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Recital Etiquette (Part 2)

May 31, 2010
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With summer fast approaching many studios are preparing for end-of-school-year recitals.  Previously I discussed how teachers can prepare students to perform in recitals (please see “Preparing Your Students for Recitals (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for a refresher).  Now it is time to discuss how to behave and what to do  (i.e.  etiquette) when attending a recital.  These tips apply not only to private studio recitals, but to large-scale concerts as well.  Recital etiquette can be broken up into three categories:  the performer, the audience, and the teacher.  Each of these three plays an important role in the success/outcome of each individual performance and also of the recital as a whole.  Accordingly, each has a unique responsibility to follow proper recital etiquette.

Below is part 2 of 3 posts regarding recital etiquette.

(Part2) The Audience:

(1) Arrive on time, or a little early.  When audience members arrive on time it provides the best opportunity for the performance to begin on time.  Additionally, arriving a few minutes early will allow for enough time to get a program, briefly say hello to/connect with other parents of performers, and to get seated.  In fact, those who arrive early usually get the best pick on seating.  🙂

(2) Limit perfumes or colognes.  Audience members often are placed in seating that is close together for the duration of the recital (which is commonly an hour or more).  While perfumes, colognes and scented body lotions do smell good, in a recital/concert setting it is NOT considered appropriate to wear strong smelling scents.  Many people have allergies to perfumes.  So, out of respect to the other members in the audience it is considered proper etiquette to limit, or refrain from, applying scented items on your body or clothing.  Of course, it is important to remember that unpleasant odors are also not considered proper etiquette so mild deodorants and breath mints are encouraged.  🙂  Enough said.

(3) Sit QUIETLY and listen to the performances.  The role of the audience is to provide appropriate support and encouragement to the performer, and to receive enjoyment from the performance.  Remembering that an audience consists of many people, and that all deserve equally to enjoy the performance, it is expected that audience members will follow some basic rules:

  • No talking, loud whispering, or humming along during a performance.  Additionally, noisy candy wrappers and cough drop wrappers should be avoided!  It is best to plan ahead and remove items from their wrappers before entering the recital hall.  All of these noises can be very distracting to the performer and can (especially in young students) cause problems in the performance.  It also can be quite distracting for audience members sitting close by, which will likely disturb their quality of enjoyment.
  • Remain seated during the performance (no wiggling or walking about), and only leave between pieces if absolutely necessary.
  • No gum.  Smacking and chewing noises can distract other audience members.  And, gum dropped in a recital venue can create a “sticky” mess.  It is best to use (quiet) breath mints instead.
  • No whistling, yelling, or other loud methods of congratulations should be done.  This is especially true prior to the performance.  If a performer is focused and ready to play, but becomes distracted with the “cat-calling” and “whooping” from the audience it can really throw off his performance.  Boisterous congratulations are meant to show support for the performer, but it may actually cause unintended problems instead.  Please consider the performers needs before shouting out in congratulations!  In other words, if the audience does engage in loud whistling or yelling (despite the fact that it is considered really poor manners to do so), it should only be done after the performance is completed! The best way to show appreciation for the performance is with thunderous applause, and an occasional “bravo” at the end of an especially great performance.  Loud applause is a heart-warming sound and is very exciting for a performer.  Loud whooping and yelling really is not necessary for getting the message of support and love across.

(4) Go to the bathroom BEFOREHAND.  It can be disruptive to get up in the middle of a recital, especially if getting up requires stepping over many people’s feet.  But, if it becomes absolutely necessary to leave the hall during the recital it should be done quietly and between pieces rather than in the middle of a piece.  That way it is the least disturbing as possible for the other audience members, as well as for the performer.

(5) No flash photography.  If pictures or video are allowed in the recital it is best to stand in the back and be as unobtrusive or noisy as possible.  And, cameras should have the flash turned off.  Random and/or unexpected flashing of cameras (along with the clicking noises) can really distract a performer and cause problems in the performance.  It is better to take pictures before and after the performance instead.  If a picture at the piano is really desired then a little “staging” can always occur after the recital is over!

(6) Turn off your cell phone or other electronic devices.  I think it’s obvious enough that phone ringing and beeping is very distracting to the performer and the audience alike.  It is necessary to save the texting and talking for after the recital is over.

(7) Attend the entire recital.  Leaving early is not considered proper etiquette.  All of the performers have worked hard to prepare for the event and all deserve equal respect and courtesy.  In other words, each performer deserves to have a full recital hall.

(8) Clap appropriately.  In addition to providing thunderous applause in congratulations (as was discussed above), it is also important to remember to only clap at appropriate times.  For example, when a performer has a multi-movement piece the audience should only clap after all of the movements have been played.  Additionally, in piano recitals it is NOT considered appropriate to clap after an especially brilliant passage has been played.  Instead, applause is reserved for after the performance is over (well… and also when the performer first enters the stage).

(9) Dress appropriately.  Unless otherwise indicated in the invitation audience members should always dress in a respectful manner.   This can be interpreted in different ways, but as a general rule clothing should be clean, not have holes or tears, be more dressy than a tank top or casual t-shirt or other other overly casual clothing (like short jean skirts or shorts).  A good rule of thumb is to dress as if going to church, or on an interview.

(10) Most important of all is to enjoy the music. Creating and maintaining an environment which allows all audience members to listen (and watch if desired) to the performances unhindered will result in an enjoyable and valuable experience for all involved.  After all music is fun!  It should be enjoyed.

There are many benefits to learning, teaching and applying proper recital etiquette.  Teachers can teach proper etiquette to their students during lessons, and especially during preparation for an upcoming recital.  Additionally, helpful tips and reminders regarding etiquette can be included in the recital program so that audience members can learn and remember as well.   Recital Etiquette is an important social skill that musicians and audiences alike should know and practice.   Unfortunately it seems to be frequently neglected at performances these days.  However, with time and patience and persistence teachers can provide a positive influence and help build up a community of responsible musicians.

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