I went to see the Dallas Symphony Orchestra last night. It was awesome. I heard Stravinsky's "FireBird Suite" (1945 version) and Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde". It was striking, beautiful, exciting, and the ettiquette of my fellow concert-goers made me wish I had a claw-hammer and some sort of launching mechanism.

So in the interest of music lovers and professionals everywhere, I present Beltane's Guide To Concert Ettiquette.

First off, always plan for the most extreme scenario you can encounter at a symphonic concert: a recording of the live performance you paid good money to hear. This means thinking ahead and doing the following:
  • If you have a digital watch that beeps, turn it off.
  • If you have a pager, either set it on vibrate or leave it in the car. If it goes off you can't leave in the middle of a song or performance anyways or you won't be allowed back inside the hall; getting up in the middle of a performance when the musicians and conductor aren't at rest distracts them and your fellow audience members.
  • If you have a cell phone, DO NOT BRING THAT MOTHERFUCKER IN WITH YOU.

    Allow me to explain:
The Firebird was first, and an intermission followed. Then the second half of the concert was Mahler's Leid. He wrote this as a song cycle based on german lied translations of Chinese poetry; also of note, it was composed after he learned he was dying of heart disease the year before his death. As such, this is a somber, sweepingly emotional piece.

The general manager of the DSO came out before the concertmaster tuned the orchestra for the second half and explained that a recording would be taking place. He pointed out the several high-sensitivity microphones. He then asked several times that all noise be kept to a minimum during the performance - muffle your coughing, turn off all cell phones and pagers, don't drop your programs, turn off your cell phones, no summoning the devil, turn off all cell phones. He mentioned turning off cell phones no less than three times.

So, he leaves, the tuning happens, Andrew Litton comes out, and the audience is really golden through the first five songs of the six-song cycle. Hardly anyone coughs until the breaks between songs. No beeps, honks, or whistles. Good good. Then, the sixth song in the cycle begins, being the longest and most emotionally demanding of the listener and performer.

First, some old hag in front of me drops her program with a loud "thwack" as it hit the ground. I saw Litton flinch when it happened.

Second, some asshole's watch goes off, signaling ten o'clock. He was pretty close to me and I could just hear it a little, but then again the two giant room-tone mics about 6 feet over our heads had no problem picking it up, I'm sure.

At this point, the recording isn't entirely ruined. It's salvagable, I think. Nothing too horribly wrong has happened. But then...

Directly in front of the mezzo-soprano during one of her soli, this guy's cell phone rings. And he LET IT RING TWICE BEFORE HE TURNS IT OF WITH ASSORTED BEEPS AND BOOPS.

Let me say something about the mezzo-soprano. Not only was she fabulous, but she was 7 months pregnant and big as a house. Still working.

Needless to say, I wanted to hunt that mofo down in the parking lot and kill him. As did lots of other people.

So, hopefully we have this covered: NO CELL PHONES.

  • Every symphony hall I've ever been to has huge bins of cough drops in the lobby close to each entrance to the hall. If you think you might have to cough, take a handful. Open one and start enjoying it before the orchestra begins to play. If you don't chew them a cough drop will last you through almost all of most any single block of music.

    If you are very sick and will constantly be snotting and hacking during a performance, give your tickets to someone else. Seriously. Don't be a pud. Some guy sat two seats over from me and horked for the entirety of the Firebird. Luckily, he was smart enough to leave before the Mahler recording.

  • Save your applause til the end of a piece. This seems silly but many people forget it.
  • Clap for the soloists and the concertmaster. Always.
  • It is generally accepted courtesy to clap for the conductor when he enters the hall. He didn't get to where he is based on good looks alone.
  • And finally, no matter how soft you whisper to your pal during a performance, unless its Wagner people within a 15 foot radius will probably be able to hear you. The downside to an acousticaly perfect building is the fact that its acoustically perfect and everything carries.


That's all. Feel free to add to this if I've forgotten anything. and if you've never been to the symphony, do yourself and your local symphony orchestra a favor and go. You won't be disappointed.
Just a couple of small addendums to Beltane's excellent breakdown of concert etiquette:

  • If the aforementioned cough drops come in crinkly plastic wrappers, throw those away before you go into the concert hall or else stash them in a pocket/handbag immediately after unwrapping one. Don't unwrap them during a performance, and don't, for Pete's sweet sake, sit there playing with them through the evening. For some reason nothing carries in a concert hall quite as well as the maddening rasping of a cough drop wrapper - a good reason why all old ladies everywhere should be banned from concerts.

  • Go the the toilet before the preformance begins and in the intermission. You might not want to now, but remember - you can't go in the middle of a performance, and having someone down the row constantly squirming and shifting position is very uncomfortable for other people. Especially if you're larger than they are.
This is an excellent write-up and I heartily agree with everything stated.

When I think of a concert, it does not conjure images of orchestras and I am never close enough to the front for it to bring forth crowd surfing. I am one of the millions that think of concerts as places to see and hear my favorite band perform live, hopefully close enough that I can make out the individuals on stage without binoculars.

With that in mind, I have a few things to add.

First, I would like to say that all of the above rules are still in effect. Especially the ones regarding cel phones.

On to the new business:

Do not talk during the performance.
I cannot emphasize this enough. When I buy a ticket to a concert, it is with the express desire to hear the band, and unless it is between sets, between the end of the show and an encore, or before or after the show, I want to not be able to hear another person's voice unless it is raised in appreciation for a song well-performed. Not only is talking annoying to anyone within several rows, especially to the forward, but it is incredibly boorish and disrespectful towards the artists performing on stage.
Refrain from sloshing your beverage upon other attendees.
In some cases this is a nuissance, in others it is a major downer. One of my worst memories from a concert was during Pink Floyd's The Wall (the original, not the redux) when some beery swine spilled the contents of his latest acquisition from the refreshment stand all over the wonderful program that I had spent the last of my allowance on. I was nine years old, so allowance was my only cash resource. A few years after, at another concert, my brother had his new autographed t-shirt branded by some idiot waving a cigarette around.

I have noticed in the last decade an alarming trend of concert crowds to be rude, unpleasant, and in some cases downright hazardous to my health. There are venues where I will not purchase tickets for the lawn seating as there is a tendancy for others of the lawn section to set fire to sections of it, sometimes with little warning to those sitting nearby. It does not seem to matter whether it is Metallica, Iron Maiden, Yes, The Moody Blues, or Lord of the Dance on the stage as the audiences behave no differently. There is actually less of this sort of behavior at heavy metal concerts, but that is likely mostly due to the fact that trying to talk over the music is a study in futility anyway.

Despite the overwhelmingly good advice on all sorts of live musical performances there are a few things that have not been covered.

If the venue says no smoking, obey

Despite the increasingly rude and boorish concert-goer there seems to be an uspoken rule that you can go ahead and do whatever you feel like whether it makes sense or not. Indoor venues primarily will tend to place a ban on smoking, especially for large auditorium shows. The problem is that you are not the only person who feels they have a special right to break this. It's not even as simple as not making someone else choke down your deadly second-hand smoke. What happens is that almost everyone who smokes, does, and in the end you're left with a murky enviroment largely consisting of smoke for the upper third and in many cases making it hard to see the band. Crowded outdoor venues often end in someone getting burned, literally.

If there is assigned seating, stay there
I'm not saying you can't go to the bathroom or get a drink or whatever, but do not stand for the entire concert. It's acceptable to stand when the band(s) come on or sometimes during a particular song or so, but making a habit of it is quite irritating. Not everyone wants to spend two hours standing when they bought tickets, nor did they spend the money on good seats only to be unable to see around your large, ape-like torso.

Do not push your way into your desired place in the crowd.
More an issue in smaller venues than anything. The person up front by the stage got there for a reason. They probably showed up well before you and stood around there because they wanted the space. When you and your asshole friends shove your way past halfway through the set people are not going to get out of your way no matter how much you glare at them. Drunkenly spilling the drink you just went to get doesn't help either. If you have gotten separated from your friends and are trying to get back to them or had to make an emergency run to the bathroom and want to get your place back (though in this case, it really helps if you just left and someone saw you) politely say so between songs and I'm certain people will let you through. If they don't then they're the assholes. If you're right you shouldn't have to shove.

The most important thing is to have fun, just realize that with any other case where humans have to interact the basics of rights boil down to the same thing: feel free to have fun so long as your fun doesn't disrupt things for everyone else.

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