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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do you really need a picture? Enjoying the concert…good. Flash photography…bad.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Symphony No.5, Op.67 Ludwig van Beethoven
- Potty emergency! Pee before the concert. Pee at intermission. Cross your legs and don’t think about it the rest of the time.
- 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?