When concert music is interrupted by obnoxious ring tones, audible whispers, and crackling candy wrappers, both the audience and the performers are not happy. Lucky for him, Beethoven was deaf later in life. He could not have been offended by the noisemakers of his day—although those bygone patrons probably had better manners than today’s crowds. What can we do to elevate 21st century concert protocol? Here are some tips.
A classical music concert is not a rock concert. Talking, smoking, taking photographs, and throwing Frisbees during a performance are all forbidden. Crowd participation is limited to applause. People may also call out bravo (at the end of a concert or following an aria during an opera) and give the performers a standing ovation at the end to signal their appreciation—but this is best shown by observing silence so the music can be heard by everyone in the audience and the performers are not distracted.
Unless you are a doctor on call, turn off your cell phone before you enter the concert hall. Even if you are, keep your phone on vibrate and take any calls in the lobby. Checking your phone for messages and e-mails is also rude and distracting to others (the lighted screen in a dark concert hall; the unnecessary movement).
Don’t talk or whisper during the performance. Period.
Do not bring food into the concert, including the aforementioned candy. Even throat lozenges can make too much noise when you unwrap them; do so ahead of time if coughing is an issue. At one concert a few years back, a gentleman attempted to unwrap a cookie in the middle of Rachmaninoff, and the usher escorted him out promptly.
Don’t leave your seat in the middle of a performance. Wait until the applause begins if you must leave for some reason. And don’t leave while the performers are still taking curtain calls just so you can get to your car early. Wait until everyone stands at the end of the performance.
No public displays of affection! Kiss, nuzzle, hug, stroke, and massage on your own time, before or after the concert.
Respect the performers, music, and venue by dressing appropriately. Shorts, flip-flops, cargo pants, and T-shirts are out of place unless the concert or opera is held outside.
It’s customary to clap when the conductor enters the stage and also when he or she leaves the stage, no matter how many curtain calls are taken. While calling bravo is okay, yelling or whistling is not.
Never applaud between movements. You will know when it’s time to applaud when the conductor drops his hands and turns to the audience.
We’ve mentioned not taking photos during a performance, and the same rule applies to using your cell phone or a recording device to record the music.
Sit in your assigned seat. Don’t choose center orchestra when you’ve paid for balcony side. And don’t move your seat after intermission if empty seats open up in a better part of the venue.
Respect your fellow patrons. If you are wearing a hat, remove it; if you have glasses on your forehead, put them on your nose or put them away. If you have a large purse, make sure it’s under your seat, so no one trips over it. And don’t lean forward in your seat to watch an opera; this blocks the sight line of the person behind you. Bouffant hairdos that block the stage are also inconsiderate. And tame those bustles and trains!
Lisa M. Grotts is involved in many charitable causes. She serves on the boards of the Conservatory of Music and the California Pacific Medical Center Foundation. A certified etiquette consultant, she is the author of A Traveler’s Passport to Etiquette and has been quoted by the Condé Nast Traveler and The New York Times.