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"Concert Manners"

There’s nothing mysterious or difficult about how to act at a concert. It’s mostly just common sense: the music needs silence, so the audience contributes silence; both the musicians and the audience want to concentrate on the music, so listeners stay put during a performance.

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One aspect of concert manners can be a bit confusing: knowing when to clap. At most other kinds of concerts, people clap whenever the music stops, but in classical music youwait to clap until the very end of a piece.

The wgc2010.org Complete Guide to Good Concert Manners
When music is playing:
1. Be quiet.2. Stay put.3. Don’t clap until the whole piece is over.

You don’t have to sit like a statue. You can breathe; you can shift your body in your chair. You can respond to the music, but your response will be inward. You might experience intense feelings while outwardly sitting quite still. This inwardness is part of the style and vibe of classical music. (Nowadays some classical events welcome more outward response,but most classical concerts cultivate an inner experience—emotion without motion.)

The basic idea is to help each other focus on the music. Making noise, fidgeting, or walking around can distract other listeners, and it may interfere with the musicians’ concentration. We’re all used to talking and moving around while the TV is on—it’s easy to forget that at a concert the performers can see and hear the audience! Your attention and silence will help the musicians to perform a better concert. They canfeel your involvement, and it inspires them to give their best.

When to Applaud

A common concern of listeners at classical concerts, and one of the chief obstacles to enjoying the music, is the dreaded Fear of Clapping in the Wrong Place. It’s no wonder the audience is afraid: Classical musicians don’t usually make clear what they expect ofthe audience.

In other kinds of music, the audience claps whenever there’s an ending—if the music stops, people applaud. But in classical music, one piece may have several parts, each with its own ending. You are supposed to wait to the very end of the very lastending before you clap.


Believe me, musicians hate to tell people not to clap. We love applause. If somebody gets carried away and claps in the “wrong” place, most musicians don’t mind. We’re happy to accept approval in any form. But here is why we like the audience to wait until the very end of a piece: we want everyone to hear the complete piece as a total experience. Long pieces may involve several mood changes, and it’s lovely not to disrupt these with applause.

This can be tough. Sometimes you can’t tell if the piece is over. Sometimes you get so carried away by the music that you really want to clap. Sometimes you’re so enthusiasticafter a section ends that you’ve just got to clap for the musicians.

Don’t do it.

I know it seems cruel to squelch that urge to applaud, but please wait for the very endof the whole piece.

How do you tell when a piece of music is really over? Quite often a classical piece has several sections, each with its own ending, and it can be hard to tell which ending is the final ending, the one you’re supposed to clap for. How do you know when it’s really the end of the wholething?

I know of one snobby music critic who has heaped shame on an entire county because he thinks their concertgoers applaud too much. Such unfortunate mud-slinging not only spatters concertgoers but also stains the music. On behalf of classical music, I apologize to all victims of snobbery. As a performer, I’d much rather play for overzealousapplauders than for snobs.

When in doubt, simply wait until lots of otherpeople are clapping.

By the way, this tradition of waiting to applaud until the very end of a piece is relatively new. In other times and places, audiences clapped throughout the music. Mozart, for instance, was proud to report in a letter to his father that there had been wild applause during his latest symphony. So if you feel an urge to clap before the very end of a piece, you’re in tunewith an authentic historical tradition.

One more thing about clapping: snobs might try to make this into a really big deal. Snobs are only too ready to sneer at people whose enthusiasm results in mis-timedapplause. Such snobbery should be pitied but ignored.

Sounds that Get in the Way


Mobile phones, pagers, and beeper watches (Turn them off!)Talking (You’d be surprised how many people get so excited that they forget they’re not watching TV.)Whispering (You’d be surprised how many people think whispering is silent.)Unwrapping anythingCoughing (If you have a cough, then bring cough drops—unwrap them beforehand, please!—or take cough medicine.)Squeaking a chairOpening a purseJingling coinsRustling the programSaying “shhh”

Activities that Get in the Way

TextingFidgetingPassing notesAdding or subtracting clothesMessing around with belongingsEatingEntering or leavingWalking around

You don’t have to be tense or uptight through the concert. You don’t have to hold your breath! But do help to create a silence in which the music can thrive, and a stillness that helps everyone to focus on that music.

When to Applaud, Part 2

In some situations you can clap whenever you like something. This is often the case at opera and ballet. The audience may applaud the lights dimming, the curtain opening, the first appearance of a major star, an impressive dance move, a lovely song, or a beautifully designed backdrop.

But it’s not like this at every ballet and opera. If you get confused (and I get confused myself sometimes) just imitate the rest of the audience. And remember this: if you’re not sure when to clap, it’s not your fault. The performers are supposed to help you know when to clap, but they don’t always make it clear.

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What about Children?

Concerts are not for everyone. Babies and little children, for instance, can’t be expected to follow the rules at a grown-ups’ concert. Leave them at home until they are old enough to understand how to behave. Even some adults can’t meet these standards of behavior. Some people can’t be quiet. Some people can’t stay in a chair. Some people snore. Use good judgment and consideration about whom you bring.

Legal Matters

At a concert you shouldn’t take pictures or make a recording, and don’t even think of making a video. It is distracting to do these things, and it is usually illegal. Besides, you are there to experience the concert, not to preserve it!


Introduction to Classical Music
Music Categories
Musical Instruments
History of Classical Music
Discover the Classics
Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3 | Vol. 4
Glossary of Musical Terms
A-Z of Opera
Synopses of Opera
Index of Operas by Composer
Opera Librettns
How To Enjoy A Live Concert
A Note from the Author
The Listener"s Job Description
Part 1: Before the Concert
Choosing a Concert
Kinds of Concerts
Styles of Presentation: Formal, Informal, and Beyond
Buying a Ticket
Sections of the Theater
Getting Ready
Getting There
Part 2: At the Concert
"Concert Manners"
The Concert Ritual
Reading the Program
Instruments of the Orchestra
Ways to Listen
Meeting the Performers
Essential Life Support
A Brief Glossary
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