Talking at concerts – a matter of context?

Concert etiquette is a funny thing. In years gone by public concerts were a source of entertainment, a social event. Audience members would often play cards or eat a meal during concerts and applaud passages they liked in the middle of a performance. Haydn, for one, developed tactics such as sudden dynamic changes in an attempt to grab the audience’s attention. The convention of silence during performance only evolved in the late 19th century.

It’s interesting that while many people consider popular music concerts to be more relaxed than classical music concerts, Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Bernard Zuel felt the need to lament the idea that it’s ok to talk during concerts.

“Petty officialdom rules but no one, anywhere, ever, attacks the most pernicious scourge of any contemporary gig: the constant and inevitably distracting talk of idiots who absolutely must have their hugely interesting and essential conversations right here, right now. We’re not talking conversations whispered into each other’s ears or snatched quickly during a lull in the show but said loud enough to be heard over that distracting noise. You know, the music being played.”

Read the full article here.

At a recent concert by a classical pianist, many in the audience talked through the more challenging pieces on the program. The seating was cabaret style, and food and drink were being served, all inviting a more casual feel than a traditional concert hall. But this setting also made it harder to concentrate on the modern works being performed.

This raises a question: when, if ever, is it ok to talk during a performance? At a pub? At a jazz gig? At a cabaret show? At the opera?

Many venues or presenters these days have guidelines on their websites or in concert programs covering things like dress code, applause and use of electronic devices. If you’re not sure about things like talking and applause, take your cues from those around you. If you do happen to do something like applaud in the “wrong” spot, people will generally be understanding. In the end it’s only natural for people to enjoy music in their own way.


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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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