to prefer a reverent silence....

Food for thought.

From Sydney Menees
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 5:27 AM

 Yes it's annoying, but I would rather have them at classical concerts than not.  Even though it's irritating, it's what comes with the great treat of a live performance.  I probably would have spoken with Velcro fellow at intermission, but I'm known to be pretty confrontational if the occasion merits it.... ;)

From Ronald Mutchnik
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 5:37 AM

I do agree with you Brian that this is an unfortunate trend that is hard to control. I heard one person try to put it  in a nutshell to the audience and simply said at the outset of the concert:  "Listen to the music- no talking, no coughing, no crying - pay total attention- ( pointing a finger for emphasis) there will be a quiz..."

  That said, you may be surprised by this:

There are performances on original instruments, but would we want to have original audiences too? 

From Sara McDowell
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 6:12 AM

The lack of discipline, the disrespect for any and all, the feeling of "entitlement" to behave however one sees fit -- these are all reasons I stay home!  I may hurt someone if I do not :-D

From Corwin Slack
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 3:32 PM

My wife and I  went to see the Houston Grand Opera performance of Tosca at Miller Outdoor Theater last weekend. In the middle of the third act love duet a woman and her companion standup three rows in front of us and loudly make their apologies to their friends in the same row and slowly walk down the row saying their goodbyes.. Some young opera enthusiasts just behind me were hissing. The woman was way old enough to know better.

From Anna van der Merwe
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 12:04 PM

Brian, I totally agree! I am also a teenager and I had a similar experience at a concert, where there was a small child literally climbing over the seats in the front row (!) and running up and down the side aisle! It was unbelievable, and the worst part was that the parents and gran were actually amused at this during the concert.....

From Cynthia Faisst
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 12:52 AM

If you read the entire history about early musical performances you will find that modern audiences are quite tame in comparison.  Thus the need for personal family boxes where the royalty and wealthy could be rude with out bothering the rest of the audience, as if the rest of the audience could be offended.

Well,  the past more contemporary audiences were usually more privileged people who understood what their peers expected of them in polite society.  Perhaps, those who could afford the admission,  more often came with the education for appreciating what they were hearing.    Audiences in America no longer  come from the same homogeneous economic or educational classes.   Our ancestors would be impressed to see us all sitting next to one another.   All be it, we still have a ways to go where learning to live with one another in the American venue is concerned.   We are still a work in progress.

It would be interesting to compare the audiences of the classical music venue globally.   Which country or ethnic culture has audiences who appreciate what they came to hear and are the most considerate of their peers in the audience?

Today in America we have a growing population that does not get a sufficient education where music is concerned.  That task has fallen to the hands of those lucky non-profit arts organizations who now carry responsibility for the survival of classical music.  The classroom has now become the concert hall.  

Children need opportunities to go to concerts with their parents.  There is no substitute for that experience.    No one else has more influence on what they will value when they become adults than their parents.   We now have several generations of adults who also do not have sufficient exposure to the arts to be good examples in the concert hall.

I think Dudamel has arrived at the most viable solution.  Get every child and his grandparents into the concert hall and expose them to a joyful musical experience.   Get them into an orchestra side by side with professional musicians and get them addicted to the classical sound.   You are going to see people showing up at the box office that don't usually come to a classical music concert.   Some of them undoubtedly do not realize what they are getting themselves into.   But imagine the day when you will need an entire foot ball field to accommodate the audience for a classical symphony concert.

Please be patient. this is going to take a little getting used to.  These audiences have many new things to learn and discover about classical music. But just imagine what it would be like if we raised a generation of young people who thought that classical music was cool, er sweet  . . er. . what ever they decide to call it.   

Maybe the rest of us well healed classical fans will learn something from this new audience as well.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 12:30 PM

I don't go to that many live concerts . . . those that I do, I try to sit still and pay attention, but I find that it's hard to do so for that long of a time, unless it's music I already know and love.  I have ADHD (diagnosed as an adult), so that may explain some of the problem.  But studies show that the average human attention span is less than an hour.  This has ramifications for not only concerts, but also meetings, lectures, seminars.  At some point you are fighting basic psychology and neuroscience if you expect people to pay perfect, undivided attention to concerts at the current length.

From Barbara Merrell
Posted on June 1, 2010 at 6:31 AM

 I have season ticket to the Takacs at their home concert hall in Boulder Colorado - and usually there is a humorous announcement about turning off cell phones, etc. and most of the audience is older is behaves very well -  Yes, we do get coughing - I have had problems with this myself for several years and have not been able to completely get it cleared up = but I do have cough drops (with quiet paper) and water.  If (anyplace) I find a child who doesn't know what to do, I have been known to quietly explain that the behavior is not acceptable - in as few words as possible.  If you (anyone) are sitting close enough - INTERVENE - the child and/or parent may know know standard concert behavior and you would be doing a tremendous favor for them.  Stop complaining and be pro active.  But finally, I have been in the audience when a quartet performer began coughing and had problems stopping - I admit, I felt a little better to know that it can happen to anyone.

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

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Starling-DeLay Symposium
Starling-DeLay Symposium

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

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