One thing that always gets me in the holiday spirit is festive music. With three musical kids, I get lots of that in the form of holiday concerts. While I love seeing young musicians in action, the audiences often leave much to be desired.
I realize that people are focused on their own family members or friends. School concerts usually include multiple performing groups. This may mean that, for much of the concert, the person you are there to see is not on stage. Tickets were most likely free. The performers are students. Depending on their level of experience, the performance can be a far cry from what we hear on the radio.
School concerts can be a great way for young people to learn how to attend a concert or theatrical performance. In addition to being low cost or free, they are much shorter than a professional performance. They are also more forgiving when concert etiquette is not followed.
Many people are good audience members only for their own friends and family. In being so selective, they may end up ruining the concert for other performers’ friends and family. They also may not be setting the best example for young audience members.
What is proper concert etiquette? Basically, it’s being a good audience member. One who enjoys the performance, does not disrupt it, and has consideration for other concert goers. That’s it for the general, now here are the specifics.
One of the most pervasive distractions at school concerts is the talking. Even whispers carry, especially to those who are sitting in front of you. I once sat through a concert listening to a group of people whispering 10 rows behind me. You may think you’re being quiet, but if you’re having a discussion during a concert, no matter how quietly, you’re probably ruining the performance for others.
If you can’t wait until the end of the performance to say something, keep your message brief. Better yet, speak between songs. If you absolutely have to have a conversation during the performance, please leave the performance space. Even if you don’t want to give the performers your attention, other people in the audience do.
Wear Quiet Clothing
We once took our son to a performance when he was wearing wind pants. He was a fidgety kid, wearing crinkly pants. It was not a good combination. We did sit off to the side so his fidgeting wouldn’t bother others. We hadn’t accounted for the noisy static he emitted every time he moved.
I’ve also sat in concerts near people wearing bangle bracelets. Whenever they moved, their jingling wrists made a music that was not part of the score. Like other distractions, this makes it very difficult to concentrate on the performers.
Avoid Other Noisy Things
Voices and clothing aren’t the only things that can make unintended music during a performance. The same fidgety kid I mentioned before is notorious with a paper concert program. I try to hold those during performances, letting him peruse them when the lights are up in the performance space.
Plastic water bottles and candy wrappers also have a tendency to make distracting noise in a quiet concert hall. Of course, most auditoriums state that food and drink are not allowed, but that doesn’t prevent people from bringing them in anyway.
In short, anything that makes noise will probably be distracting to others at a concert. The Arapahoe Philharmonic goes into great detail about extraneous noises, including dealing with coughing and sneezing. If you’re interested in reading it, check it out here: https://www.arapahoe-phil.org/learn/expectconcert-etiquette
Time Your Entrances and Exits
I get it. People need to heed the call of nature. Perhaps they are on a tight schedule and have to arrive late or leave when their family member is done performing. However, coming and going during a performance can be distracting, not only to the audience, but to the performers, as well.
Opening a door can let a bright beam of light into a darkened auditorium. The closing door may end with a bang. Getting up and moving around the theater blocks others’ view of the stage. The movement all around brings everyone out of the performance.
If you do need to come or go, try to do so in between songs. This will minimize the disturbance to everyone.
Please stay for the whole performance. The performers on stage have often worked for months on the music they are going to perform. Please stay and listen to them.
Not only will you do something nice for others, you may enjoy the music. Concert programs usually put the most advanced students last. If you have children in the early part of the program, you will also get a glimpse of what’s to come in their musical future.
How does an audience participate? Listen actively. Sing along when invited. Clap when a song is over.
Many people don’t know how to tell when a song is over. Usually, it’s when the conductor lowers their arms and/or baton. Sometimes, a piece has more than one movement. In between, it may look like the song is done. To be really sure the piece is finished, wait until the conductor turns to face the audience. Unless they’re inviting some kind of audience participation, it’s time to applaud.
The advent of camera phones has been a blessing and a curse. While sitting in an audience, you can often only see a sea of cameras hovering above the heads in front of you. Sometimes, the only performance you can physically see is in the cell phone display held above the seat in front of you.
I get it. You want to share the performance with people who can’t be there. You may want to keep a record of your kids’ accomplishments. Keep in mind that you are not in that audience alone.
I usually restrict myself to a few snaps of my kid during the performance. If I do record a piece or two, I try to limit the distraction I may be creating for others in the audience.
Consider where you are. If you are in the front of an auditorium, chances are that holding a cell phone above your head is going to distract people behind you. If you plan on recording, try to place yourself in a position where you will not be distracting others.
Dim your screen and turn off your flash. Nothing is worse than getting blinded by bright lights in a darkened auditorium. Bright flashes may also startle performers on stage.
The best way to be a good audience member is to enjoy the performance. Don’t focus on any mistakes made. Appreciate how quickly a new group can come together. Marvel at the fact that kids who didn’t know how to read a note of music can perform in a concert 3 months later. Together.
My hat is off to music teachers and musicians alike. Thank you for sharing your love of music with the rest of us.
Thanks also to all audience members, for showing up and listening to young musicians share what they’ve learned.