Concert etiquette can be a sticky subject as some rules are universally acknowledged whilst others can vary according to culture and concert. Most rules of good etiquette are generally agreed upon, and these revolve around minimising distracting noises and behaviour such as the incorrect timing of applause, and appropriate dress expectations.
It’s good to remember the reason we have etiquette expectations in a concert setting is to ensure the music can be heard and appreciated by all. The first rule of good practice is that the audience should be silent throughout the entire performance. Imagine how distracting and noticeable it would be on the quiet passages if they were not!
As well as being quiet, the audience are expected to arrive early, and some venues will not allow late entry so as not to disrupt the performance. More often, late entry at small venues will mean waiting until the performance is between movements until you can quietly go in, or standing in a designated area where you can listen. At theatre and opera performances there will be an intermission, and this is usually the only time you are permitted to get out of your seat (unless you are unwell or need to leave).
Nowadays, the biggest faux pas a person could make is to forget to silence their phone, or worse still, attempt to photograph record the concert with it. This is frowned upon in music universally, whatever the genre, because it is inconsiderate, distracting, and often obstructive to other audience members. Illegally filming a concert could also infringe on copyright restrictions and laws in place surrounding the performance.
Applause can be a confusing aspect when being introduced to classical music – the concert was fabulous and you want to show how much you enjoyed and appreciated it, so you applaud at the end of course? Well, depending on the piece you may still be some distance from the end and accidentally clap too soon. When attending a symphony or a suite, or any performance that is made up of several movements or parts, there will not be applause until the very end. It is important to never clap between movements, as this will be a serious interruption to the flow of the concert.
When an orchestral work is finished, often the conductor will pause after the final note has rung out, and then release their arms to signal the performance is over. The audience will be eager to clap immediately as soon as the final note is played. If you’re ever unsure of when to clap at a concert, simply wait until the room is definitely applauding and take that as your cue!
Now that the orchestra has performed and the room applauds, you’ve reached the end of the concert. Well, it’s not over yet and there is much more applauding to be done. The conductor will direct the leaders of the different sections of the orchestra to stand, and the clapping should continue.
The conductor will perform several curtain calls, each cueing the audience to launch another wave of appreciation, ramping up the previous applause.
In a choral concert the ritual for the end applause will involve the soloists filing out and back again for each curtain call, ensuring they rearrange themselves in order for ladies to be first each time! As with orchestral performances, the conductor will signal the leaders of the various instrument families to stand, and the audience should keep the applause going throughout. In both concert settings, the leader will get up at the very end when all applause has stopped and there will be one final round of respectful applause.
Chamber concerts follow the same rules as orchestral concerts, but on a smaller scale as often chamber music is performed in smaller venues. The emphasis on audiences being quiet and considerate, stay seated, and applaud only at the end are even more relevant in smaller spaces, even if they appear to be less formal. The end of chamber music concerts will involve a curtain call or two, and is a much simpler ritual.
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An encore performance is a usual addition to a concert, and depending on the audience reception it will often be shouted at the end of a performance. Another way of encouraging an encore is to simply continue the stream of applause and therefore imply to the performers that this is welcomed.
Opera has slightly more raucous tendencies by orchestral standards; in Italy, arias will often be applauded straight away, even while the music continues. Audiences will often supplement their applause at the opera with shouts of ‘bravo’, ‘brava’ and ‘bravissimo’ respectively, as well as ‘encore’ and ‘bis’ at the end. Some British crowds even whistle, whereas in Italy and other cultures this is not a sign of appreciation and is not accepted.
What to wear to a concert is always a hot topic, and while some concerts specifically invite the audience to dress for comfort, in reality it can be more uncomfortable when mingling in the foyer with traditionalists. Deciding how much to dress up will depend on the venue, ticket cost, and nature of the concert you’re attending. The more expensive the ticket and more lavish the venue will be a guide that your dress should be incrementally more formal. If in doubt, check the venue’s website, dress simply yet smartly and you can’t go wrong. Glyndebourne has some excellent advice and even online shopping links in order to help audiences adhere to their formal dress code.
Lastly, remember that you don’t want to distract or obstruct anybody else’s experience, so leave any large hats at home when heading out to your concert!
Whether you are taking part in a concert or just going along, it has never been easier to study a score. Today you can download a score online for any work before the early 20th Century, and with the PlayScore 2 app you can play it back and really find out how the music works.
Wiki – Concert etiquette
Liveabout – Concert Manners