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.