Classical recital etiquette protocols? Thought you’d never ask

22 February 2010

Classical, or chamber, music recitals were not events I went along to a whole lot until I was introduced to the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) last year.

Going to see a band, either in concert or at the local pub, seems — to me — like something that requires no thought it’s so natural, but what about a classical music performance, isn’t that, you know, different?

Aren’t there dress codes (top hat and tails?) and other protocols to be observed? Or, you’ve been asked to go along to a show with the company’s CEO, have no idea what happens, and are keen not to distinguish yourself for the wrong reasons?

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to have ever wondered about such things, so here we go, a guide and some tips to the etiquette and protocols of attending classical music recitals.

What’s the dress code, what should I wear?

This seems to be the main concern of many first time recital-goers, and I’m pleased to report that top hat and tails are generally not necessary.

For me though, someone who only wears a suit once in a Blue Moon, dressing up is part of the fun of going along to a recital. I don’t usually bother with a tie though, I only wear those once every couple of Blue Moons, but at the very least think “smart casual” if wondering what to wear.

Be punctual, there’s nothing worse than being shut out

The best idea is to plan to arrive early.

There’s an important difference between going to a movie and being late, and a recital and being late, the recital is a live performance.

Unlike their big screen counterparts, live performers find it a lot harder to ignore the distraction of latecomers trying to find their seat, which is invariably at the front of the house.

Then there’s the matter of trampling on the toes of audience members sharing your row, and blocking the view of others behind.

In all likelihood though, if you are late, you’ll be barred from entering the auditorium, until there is a significant break in the music, or at intermission.

So, arrive early, have a drink at the bar, and acquaint yourself with the show program, while you wait for curtain up.

Applause, when do I clap?

While pauses during a song or composition are common to all musical genres, classical music is replete with silences and breaks. This can often confuse those unfamiliar with the music being performed, who often think it is complete, and start clapping.

You don’t want to be that person. Unless you are well acquainted with the music, wait until everyone else is applauding before you join in.

Also watch the performers for end-of-play cues, members of the ACO for example usually raise their violin or cello bows above their heads at the conclusion of a piece.

Photos, recording, and mobile phones

Taking photos and video recording during a recital are generally a big no no. A few snaps of the concert hall, and empty stage, before the performance may be ok though, but the check show program, or ask someone, before you pull your camera out.

Needless to say mobile phones should be switched off or set to silent mode.

Take some time out at intermission

Most recitals have an intermission break after about 45 minutes, which tend to last for about 20 minutes. If you need to go to the bathroom, or return an urgent call from the boss, intermission is the time.

It’s also a good idea to get up and stretch your legs, the show will be a little more enjoyable if you don’t feel restless.

How long does the show usually last?

While it depends on the pieces being performed, recitals tend to run for about 90 minutes with a 20 minute intermission about half way through, so all up, about two hours. The show program should have the exact times of the performances.

Read the show program

I’ve mentioned the show program a few times, and trust me, it’s a good idea to read through it, especially if you are not a regular recital goer. They usually include details of recital and intermission times, and of course information about the music being played.

There’s nothing like looking as if you know what you are doing.

Originally published Monday 22 February 2010.


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