Audiences are set to enjoy the entertainment and inspiration of performing ensembles of every description whether it be the local band or orchestra, opera company, drama group or a chorus. One thing is certain: for many, the performances will be marred by thoughtlessness on the part of too many people who otherwise consider themselves good citizens. These people ignore the simple rules of courtesy, or unconsciously destroy the peaceful environment necessary for enjoyment of many of the wonderful performances being offered a generally eager and appreciative audience.
Here is some concert etiquette and protocol that should be reprinted in every show program book. Simple common sense and courtesy will vastly improve the serenity and happiness of sharers in the magic of the performing arts.
Please do not .....
- Dress inappropriately
Although you don't need to dress as if you were attending a state banquet with your President or Prime Minister, you will probably feel more comfortable at a show or concert if you dress in a respectful manner. Different audiences will interpret this in different ways, but you should generally avoid clothing with holes, rips, or tears; very casual shorts, skirts, or jeans; and very casual t-shirts or tank tops. A safe outfit for a female would be a nice dress or suit, and for a male, nice pants and a jacket and tie. Less formal dress may be acceptable, as may more formal dress, but a good rule of thumb might be to dress as if you were going to attend your church, synagogue, or other house of worship, visit the bank for a loan, or make an appearance to defend yourself in court.
For those attending concerts in major metropolitan areas, keep in mind that audience members will probably be dressed more formally than in smaller cities or suburbs. For example, a visit to the Metropolitan Opera or the Royal Opera at Covent Garden may warrant wearing some of your most impressive finery if you enjoy dressing up. Be aware that some performing venues have very specific dress codes.
The first and greatest rule. Talking should not be tolerated as it is not only distracting to the performer but to every person in the audience. It is just plain rude to talk (even whispering can be heard) during a performance. Stay home if you aren't in the mood to give full attention to what is being performed on stage.
- Hum, Sing, Whistle or Tap Fingers or Feet
The musicians and/or singers don not need your help, and your neighbors need silence. Learn to tap toes quietly within shoes. It saves a lot of annoyance to others and is excellent exercise.
- Read or rustle your program
Reading is less an antisocial sin than personal deprivation. In ballet or drama it is usually too dark to read, but in concerts it is typical for auditors to read program notes, skim ads and whatever. Don't. To listen means just that. Notes should be digested before (or after) the music - not during. It may, however, be better for those around you to read instead of sleeping and snoring. Restless readers and page skimmers are not good listeners and distract those around them.
- Crack your chewing gum in your neighbors' ears
The noise is completely inexcusable and usually unconscious. The sight of otherwise elegant ladies and gentlemen chewing their cud is a revolting and anti-aesthetic experiences.
- Eat, drink or smoke
Except for an open-air concert in the park, you should not eat, drink, or smoke. If you are suffering from a cough, the discreet unwrapping and sucking of a cough drop or jujube is appropriate, but any other eating should be saved for the intermission(s).
- Wear loud-ticking watches or jangle your jewelry
Owners are usually immune, but the added percussion even if your jewelry is from Cartier's, is disturbing to all. Let's not forget the state-of-the art gizmos like your cellular phone, PDA, pager and other electronic paraphernalia which appear to have lives of their own and omit disturbing noises at the most inappropriate times not to mention that many of these may interfere with electronic sound reinforcement systems at show venues. Please turn these off before the concert.
- Open cellophane-wrapped confectionery
Next to talking, this is the most general serious offense to auditorium peace. If you have a bad throat, unwrap your throatsoothers between acts or musical selections. If caught off guard, open the sweet quickly. Trying to be quiet by opening wrappers slowly only prolongs the torture for everyone around you.
- Snap open and close your purse
This problem used to apply only to women. But today, men often are equal offenders. Leave any purse, opera glasses case or what have you, unlatched during the performance.
- Sigh with boredom
If you are in agony - keep it to yourself. Your neighbor just may be in ecstasy - which also should be kept under quiet control.
- Bring your children
Children need exposure to good music and live performances, but young children may not be able to sit still long enough for a concert. Some children, like pagers, may "go off'" unexpectedly. This is a difficult thing to ignore and is disruptive to performers and the audience. Take advantage of special children's concerts and more casual concert settings (concerts in the park, Young Audience concerts in the schools, etc.) to prepare them for future concert attendance. If small children are allowed into the concert, parents should keep them seated with them and not allow them to move around during the concert. If very young children become restless and disrupt others' ability to listen, please take them out from the performance area until they are quiet.
- Applaud indiscriminately
Applause is always appreciated by performers, but there are appropriate moments to applaud. In a multi-movement work, applaud after all movements are completed. This allows the continuity of the piece to flow from one movement to the next. If you are concerned about this, look at the program; it will tell you how many "parts" the piece has, and you can count them to see when the real ending occurs. However, this, unlike what concert snobs will tell you, is not a big deal. If you are particularly moved by one of the parts, or movements, you should not have to sit on your hands. In Haydn's and Mozart's day, the musicians would be insulted if no one clapped between movements. Do what you feel. During a jazz concert, clapping is an appropriate way to acknowledge a single soloist. During multiple solos, please wait for all soloists to finish performing before applauding
- Take pictures
Refrain from taking any photographs during a performance. The click of a camera and especially the flash are very distracting and blinding to the performers on stage and may cause them to miss a step resulting in an accident and therefore downright dangerous. Pictures should be taken after the performance if allowed at all. Ask the box office or production management or call ahead to ask.
- Arrive late or leave early.
It is unfair to artists and the public to demand seating when one is late or to fuss, apply make-up and depart early. Most performances have scheduled times; try to abide by them. If you do arrive late, wait by the doors until the first piece (not just a movement) is finished, then have usher show you to your seat.
There are other points, of course, and each reader will have a pet peeve we have omitted. However, if just these were obeyed, going to performances would be the joy it was intended to be and we all would emerge more refreshed.