It was the concert heard around New York City. Or rather, not heard.
Last week, the New York Philharmonic stopped in the middle of a concert because a cell phone went off during the performance. The phone ringing wasn’t the only story, but the audience reaction: the fellow concertgoers began to heckle the cell-phone-ringer-attendee. It was a big enough deal that even the New York Times had a story on it.
Talk about a bad day for everyone involved.
But this incident got me thinking about concert etiquette, and not just silencing cell phones or avoiding unwrapping cough drops in the middle of Beethoven, but some larger issues as well.
There are certainly moments where distractions happen, and they’re annoying. But, I’m not going to hold it against the guy next to me if he sneezes, or shifts in his chair because the performance is getting long. Listening so intensely to classical music can be just as exhausting, as it can be relaxing and transformative.
One of the things that this concert incident brought up was that there is a certain expectation that the audience knows the protocol for watching a classical performance. Obviously this extends to phones and such, but also when and how to applaud, and what proper behavior is generally.
Here’s my story: I attended a performance in college of my student musicians, when attendees applauded in the middle of the movements. Afterwards, many of the non-music degree students were derided by their more musically educated peers for not knowing that applause between movements was unacceptable.
For me, what the issue is isn’t whether or not the students clapped, but that they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to. Does this mean they never attended live classical performances before? Did they not know that this is how many classical pieces are structured? The fact that they just didn’t realize this makes me wonder if the musical education they received even bothered with these issues and that there had been a severe gap in music education.
Moreover, it didn’t help that people were reprimanding each other for simply not knowing. Classical music live is how the genre is meant to be experienced and making anyone feel like they had destroyed a performance made me wonder if they’d ever attend again. It wasn’t time to chastise, but maybe turn it into a “teaching moment”.
So, with more funds being cut to schools and the focus shifting away from music and the arts, how can we expect people to know what the etiquette for classical music listening is if the only concert they’ve ever been to was Justin Beiber? Does there need to be further explanation at the start of concerts as to what is or isn’t acceptable, or is this the fault of parents and schools for limiting exposure to the genre and experience? Does the protocol need to be more flexible for the modern audience?