In my university chorale days, I had the privilege to sing under the direction of a master conductor: Dr. Will Kesling. He was brilliant, demanding, dynamic, pompous, accomplished and arrogant—the perfect maestro.
He even had the consummate conductor look with a robust build, well-groomed facial hair beneath a distinguished receding brow topped with a silver mane that became delightfully disheveled as he rigorously worked the baton.
He loved John Rutter arrangements, loathed tardiness, and played favorites with soloists.
I learned many lessons from Dr. Kesling including, never, ev-ver take your eyes off your conductor during a performance if you want to avoid public humiliation in front of a hot tenor you like.
But one of the most important lessons I learned from him was concert etiquette. Musical talent and effort that has been developed, disciplined, practiced and prepared for performance deserves audience respect—no matter how elite or modest the venue.
Dr. Kesling traveled the world attending and conducting concerts and recitals from grand theaters to high school gyms, and he said what he experienced here locally in performance courtesy ranked among the worst. We arrive late and leave early. We come in and walk out in the middle of songs. We dress shabbily, clap untimely, and bring children too young and noisy to be there.
I witnessed just such glaring uncouth the other night at my daughter’s school orchestra concert, which is what prompted my memories of Dr. Kesling and a sense of duty to offer a crash course on concert etiquette. Here goes.
First, dress appropriately. I know society on a whole has gone casual dress for most everything, but can you not wear a ball cap to a classical performance? It’s one night. Comb your hair.
Second, be on time. Admittedly, I’m guilty here. But in my defense, I’m late for everything, not just concerts. It is annoying though when people walk in front and scoot past you once a performance has begun. If you are late, wait for a break between songs or intermission to enter. This also applies for leaving. And try to minimize the number of times overall you and your family members go in and out. Also, you should stay for the entire performance if possible. Just because your kid is finished doesn’t mean the other performers don’t deserve an audience.
Third, get a babysitter for youngsters. If you can’t/don’t/won’t get a babysitter then at least take your crying, kicking, whining child out when necessary. If you can’t/don’t/won’t get a babysitter and can’t/don’t/won’t take your child out when necessary, stay home with your crying, kicking, whining child.
Fourth, know when to clap. If you don’t know what a “movement” is in musical composition, educate yourself about it, or listen when the conductor specifically explains what it is and asks to hold applause between them. At the end of a song, hold applause until the conductor puts his arms down, like he says to.
Well, those are the basics. I hope it helps improve everyone’s concert experience. I don’t want to be that lady who has to turn around and tell your kid to stop whining and kicking the seat after ten minutes, but I will.