A quiet word about classical concert etiquette
Who says classical music must be enjoyed in silence? Despite a summer of mobiles, coughs and even a misfiring hearing aid, our writer refuses to join the tutters
When friends who aren't used to live classical music come with me to concerts, they often ask if they need to behave in a particular way. I usually tell them to just turn up and listen – that a concert needs no dress code, no special handshake. But there are unspoken rules. The recurring theme muttered about at this year's Edinburgh international festival had to do with noise: not that made by performers on stage, which they had paid to hear, but the noise made by audiences. ...view middle of the document...
" Mr Welford suggests some kind of etiquette primer at the beginning of concerts: "Don't know why, if it's considered bad form, a gentle reminder is not made in much the same manner as the no-photography, no-mobile-phones?"
Audience etiquette is a slippery thing, though. The reverence with which we expect to hear Mozart today is worlds away from what Mozart himself would have expected – and, strictly speaking, a proper period performance should also include the food, drink, gossip and hoots of a rowdy 18th-century crowd alongside all those gut strings and natural horns. But the cult of 19th-century genius (Wagner was among the first to decree attentive listening) and the background silence of 20th-century recording studios have shushed our listening habits into pin-drop quiet. All of which makes audience noise seem all the more intrusive nowadays. But how much should we really care about coughs, applause between movements and mobile phones?
The classical music community gives mixed messages. Accessibility is the industry catchword. In some respects, we've relaxed into being able to dress how we like and experience concerts as an everybody, everyday event. In others, we've come to demand sanctimonious listening environments of silence and absolute stillness. I'd be the last person to advocate stuffiness in the concert hall: there's nothing more grim than the tut-tuts of an officious crowd. Such a response alienates those not in the know – and if our aim is to welcome new listeners to the fold, we can't make them feel daft when they get there.
Yet I hate being distracted from great music by careless noise. At worst, it can fundamentally change...