Printer-friendly version
The Weekend Vote weekend vote: What do you think is the most annoying etiquette violation at a classical concert?

May 28, 2010 at 5:19 PM

People talk a lot about how "stuffy" classical music concerts are, how we need to lighten up, stop fussing over good manners, let people wear jeans to concerts, stop worrying over this and that.

But the truth is that it can be very difficult to enjoy a classical concert, in the absence of a few rules. The music has very carefully calibrated dynamics, and that requires a backdrop of silence. A live concert involves movement on stage, and that requires a backdrop of relative stillness. A live concert requires a great deal of preparation and a nice venue; and for an artist to bring this to an audience, the audience needs to show respect in their manner and dress.

This week, member Brian Hong wrote a blog about his frustration with the audience at a performance by the Takács String Quartet. Brian is a teenager. Where do we get the idea that "younger people" would like classical music better if only it were more casual? Is it possible that the opposite is true? That a real event would inspire more real devotion?

A few weeks ago I attended the spring concert for the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, at a beauitful, very large church in Pasadena. Hundreds of children, ages eight and up, made stunningly gorgeous music. But the audience impressed me as much as the chorus did: complete silence. Imagine, a choir singing a cappella, pianissimo, like a whisper. It raises the hair on your neck, it's so beautiful. Somehow this very large audience, half of them children, created the right environment for this music to come alive.

I would argue that even pops concert audiences should afford their artists a measure of silence, and this blog made me laugh out loud. Should a concert require the kind of amplification that gives people permanent hearing damage? Aren't concerts for listening? Sure dance, hum, even sing a little but....'Whooooooooo!" If you just want to scream and hear your own voice, why are you going to a concert?

But I digress. Here is the question I pose to you: What is the most annoying kind of concert disturbance, in your estimation, at a classical concert?


From Manuel Tabora
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 6:15 PM

The most annoying violation of concert etiquette for me was when I had a coughing fit ON STAGE as MY QUARTET performed the Quartet No.8 in C minor by Shostakovich. I should add that this coughing fit coincided (most appropriately) with the part where the first violin is playing a lamentation-like melody, while the viola and cello play open C's and second violin plays an open G. Luckily I was playing viola, it would have been really hard to continue playing the first violin melody as I coughed and my body shook violently.

Needless to say, it was an "experience" I will never forget...

From Randy Mollner
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 6:55 PM

I admit that talking/cell phones are probably the most egregious violations, but the most annoying to me is the constant cough drop unwrapping, aheming, stifled throat clearing, sighing etc.

This list of options is interesting to me in that three of the choices (cough drops, hearing aides and cloying perfumes) are demographically related and also the main reason I don't want to spent my money attending chamber concerts.  A couple years ago, I attended a performance by Mutter of Brahms' Sonatas in Chicago and was SO annoyed by the terrible perfume/cologne smell and constant unwrapping/mumbling/coughing/sighing that it nearly drove me mad.  Looking around the hall I realized that the average age of the audience seemed to be about 70, that most of the people didn't seemed particularly interested in the performance as much more than a social event, and that they didn't seem to be aware that they were actually making any noise. 

I think I'd prefer a pops concert with the occasional ringing cell phone and whispering teenager.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Ringing cell phones and talking are the worst. 

Texting/web surfing with cell phones during a concert is annoying, but not as intrusive.  But, why would someone do that?  That person paid how much to sit through a concert and not listen to it?

I don't have a problem with casual dress though. 

From Michael Divino
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 9:51 PM

 Children under the age of 10 DO NOT BELONG IN A CONCERT HALL. Talking is annoying, but CONCERT HALLS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN UNDER 10. 

From elise stanley
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 9:52 PM

Where is the 'all of the above' button?

Ahem, except when it was me of course :)


From Michael Divino
Posted on May 28, 2010 at 10:23 PM

 I agree Elise. 

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 1:08 AM

Jeans aren't allowed at classical concerts??!!!!!!!  It looks like I'll never be able to attend one, because jeans and casual-to-slightly more dressy tops are all I own.  I can't believe that concerts are to be out of the reach of formal wear-challenged music lovers!!

From Adam Clifford
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 2:53 AM

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 5:55 AM

Cell phone is the worst. It's completely avoidable, just turn it off before the concert starts or better, don't bring it with you to the concert.

I feel very differently about things happen to people than things people choose to do. I think coughing, hearing aids problem or child noise are the kind of things often happen to people. To make too much a fuss over such event (as opposed to behavoir) is, well, intolerance of some sort. Also, informal dress bothers me the least. I know a lot of highly cultured people don't own a formal dress, a tie or suits, especially among the academics. I always believe you are civilized not because how well you are dressed; often the opposite is true.

From Michael Divino
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 1:26 PM

 It is a choice to bring along children, and if they do not know how to behave at a concert, on whom does the guilt lie?  Not with me.  

From Bart Meijer
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 1:30 PM

A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience in this regard: I sat on a bench that would make a noise whenever I made a slight move. Luckily the concert was not half full, so I went somewhere else to sit and left a leaflet on the affected seat, claiming it for no-one.

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 2:00 PM

A dear friend of mine, Sue, is sensitive to strong perfumes & colognes.  It seems that these days people are more self conscience than in times past, but it's still posses problems from time to time.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Unruly kids, constant talkers, cell phones -- the whole list you gave -- so much of this crude behavior is traceable to sloppy home training.  Some parents are really falling down on the job.

The main thing I want to concentrate on here is the matter of CASUAL DRESS.  I totally favor it -- and not just for audiences.  I favor it for performers, too.  And I know I'm not alone on this point. 

I am no longer a teenager.  Yet I, too, get turned off by what I consider unnecessary formality and stuffiness.  I can't speak for the others here -- to each his own.  But, for me, the picture of classical musicians and audiences in formal outfits reinforces the old stereotypes of stuffiness, apartness, and elitism.

Then, too, for me, as a performer, dress is a matter of practicality and functionality.  I've harped on this before -- and here I go again.  I would no more get gussied up to play a recital than I would get gussied up to play baseball.  Violin-playing, is tough, hot, gritty work; and any unnecessary bulk or encumbrance just gets in my way and decreases my enjoyment of the whole experience.  And I feel that it puts an unnecessary barrier between my audience and me.

On the other hand, I don't want any grubbiness, grunginess, sloppiness, or vulgarity.  To get an idea of the look I prefer in performance, check out this YouTube clip of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra playing Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 -- "Classical" -- i. and ii.  The outfits the guys in the orchestra are wearing are so functional, so practical, and just my style for performance -- no jacket, no tie, open collar, sleeves rolled back from the wrists.  The related clip, which plays iii. and iv., gives some shots of the audience at the end.

From Emily Liz
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 4:32 PM

When it comes to dress, I'm split. I can see why some people would be in favor of a more relaxed dress code, but at the same time I love seeing everyone dressed up. There's nowhere else you can dress up anymore, at least outside of a big city. It makes the evening special and exciting and exotic. For me I wear my best stuff for evening concerts in the September to May season and then for afternoon or summer concerts I tend to go a bit more casual. Season openers and season enders, I tend to dress as nicely as possible.But honestly I don't care what people wear as long as they are quiet and respectful. I'd rather have a quiet girl in a bikini than a woman in a fur coat who is loud and obnoxious.

This might be a localized thing, and I don't mean to offend anyone, but I've found the older the audience, the worse they are. And it's not just the cough drops. It's rustling of programs - loud talking at inappropriate times - strong perfumes. At our local symphony elderly people don't even stop to applaud; they practically run out of the exits as soon as the final chord is struck. I understand there's a crowd in the lobby afterward but it moves quickly. I'm always so embarrassed for my community when they run like that, not even bothering to applaud the musicians. An audience of predominantly young people, though (like at a college concert, for example)? They're fantastic. I've noticed this phenomenon before and the only explanation I can come up with is that the elderly tend to see these things as more of a social event, whereas younger people who go see it more of a musical event? I don't know. I'll probably ruffle some feathers by posting this but oh well. It's just a local observation. It's probably different in big cities.

From Michael Divino
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 5:02 PM

 Yes, I do agree that there should be a change in the formal "uniform" for male musicians.  Tuxes are hot, unruly and AWKWARD affairs, although conversely, (perversely?) I do enjoy seeing the musicians all dressed up.  What to do, what to do????

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 6:08 PM

Hi, everything everyone has said is so true and I would add this:

If you have a tendency to smell fish after you ate sea food or fish, pls don't eat it before a concert...

At the last symphonic concert I attend, (a hall where the neighbour is almost on your lap...), the elder men sitting beside me smelled sooooo much fish, it was really desturbing. And also it was not a small fellow so he breath quite fast and energically as if he was always a little out of breath...  I tried to forget this but it was impossible and my nose didn't get used. Even my mom 2 seets away noticed it. 

 Kind of a mix of an auditive pleasure with an olfactif nightmare!  


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Emilie, it's like this here too...


From Lex Carter
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 6:43 PM

 Farting, especially if it's a big ol' blapper, is probably the worst. No broccoli the night before, people! Brings a new meaning to "classical gas". 

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 9:57 PM

I'm embarassed--I must not have been to a concert since cell phones and texting became common.  Usually the program says to turn off your cell phone, and some times someone even announces it.

One time I went to a concert given by Andras Schiff.  I was sitting right behind the stage and got a terrible coughing fit.  (May have been from someone's perfume!)  I ran out of the concert hall between movements.  Terribly embarassed, but later on there was so much coughing among others in the audience that Schiff stopped playing and threatened to end the concert if people kept coughing. 

From Kim Vawter
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 10:11 PM

 Manners are established as to not offend. Clearly a lot of these behaviors are rude, inappropriate and do detract from the total over all concert experience. However, as  I quickly read through most of the comments I thought about a concert experience that I had. Sadly a man was on a ventilator.-type machine.   It was so loud that I found myself counting the seconds between the time a large gurgling sound would go off. It was very noticeable and one of those things that was hard to miss. I have forgotten the entire concert and only remember the distraction.  Yes, if I had been in his place I would hate to not to be able to attend a concert ever again. It was sad--I hope that there is a quieter unit available that others can use. 

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 10:43 PM

Cell phones and all their evil electronic brethren.  People, you aren't that important- it can all wait until after the final bows.  If you're on the list to receive an organ transplant, you may leave yours on, in your pocket, set to vibrate instead of ring,in case they find you an organ.  Everyone else can just try to focus on the concert.

From Larry Deming
Posted on May 29, 2010 at 11:10 PM

 People leaving early during the performance - making everyone in the row stand up to let them out - that is so not right!  

From Deborah McCann
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 1:46 PM

I do think ANY thing with a celphone, computer during the concert is exceptionally rude.  Will forgive a ring as sometimes you do just forget, but if it is the same ring from the same area of auditiorim-no.  But the old standard of being late is the same thing.  You are there to enjoy and celebrate the creation of art.  Disrupting this by things you can control, or worse, being phyisically there then using it as background music, is beyond tacky.  It is also disheartening to younger performers andensembles and I think one of the reasons some quit.  It is an issue of respect.

From Alison Daurio
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 1:48 PM

Haha, quite a few of those are simply annoying-in-general... not exclusive to the classical venue :)

Though the worst thing I've witnessed was someone actually sleeping during a performance of the Mendelssohn concerto... granted this woman was very very old, but she was snoring, and her family did nothing to wake her or stop her snoring!

From Nicole Stacy
Posted on May 30, 2010 at 5:43 PM

There's etiquette, and then there's treating someone like a criminal for daring to be human...

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

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 Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

The Wallis Presents

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