Etiquette

When should I clap?

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, Maestro Bay (or on occasion, a guest 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.

When everything settles down, the music begins. Just listen and enjoy! The audience doesn’t really 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. 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. (By the way, disregard anyone who “shushes” you for applauding between movements. It’s only been in the last 50 years or so that audiences stopped applauding between movements, so you have music history on your side!)

Not sure when the piece is over? Watch the conductor, who will lower the baton at the conclusion of a work. When in doubt, it’s always safe to wait and follow what the rest of the audience does.

What if I need to cough during the music?

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.

  • Be sure to visit the water fountain in the lobby before the concert and at intermission.
  • If you have a cold, take some cough medicine in advance and bring wax paper-wrapped – or unwrapped – lozenges with you. Have a few out and ready when the music begins.
  • Allow yourself to become involved in listening to the music and in watching the performers. The more you are absorbed in what’s going on, the less likely you are to cough.
  • If you absolutely can’t restrain yourself, try to wait for the end of a movement. Or “bury” your cough in a loud passage of music. If this is impossible, and you feel a coughing fit coming on, it’s perfectly acceptable to quietly exit the concert hall. Don’t be embarrassed – your fellow listeners will probably appreciate your concern for their listening experience.

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 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.