A satirical look at how regular concert goers negatively impact the future of classical music.
An engaged, enthusiastic, and diverse audience is one of the strongest measurements for justifying an orchestra’s value. During my years as a violinist in various orchestras around the country, I have witnessed audiences lose their enthusiasm for live concerts and turn their backs to orchestras as the result of behavior not just from those inside the ensemble but from those around them.
After covering music directors, musicians, and managements, this is the final installment which looks at how audience members are alienated at classical music concerts. There is only one group remaining and it is only appropriate to shine the light on how the existing audience members alienate each other. And while I’ve never encountered all of offenses below at a single concert, although they have all happened more than they should, they have been compiled into one big list. I have witnessed all of these from both the stage AND as a patron and in the spirit of stopping the madness, here’s the step-by-step guide on how audience members can help identify – and hopefully break – the cycle of alienation.
1 Wear your coronation outfit.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice or dress up for a concert, it isn’t necessary to go overboard. There are some people that go to a concert to be seen, that’s fine as long as there is an understanding that some people actually go to concerts to hear the music. Coat checks aren’t there for merely for convenience and since big, heavy coats absorb sound (especially full length fur coats) and have a negative impact on how a hall sounds, it is strongly recommend that you take advantage of the service. While symphony orchestras seem to nickel and dime people, the couple of bucks invested on coat check is a worthy option to create more personal space. In fact, the more progressive venues provide the service free of charge!
2 Leave your mark.
Simply put, there’s a reason why so many workplaces have fragrance policies. Some concertgoers may have allergies and many more simply don’t want to smell anything overpowering in public places. If you hear much coughing or sneezing in your vacinity, you might just be the reason. So unless you plan on buying an entire section worth of seats to create an appropriate buffer zone, keep the perfume to a minimum.
3 Don’t take cough medicine.
Nothing ruins a sweet moment in the music like someone hacking up a lung so most venues offer free cough drops at key points throughout the hall. If they aren’t easy to find, ask any usher. My favorite cough drop is Ricola. Not only does Ricola work extremely well, many varieties are wrapped in a waxed paper, which is quiet when unwrapping and will help you feel less self conscious. At the very least, if there aren’t any cough drops around, try coughing into your arm or a handkerchief. If you can’t stop coughing, leave until you can control it.
4 Only you can hear your noises.
If you must open candy with a crinkly wrapper do so at an appropriate moment when the music is very, very loud. Of course, this means you’ll need to know the music and if the work isn’t familiar then you probably don’t need that candy in the first place. For those daring to throw caution to the wind, you’ll inevitably get caught opening it up during a grand pause and I can guarantee you’ll feel foolish.
And do we even need to mention that chatting is entirely unacceptable, regardless of the music’s volume. The best way to share your witty thoughts is to save them for intermission. That way, you’ll have something to talk about while you are waiting in the ridiculously long line for the restrooms.
5 Leave the cell on for emergencies.
The best thing for cell phones, Blackberrys, and iPhones, is to have them turned off. Silent, vibrate, or any other sound reduction feature DOES NOT QUALIFY AS “Off.” Having devices powered down reduces the temptation to check texts and other messages that will undoubtedly disturb those seated to either side. While texting would seem innocuous enough, the light alone will rob your fellow patrons from total emersion into the concert.
6 Perfect the judgmental stare.
Sometimes there is a temptation to prove or share your knowledge. Even if you are a seasoned concertgoer, it is never nice to correct a newbie concertgoer unless it is requested. If the newbie finds a love of “TchaiCOWsky”, it is likely they will search out more of his works and soon find the proper way to pronounce it. As for attire, concertgoers should wear what is comfortable in the hall and there are no “wrong” outfits. The thought that a newbie might not come back to a concert because they felt self conscious about how they were dressed makes me sad. Instead, I’m happy they feel we’re important enough to buy a ticket and come back for more concerts.
7 Keep impressing your peers.
Nobody really likes a showoff and ultimately, good manners are all about making others feel comfortable. Honest feelings about a performance or composer can really generate stimulating conversations but giving fake airs to appear more cultured is such a turnoff.
8 Shush like you’ve never shushed before!
Never make a huge deal about a rude patron. One of the reasons ushers are around is to deal with rude patrons in an appropriate way. If a patron won’t stop chattering or making noise and an usher isn’t aware, alert them during the intermission. Making a shushing scene will only ruin the moment more than the chatter you’re trying to control.
9 Be THE clapper.
Arguably, there is no such thing as a precise moment when applause should commence. Nevertheless, common sense will be your best guide. If the last piece is super loud, super exciting, and you are 99% sure the concert is coming to an end, it is probably safe to clap while the sound is still trailing off. If you are positive the piece is complete but it is quiet, digest the last taste of music. Let it sit for a minute, and breathe. Count backwards from 50, and then maybe start clapping. If it is a piece in memorial honor of someone, just don’t clap until the conductor starts to turn around to face the audience.
10 The first one out of the hall and to the car wins!
If you have behaved poorly through the concert (See 1-9), then you should run like the wind to your car. Otherwise, stay and share the applause with your fellow concertgoers.
In conclusion, the audience is the most important component to classical music. Period. If there is nobody to appreciate the art, all that is left are musicians and academics stroking their own egos. After all, the relationship between musicians and audience members isn’t one-sided, instead, we’re partners.