Saturday, 12 April 2014

Concert Etiquette: Too old-fashioned? Part II - Performers

[satirical] proper guide to concert etiquette by Carlos Rodriguez, part the second:

The presentation of performers is of the greatest importance in a concert situation. The audience expects strict adherence to basic rules of etiquette from the performers, which makes the concert experience more enjoyable.

  • The dress of the male performer is to be either:
    a. White shirt, black trousers, black shoes and socks, black dinner jacket, black bow tie.
    Optional elements include a cummerbund or a red flower in the breast-pocket.
    b. Black suit with tails
    c. Any of the above without the jacket, but with red cummerbund and red bow tie.
  • The dress of the female performer allows for more scope of choice. Ladies are to wear a long dress, which is not too tight or loose. Long skirts are preferable to short skirts, as the audience is to be attentive of the music and not other entertainments.
  • Conductors are to wear a collarless black jacket.
  • Sleeves are never to be rolled up.)
  • When arriving upon the stage, the performers are to bow once and assume their positions (This does not apply for orchestras, in which case the conductor bows after his entry which will be after the entry of the concertmaster. See below.) If desired, a brief introduction to the piece will be given, although this should be taken care of in the programme.
  • Concert masters shall enter onto the stage first. Beforehand, deputy concertmasters are to tune the orchestra, asking for a general A from the oboe (or the concertmaster can do this themselves after they go on). Conductors shall then assume the stage.
  • Post performance, the performers are to bow in synchronisation, and female musicians are to be given a kiss on the hand by male conductors (only in the case of section leaders or soloists) or accompanists. Section leaders of orchestras will be given a handshake (or kiss, as aforementioned) by the conductor.
  • Encores are to be given only after insistent clapping, and preferably after four returns onto the stage. They must not be given before this, as it may be perceived as desperate by the audience.


It's somewhat annoying for a performer to have to adhere to these rules in most situations. Here's why.

Musicians essentially want to share. That's what they've given up a vast portion of their lives to be able to do. Performances are for sharing. So surely, does dress matter? Does presentation, synchronisation, and the time for giving an encore matter? Yes. But they do not have to be looked at with such rigid uniformity and conservative traditionalism.

I enjoy going to concerts and playing in them. They are laid out very well, so I'm not trying to criticise all of the traditional structure.

But there are some ideas which I would like to propose.

The first is that performers should wear clothes that are suitable for the occasion, but also allow for some individuality (in chamber music and smaller ensembles, perhaps) and comfort. I can tell you as a violinist that it is not comfortable playing in a bow tie, for example. Take a look at what the German Symphony Orchestra has introduced in their casual concerts series:

I like this. It shows the performers to be more human, more accessible. Besides, traditional concert dress is simply the elegant clothing from roughly a hundred years ago. Why shouldn't we wear elegant clothes from our era in concerts?

An example of modern clothes that could be worn in today's concerts

Swiftly moving on from fashion, my second proposal is that performers engage much more with the audience, and vice versa.

It has become standard for short introductions to be made before concerts. But what about between pieces, what about Q&As and audience feedback? These could all be applied in more informal, relaxed concert scenarios.

Unfortunately, I doubt that the concert (as a concept) could always handle such levels of audience interaction. My suggestions are idealistic and probably assume a perfect audience, but they would make a difference.

What I'm basically saying, is that concerts need to encourage the connection between the audience and the performers more. Even if it's just the aesthetics, or naming a concert "informal", or even ditching the word "concert" and calling it something else. Yes, they need social standards and they can't be pure spontaneity; don't get me wrong, I like concerts as they are, mostly. But, I think that performers should interact with each other and with the audience more, like how people do this in normal social situations, in order to make this an alive and accessible genre of music.

Do add opinions down in the comments!