New to the Symphony? Concert Etiquette You Can Count On
Going out for the evening to enjoy the symphony is an event. Even if you are a seasoned season ticket holder, there’s a certain sense of ceremony that goes with being in the concert hall. If you’ve never been, the important thing, above all else, is to take in, enjoy, and love the music you’ll hear…live. No matter how many times you’ve listened to classical music on the radio or on your iPod or other player, nothing can match the aural experience of sitting in an auditorium and listening to symphonic music. That’s the way, of course, it was meant to be experienced. Recorded music, while a convenient means of getting music out to more people, was not taken into consideration when the composers of our more memorable works of classical music wrote.
In Western civilisation, we’ve dressed down considerably in recent decades when it comes to attending cultural events. At Haven, however, we advocate at least business casual dress if you’re going out to the symphony. For guys, dress trousers and a dress shirt are acceptable minimal attire. Honor the art form by dressing in something other than street clothes. If you wear a tie, the bottom of your tie should fall no lower than the top of your belt, as a rule. A simple four-in-hand knot is really the only knot you’ll ever need to learn how to tie, if you’re not really interested in a larger knot or in wearing ties extensively.
Arrive on time. In fact, arrive before time. You’ll have to consider parking. You’ll have to account for people waiting in line to buy tickets or getting their tickets scanned at the door. Once inside the lobby, check your coat (leave a tip of at least a dollar) go to the restroom, grab a program and find your seat. This is why you want to leave yourself enough time. Arrive inside the building no later than 20 minutes early, 30 if you’re there to pick up tickets from will-call. It’s disruptive to the seated audience and disrespectful to the orchestra to walk in late. Ushers will usually not seat you if you’re late until there is a pause or between movements during the performance.
Obviously, silence your phone if you don’t want to turn it off completely. And put it away in your purse or pocket. Don’t freak out. You can check to see if you’ve gotten any text messages or Facebook notifications at the intermission. Do not even look at your phone during the performance. The light from your screen is distracting to others enjoying the performance.
You will see the concertmaster (the leader of the first violin section of the orchestra) come on stage first. Applaud. The concertmaster will “tune” the orchestra on stage briefly to get it ready for the conductor. When she sits, the conductor will follow. Applaud. If there are announcements or remarks from the conductor, he or she will usually exit the stage after and then re-emerge right after to take the stage for the performance. Yes, applaud, again.
The convention of silence during performances developed during the 19th century. Before, composers such as Mozart delighted in spontaneous applause from audiences listening to his works. Today, however, it is customary to hold your applause until the entire piece of music is finished. It is very tempting, though, to applaud after a particularly exceptional or rousing movement. Avoid it, although we think the rules on applause should be relaxed to let people express their pleasure with soloists or with delightful or familiar movements within the symphony. But, as a rule of thumb, when there’s a pause, that means the orchestra is finished with one movement and ready to go to the next. It is not a pause for applause. You’ll know when to applaud simply by looking at your program to see how many movements there are (usually 3-4) or take your cue from the conductor, a more reliable guide. The conductor will usually signal the end of a performance by lowering his arms to his side – and that may occur several seconds after the orchestra has ceased playing, allowing the audience to hold the mood of the piece of music briefly before applause.
At intermission, you may get up from your seat or you may choose to stay seated. If you’re out in the lobby, the lights will dim briefly, signaling that intermission is nearly over. Take your seat again in the auditorium at that time, if you haven’t already.
Relax. The first half of the performance is about an hour long. Enjoy the experience and avoid fidgeting or reading your program. After intermission, you’ll be treated with the big performance of the evening.
If you’re feeling under the weather, it’s likely you’ll have to cough. Coughing can be an unavoidable problem, but you can do things to avoid coughing during the music. Consider drinking a bottle of water before going into the auditorium. Bring some unwrapped cough drops into the auditorium with you. If you do have to cough, wait for a loud passage of music or in between movements. An un-muffled cough can be louder than any musical instrument.
No pictures or any other type of recording. Even if your best friend is in the orchestra or in the chorus accompanying the orchestra.
Going to the symphony should be a culturally uplifting experience. Knowing the established conventions will make your evening more comfortable.