Monday, February 20, 2017
Last updated: 1 year ago

How not to be an asshole at a classical concert

Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey

“The music that orchestras play… it’s all dead white guys,” said Gregory Cox.

Cox is a trombone teacher at the UBC School of Music. He’s also a member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and has made a career performing music by “dead white guys.”

The musician has recognized a growing ignorance of concert etiquette. “I think some of it is television and computers. People don’t have the same attention span. The idea of sitting quietly…being introspective, tend not to be things which are necessarily valued.”

Adam Da Ros, a UBC student majoring in opera performance, echoed that sentiment. While performing in China with the UBC Opera ensemble in 2009, Da Ros attended an opera where an audience member was speaking very loudly throughout the performance. Da Ros was shocked when the conductor stopped in the middle of an aria to scream at the man. “It was like this shouting match, and we don’t speak the language, so we had no clue what happened.”

A recent Youtube video of a violist interrupted by a cell phone has increased awareness of the importance of concert etiquette. And while the soloist concludes by improvising on the Nokia ring tone, not all performers will shrug off a disruption. A startling contrast is an audio clip of Broadway singer Patti Lupone stopping during the musical Gypsy to shriek at audience members for taking photographs.

While performing a noon hour recital several years ago at UBC, Cox also experienced an interruption. “I was literally two bars into the first movement…when right in the front row, someone opened a Coke can.”

Cox can laugh about the experience, but both Cox and Da Ros agree that there are a few general rules people should be aware of when attending a live performance. “The music is immediately accessible, but in terms of clapping between movements or curtain calls, that’s where people get confused,” explains Da Ros.

1. Arrive early. Most venues request that audience members arrive 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the performance.

2. Avoid jeans. “You don’t have to wear a coat and tie, but you should dress nicely,” says Cox.

3. Turn cell phones off and stow them away. DO NOT put cell phones on silent or vibrate. Often, preset alarms will still go off.

4. No talking during the performance. No one is paying to hear your opinion.

5. Don’t come when you’re ill. “You shouldn’t come if you’re coughing and sneezing or if you’re having problems with your bowels,” says Cox.

6. Wait to clap until the end of a multi-movement work, as indicated by Roman numerals in the program. Cox believes the silence between movements is part of the music itself. “It’s very hard to start the fourth movement…if you’ve just had people screaming and yelling. I think it’s hard for the conductor to get back in the groove.”

7. Don’t take pictures or make a video. In addition to being both rude and distracting for audience members, it’s actually illegal.

If you’ve set aside the time to enjoy a performance, then take the opportunity to unplug and be fully involved in the performance. “Just relax and enjoy the music,” says Da Ros. “Don’t worry too much about what the conventions might be or what certain people might think of you. If it’s something new, than that’s great that you’re coming to see the show. Enjoy it.”