Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Symphonies 101

Today’s blog post comes from Cindy, who recently attended several live performances in Athens, Atlanta, and New York City and says, “I am convinced a mandatory refresher course in concert etiquette is in order.”

So, here it is: Symphony Etiquette 101 by Cindy Haygood 

First things first: No humming with the orchestra or performer or choral group. Sutton Foster has a gorgeous voice and doesn’t need you to accompany her, even if it is your favorite Cole Porter song! Speaking of audience participation—please sit relatively still. The dancers are on stage.

Secondly: When the president of the ballet company’s board of directors stands on stage requesting you to please refrain from all use of electronic devices during the performance, he really meant everybody! All people! Everyone! Even the lady we saw who checked her phone messages, lighting up the concert hall like the Fourth of July.

Now, a word on clapping. Do not clap until the end of the entire piece of music. Do not clap between movements. Not sure if the music’s over? Take a look at your program. It might look like this:

Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1786 
     Allegro in A major 
     Adagio in F-sharp minor 
     Allegro assai in A and alla breve 

The above piece has three movements and they are indented beneath the main title of the piece. Applaud after the final movement. There is usually a short pause between movements, but resist clapping—think of it as a time for the orchestra to catch their breath.

Some FAQs: 

Should I bring the family? 
Sure, if it’s a family-friendly concert—just have reasonable expectations. Some orchestras recommend waiting to bring your child until he or she is 6 years old.

Supervision is essential, according to our friend Albert F. Ligotti, a professional trumpet player for the New York Philharmonic for 11 years under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, and the founder of the Athens (Ga.) Symphony.

“I don’t mind hearing children talking; it’s not that distracting,” says Ligotti. “But letting them run down the aisle is the biggest complaint.”

That’s right—Ligotti has often seen children race up and down the aisle during a concert, sometimes even approaching the stage. “It’s disconcerting to the players,” he says.

What do I wear to the Symphony?
Your clothing should reflect the occasion. Think about the venue. If it is outside in the amphitheater, think of comfortable clothing suitable for outside weather. One of my favorites is the Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park in Houston, Texas. And because it is located in a park, there is a very casual feel about this venue. Even the members of the symphony have on casual dress uniform clothing. On the other hand, if it is an ornate, gilded hall, dress up for the occasion. No matter where you are, however, leave the baseball cap at home!

When should I arrive?
 The accepted practice is to be in your seat 15 minutes prior to the start of the concert. This gives you time to look through the program notes and to be comfortably situated for the performance. In most venues around the world, there are strict rules about arriving late. Some theaters will not seat you until after a selection of music is complete, or until after intermission. So don’t be late!

 Is it okay to use my cell phone as a camera?
No. Lights, cameras, action are for movie sets, not live performances of a symphony! Remember there are copyright issues at stake, too, especially if you have plans to film copyrighted material and post it online (something that technology may soon prevent).

What about a bottle of water in the concert hall?
Unless you need it for health reasons, it is not advisable! Mostly because getting the bottle out to drink will result in noise and a possible accident.

Can I get out my cell phone and take notes, doodle, play games…? 
Please don’t! You are to watch, listen, enjoy, be mesmerized and be entertained by live music…not your cell phone!

How should I handle people leaving my row during intermission?
Try to stand or move your legs to the side to help people exit gracefully. Remaining in your seat and not acknowledging someone’s need to exit is rude and inconsiderate. Plus, this is a good time to talk and meet the people around you, so why not interact now (and not during the show)?

What really bugs you about people’s behaviors or lack of mannerly behavior at concerts? I’d really like to know. Send me an e-mail!

Note: you can find our etiquette advice on attending rock shows here.

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