One of the most frustrating experiences a music teacher or director can have is a concert audience that is disrespectful. Whether it is cell phones ringing during the performance, shouts from family members to their children on stage, slamming doors or crying infants, all of us have experienced people behaving badly in a concert setting.
Not only is this inappropriate behavior demoralizing for the teacher in charge of the concert and the other attendees, but even more so for the students performing. So, is this a cultural issue that we just have to deal with, or is there something that can be done to improve behavior?
My opinion is that good concert behavior CAN and SHOULD be taught to both students and audience alike. As educators, we should not sit by and simply be observers in this passive-aggressive assault on what was once regarded as “common courtesy.” Just like its cousin, “common sense,” we can clearly see that both sense and courtesy are not so common anymore.
Appropriate concert etiquette can be taught at every grade level the same way we teach and manage our classrooms. If it’s going to be effective, it should be taught as part of the curriculum. Yes, you can and should make time for it in your lesson planning. And why wait until you’re in “crunch time” during the concert season? You’re less likely to have time then. Make it part of your lessons early in the school year and reinforce it when concert time comes. Teaching the students first provides positive behaviors for them to model for their often less-informed families. And let’s face it—the students want everyone to pay attention to them during a concert just as much as you do. The performance hall, whether it’s a theater, auditorium, cafeteria, or gymnasium, is an extension of YOUR classroom. So, good behavior from everyone should be expected.
Strategies in the Classroom
There are more and more lesson plans available on the web. Simply search for “Concert etiquette lesson plans” or “Concert behavior” and you’ll get hits. One notable example is this Audience Etiquette Activity created by the Louisville Orchestra Education Department (used with permission). This is geared more toward elementary/middle school students. For high school students, I typically had conversations regarding appropriate audience behavior integrated into lessons throughout the marking period, and especially during detailed rehearsals about how to get on and off risers, the stage, and into seating assignments for the concert.
Strategies at the Concert
I found it helpful to always have all the students involved in the audience, especially when they were not performing. This, of course, depends on how much room you have in your hall, but this way, students can model appropriate audience behavior for parents and family. An administrator or principal best introduces each concert. I always gave them a script whether they wanted one or not, simply because I wanted to make sure they delivered the following information:
- “Welcome to our school” or concert, etc.
- Introduce the concert and directors to the audience
- “The following ensembles will be performing: __________”
- “They have all worked very hard to prepare for this concert.”
- To that end, “The students and staff would appreciate your cooperation with following items:
- Please turn off or silence all electronic devices
- Please stay seated during the performance of a song or group
- If you need to exit during the concert, please do so at the end of a song
- If you need to have a conversation with someone, please feel free to do so outside in the lobby.
- Everyone would love to hear their children’s performances free from nearby talking.”
- “The students will be modeling exceptional audience behavior tonight, so we ask for your support of their efforts.”
If you have a printed program, consider adding a Memo to the Audience on the inside cover of each program. This one is adapted from the NAfME website, and you could also adapt it for your program.
There may also be opportunities to guide the audience during the concert. For example, audiences need to know that while it is appropriate to applaud after an instrumental soloist in a jazz band, it is generally not appropriate to applaud after a vocal solo in a choir. Why? Applause after a vocal solo covers the continued singing of the rest of the choir and you’ll likely miss hearing some of the words to the music. When it is explained this way, the audience will appreciate the tip and understand better for the future. Also, if your instrumental soloist should be applauded during a piece and the audience isn’t sure they should applaud, turning slightly toward the audience and applauding for the soloist yourself will prompt the audience to do likewise. And always thank the audience for their appropriate support and behavior. Everyone appreciates positive reinforcement!
If you have more suggestions, feel free to comment on this blog post and let us know YOUR successes with improving audience behavior!
Thanks for the great article! It reminded me of an excerpt I recently saw in which Plato describes his complaints about changes in music and audience etiquette:
Our music was once divided into its proper forms…It was not permitted to exchange the melodic styles of these established forms and others. Knowledge and informed judgment penalized disobedience. There were no whistles, unmusical mob-noises, or clapping for applause. The rule was to listen silently and learn; boys, teachers, and the crowd were kept in order by threat of the stick. . . . But later, an unmusical anarchy was led by poets who had natural talent, but were ignorant of the laws of music…Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their works and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges. So our theatres, once silent, grew vocal, and aristocracy of music gave way to a pernicious theatrocracy…the criterion was not music, but a reputation for promiscuous cleverness and a spirit of law-breaking.
I am so glad I found this! While teaching middle school students music, theory, sight-reading, I realize teaching concert etiquette is a MUST! I’ve just been given the grand opportunity for a couple of awesomely talented young women, who performed on America’s Got Talent, to come and speak (perhaps perform) for my middle school choir students! Yes, we are the ONLY middle school choir students they will come and see! Exciting? Yes, but…I’m spending time every class period to go over concert etiquette. Unlike their type of music, these performers will be singing opera, spirituals, and maybe a pop piece of music to engage the students. With that being said, it’s not Rihanna or Beyoncé type of music (and nothing is wrong with their genre) but this opportunity to see these ladies perform and they chose us, is priceless. Thank you JW Pepper for this blog/article.
Very good points and ideas about how to manage audience behavior. As a frequent audience member, I have a suggestion for you as well. Don’t waste the time parents, grandparents, and friends are spending to hear the kids play or sing with endless announcements, speeches, awards for service, thank-yous, and all the rest. The audience is there to hear their kid. A brief intro of the group, the conductor, a reminder of decorum, and let’s get on with it. All the speechifying is mind-numbing, and that’s a big reason why the smartphones come out.
It’s a concert. Play music.
Another fun way is utilizing the song, The Concert Etiquette Rap. Look it up on JWPepper!