Etiquette

Q: When should I clap?

This is the number-one scary question! No one wants to clap in the “wrong” place. But it’s simpler than you may think, and quite logical on the whole. At the beginning of the concert, the concertmaster will come onstage. The audience claps as a welcome, and as a sign of appreciation to all the musicians. After the orchestra tunes, the conductor (and possibly a soloist) will come onstage. Everyone claps to welcome them, too. This is also a good moment to make sure your program is open, so you can see the names of the pieces that will be played and their order. Then everything settles down and the music begins. Just listen and enjoy! The audience doesn’t usually applaud again until the end of the piece.

In most classical concerts—unlike jazz or pop—the audience never applauds during the music. They wait until the end of each piece, then let loose with their applause. But this can be a little tricky, because many pieces seem to end several times—in other words, they have several parts, or “movements.” These are listed in your program.

In general, musicians and your fellow listeners prefer not to hear applause during the pauses between these movements, so they can concentrate on the progress from one movement to the next. Symphonies and concertos have a momentum that builds from the beginning to the end, through all their movements, and applause can “break the mood,” especially when a movement ends quietly. Sometimes, though, the audience just can’t restrain itself, and you’ll hear a smattering of applause—or a lot of it—during the pause before the next movement. It’s perfectly OK to join in if you enjoyed the music, too.

(By the way, disregard anyone who “shushes” you for applauding between movements. It’s only in the last 100 years or so that audiences stopped applauding between movements, so you have music history on your side!) Mozart would have been shocked and disappointed if there was no applause between movements of one of his symphonies.

Q: What if you lose track, and aren’t sure whether the piece is truly over?

One clue is to watch the conductor. Usually, s/he won’t relax between movements, but keep hands raised; the attention of the musicians will remain on the conductor. If in any doubt, it’s always safe to wait and follow what the rest of the audience does!

At the end of the piece, it’s time to let yourself go and let the musicians know how you felt about their playing. Many pieces end “big”—and you won’t have any doubt of what to do when! Some end very quietly, and then you’ll see the conductor keep hands raised for a few seconds at the end, to “hold the mood.” Then the hands will drop, someone will clap or yell “Bravo!”—and that’s your cue. There’s no need to restrain yourself. If you enjoyed what you heard, you can yell “Bravo!” too.

Q: What if I need to cough during the music?

Everyone gets the urge to cough now and then. Worrying about disturbing your fellow listeners is a laudable impulse, but don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of the concert. There’s a funny thing about coughing—the less worried you are about it, the less likely you are to feel the urge! So chances are you’ll feel less need to cough if you’re prepared. At all Symphony performances, in the Rotunda area of the theatre, we offer complimentary Halls cough drops.You’ll find them at the merchandise table.

Q: What should I do with my cell phone during the concert?

Turn it off! The same goes for pagers and alarm watches. It’s a good idea to double-check in the few minutes before the concert begins, and again as intermission draws to a close. Better still, leave them in your car or at home if you can. Doctors and emergency workers who are “on call” can give their pagers to an usher, who will summon them quietly if they are paged.

Q: Can I take pictures?

Cameras, video recorders, and tape recorders are not permitted in concerts. If you happen to have one with you, be sure to stop at the check it area as you enter the theatre. If you have a camera and want a souvenir of a special evening at the symphony, it can be fun to ask someone to take your picture outside the concert hall before you go in.

Q: Can I bring my kids?

It depends on the concert and on the age of your kids. Many standard-length classical concerts are inappropriate for small children because they require an attention span that is difficult for youngsters to maintain. Most concerts also are held at night, and stretch beyond “bedtime.”