Teaching Great Concert Etiquette to the Audience and Performers

You walk into a concert hall and are bombarded with crying babies, cell phones ringing, people talking on their cell phones, people playing games, cat calls to band members, and doors opening and closing in the back. It’s frustrating. It’s disrespectful.

Proper concert behavior can and should be taught to the audience and the band members. It’s possible to change the culture. It might take a year or two but it can be done. 

I know of directors who have their bands wait backstage while someone else warms them up and brings them on stage for their performance. I prefer to have my students listen to and encourage each other, but they do have to be taught proper concert behavior. Although having a teacher sit with the students can be helpful, I have found the best strategy is to actually practice like you would perform. Go sit in the audience and practice being quiet. Explain it once. Tell students if they don’t get it the first time, you will practice coming to the seats again and again until they learn. Be persistent.

When I taught high school, we never had to go through the procedure more than once. I explained to them my expectations and explained that I felt they were mature enough to understand. I also explained that if on concert day, any of them “forgot” proper concert listening behavior, that those individuals would have to “practice” more (I have always hated group consequences when only a few are guilty). In the 13 years I was at the high school, only once did I have to bring a group of three students in for three-10 minute lunch detentions to “practice” how to be quiet as an audience member. We completed the lunch detentions in the auditorium. The message I sent was talked about for several years after those students graduated.

How to Teach the Audience

  • Welcome Them
  • Introduce the groups and directors and thank all those involved
  • Explain to them what you are looking for…
    • turn off all electronics
    • stay seated; if you need to exit, do so between songs
    • if a call or conversation is absolutely necessary, do so in the lobby
    • whispering seems like it wouldn’t disturb anyone else, but it DOES and carries throughout the auditorium

You may have an occasion where you have to remind the audience during the concert. You can do this respectfully, i.e. “I know you don’t think your whispering can be heard on stage, but it can and it is disturbing the performers and other audience members.” In extreme cases, you may have to ask someone to leave. The choir teacher at my school has done this once or twice, usually with two teens who will not accept the message about concert etiquette.

You might also consider including something similar to the following in your concert programs…

Audience member responsibilities

  • While waiting for the concert to begin, sit quietly. Talking is ok before the concert begins, but not during. Many people think that their whispering will be quiet enough for nobody to hear. That is not true. Everybody can hear it and it is distracting.
  • Applaud after each FULL piece has been performed. Some pieces have more than one movement. If you’re not sure, watch the conductor. Her arms will usually go down when the piece is over.
  • Yelling, screaming, or calling out performer names is never appropriate.
  • If you have a paper concert program, avoid rattling it during the performance. 
  • If you must leave, wait for the end of a piece. When returning, wait for the end of a piece.
  • Turn off/silence all electronic devices.
  • Photos are ok; use discretion with flash photos as they can be distracting.
  • Remove hats
  • Keep small children with you. If they are not able to remain quiet, please bring them to the foyer.

Performer responsibilities

  • Act professionally
  • Dress appropriately
  • Use discretion with skirts. Even a modest skirt may be inappropriate on an elevated stage.
  • Do not wave to other people.
  • Stay quiet and focused.
  • Keep hands and feet to yourself.
  • Be respectful of other groups performing.

*** James Divine is a 25 year veteran teacher and performer of 36 years. He’s a member of the American School Band Director’s Association. Find out more about him at www.jamesdivine.net. Get free jazz music downloads at www.jazzysaxman.com.