Concert Etiquette: a proposition

Having read Anne Midgette’s discussion of concert behavior I propose two rules for going to concerts. 

1. Wear whatever you want. I can pretty much promise you that everyone else in the audience gives precisely zero fucks about your outfit. There are some things that you probably should not wear, but only because they are disruptive and/or unsanitary – e.g things with bells, stovepipe hats, assless chaps, etc. etc. (I gave this some consideration, and the only reason I can think of for wearing chaps to a classical concert is that you went clubbing with Anna Netrebko, and at 5.00am in a warehouse outside of Amsterdam she gave you a friendly hug and whipped a sharpie from her $5000 diamond-studded clutch and suggested that you autograph one another’s asses as a souvenir of the evening. In this case and this case only you may wear assless chaps. Because you’ve earned it.) 

2. Be quiet during the music. Be quiet be quiet be quiet. Be quiet. Do not snore. Do not snap your water bottle. Do not rustle around in bags looking for things. Be quiet. I say this as someone who still has relatively young hearing and can filter out noise to some degree. But other music lovers do not have young hearing. They do not need your noise. They do not want your noise. Besides, concert halls are designed to carry sound. None of us want your noise. So be quiet. Be quiet.

13 thoughts on “Concert Etiquette: a proposition

  1. from the article:
    I’d like concert halls to be open to a generation of people who don’t mind texting, or snapping photos, during the performance — who see in this an expression of enthusiastic participation

    hells no! that’s more like an expression of short attention span. If you can’t go for 1 1/2 hours without texting watch the damn DVD/youtube video at home whilst skyping.

    I’d like people to feel that the music is something that belongs to them, something that’s theirs to consume, listen to and debate rather than representing some kind of privileged, sacrosanct territory

    what’s wrong with a sacrosanct territory? I want something special, that’s why I’m going. I don’t want my seatmate to be eating a kebab and wolf whistle every time a character on stage makes an innuendo. I don’t feel guilty at feeling like this, even though I know this was happening in 1800s. Many other things were happening in the 1800s that we have moved on from…


    1. I couldn’t agree more – snapping pictures and dicking around during a concert is NOT a sign of appreciation. (Snapping pictures of curtain calls, on the other hand, while everyone is cheering and applauding: absolutely A-OK) And I’m pretty sure that just because the audience is expected to be quiet and allow others to listen is not a sign that the music isn’t there for everyone to consume, listen to and debate.

      One of the things that I like about classical performance conventions is that it’s not all about socializing: you’re there, you listen to the music, and while the performance is happening, you don’t have to – or shouldn’t have to – think about what anyone else in the audience is doing. I don’t want it turned into a sea of chit-chatting, snacking, etc. etc. I think Midgette forgot that classical music is unamplified – a few people mucking around really will spoil it for a lot of others. And as you say, some things we did in the 1800s we can leave in the 1800s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She sounds (here?) like the worst kind of apologist for lack of social skills. I don’t see why we should forget all common sense just because mobile phones are now part of everyone’s life. This comment is even worse:

        The article is really about turning off entire generations of people because of overstrict rules. The result will eventually be no more classical music because no audience, which is where it’s heading anyway. That would be a great pity.

        Is this person for real? Would people who actually love live music stop attending because they aren’t allowed to shovel food in their mouth midconcert or immediately text about how great this or that aria was? What a moronic comment. There are such things as intermissions for debating and consuming.

        I agree with your rules, I couldn’t care less who wears what and why that’s an issue in the first place. Socialising whilst the music is playing bothers me at pop concerts as well. Many years ago I went to see a certain guitar strumming female singer and the people in front of me chatted non-stop, one of them kept her back towards the stage for the entire time (it was standing room only). Why were they there exactly? I think our age is overly obsessessed with socialising, there are so many spaces set aside for it, surely we can afford to leave the concert hall for other activities.

        but back to the article:

        That’s because those Commandments, like much of the classical music experience, are tacitly predicated on the idea that our music, our art form, and therefore our way of thinking, is superior to yours.

        seriously? Is this what (much of) classical music is predicated on? News to me. Might be what being a critic is predicated on.

        In looking for a way to prevent those cellphone interruptions, we tend to lapse into a rhetoric that comes off as at once defensive and bossy: There is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to hear this music.

        haha, a true classic. I think she’s lapsting into a rhetoric that comes off as rather idiotic. Remember that joke about being so open minded that your brain falls out of your skull? There is a right way to hear any kind of music: by actually listening to it.

        Concert-hall rules are born of a well-meaning, even poignant hope: that someone else can have the same reaction that we do to something we love. It’s a hope that’s eternally doomed to disappointment, since each person’s experience is by definition individual, personal, indescribable and unrepeatable.

        gotta love the “unique snowflake” rhetoric, although I don’t know that it’s consistent with what she’s (passive-aggressively) been preaching up to now. I’m pretty sure I had similar reactions as (some of the) other people during all performances I’ve attended. Sometimes during later debate people said verbatim what I was thinking! Oh, no, perhaps my individuality was slipping. Could it be the composer actually meant for us to feel something specific?

        it would be great to work out a way to include and contain the smartphone, perhaps by setting aside designated areas for its use

        we already have one: the foyer.

        sorry for the long tirade, I had to get it out of my system ;-D I genuinely hate the kind of mentality displayed in this article and in that comment. It’s currently pervasive of other areas of discourse, not just talking about music. I did like this comment, though:

        Do you ever shush someone in a theater? Tell someone they cut in front of you in line and kindly tell them to get behind you because you were first? Do you ask for silence in the library? Compassion in the hospital? Privacy in a public restroom? Then you are imposing your beliefs on someone else, you awful person you! Do you know what anarchy is, because you seem to be in favor of it. We have standards! How awful.

        If you want me to approach you as an adult and not a child, you will accept certain rules of public behavior. This is not “superiority,” this is being respectful and courteous. That is not treating someone like a child—quite the opposite.


        1. Nothing wrong with a good tirade!
          I know what you mean about socializing – I’ve never been able to figure out why some folks have to be doing it all the damn time, even at concerts. It might be generational; might be smartphones; who knows.


  2. The short form is basically don’t do stupid things in the opera house or concert hall, obliviously or intentionally, if for no other reason than that justifiably revenge-driven people will tell scurrilous stories about you, and thus will you be enshrined on the internet as a total a**wipe forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like that guy whose phone rang during an NYPhil concert and who got publicly told off by Alan Gilbert and subsequently experienced the worst several days of his life (le spouse and blogger Superconductor actually ended up talking about this in the men’s room last time spouse and I went to Carnegie Hall. Everyone remembers.)


      1. I myself have retailed that story, and in that instance I gather the guy didn’t really deserve the pillory, but here he is.


  3. I’m totally with earworm on the wear-whatever-you-want rule, with an extra proviso – don’t smell, of vodka, or sweat, or cheap-ass perfume. I once sat next to a young woman who managed to combine all three.She also rustled, rummaged in her bag, snapped her drink bottle, texted and chatted, I was ready to kill her.


    1. Ugh, the perfume. I can stand a bit of sweat – I mean, up to a point – but I think the sweat/perfume/noise combo would probably have done me in too. I think some folks get in the habit of using a certain perfume or aftershave and they just don’t smell it on themselves anymore. (Along similar lines, I am sometimes afraid that my house and office reek of dog, and everyone is just too polite to tell me.)


  4. Aargh! Yesterday’s lunchtime concert featured just about all the “nos” from bizarre coughing; that constant uck, uck noise as someone tries to noisily suppress their cough coupled with fff eructations. And there was a cellphone and noisy sweet wrappers. Kill me now.


    1. Apparently the northeast is experiencing some sort of pollen apocalypse right now – wonder if it reached Toronto? But even if it has … the noise rules still apply


  5. I am really really tired of this old cliché argument: Opera (and theatre, and symphony orchestras, and lieder recitals, and the National Gallery, and Virginia Woolf, and French films, and…) are oh so frightening, because you have to belong to some esoteric clique of snobbish insiders who at some time during the bourgeois 19th century came up with arcane behavioural rules to keep us groundlings out of the inner sanctum of Capital-C-Culture. Really? There are lots of jolly good pop cultural fun events that require more “how to” inside knowledge than any night at the opera.
    The elephant in the room is something else: If fewer (young) people go to the opera and classical concerts (and I say “if” – is this even true?), it might have something to do with prohibitive prices for this kind of romp. I love opera, I love to get dressed up and go see Rodelinda, I actually love it more than going to a Radiohead concert. But the simple truth is that for the 100+ Euros I spend on an only half decent seat for Handel, I can get myself three Radioheads and the beer is already included (not that I would have missed that last item in any way had I chosen the opera…).
    The problem of opera (and a lot of “classical” live arts) is not that it is a privileged space, but that it’s a space for the privileged.
    PS: And I couldn’t agree more with you, Earworm – there are only two rules: Dress nicely (by your own standards, whatever they might be); and shut the **** up!


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