Teaching Concert Etiquette Concert Etiquette Permalink

By NAfME member Tom Sabatino (originally published on JW Pepper Blog)

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 on “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 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!

About the author...

NAfME member Tom Sabatino currently works as Manager of Choral Product Sales, choral clinician and voice-over actor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc., the world’s largest sheet music retailer. Prior to working with Pepper, Tom taught general, instrumental, and vocal music in Delaware public schools for 31 years. He also directed the University of Delaware choir Schola Cantorum, was a tenor with the Christ Church Christiana Hundred Choir, and was Director of Music for St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Delaware. He was active in the Delaware Music Educators Association where he served as President and All-State Chorus Chair, and ACDA where he served as chair for High School Standards and Repertoire. Tom holds active memberships in NAfME and ACDA and is a freelance voice actor and narrator through audible.com.