Monday, July 16, 2012

How to be a nice audience

A thought-provoking article by Andrew Mellor for The New Statesman's blog today has an eloquent go at the exclusivity of audiences at classical concerts. Some of which rather ties in with my post last week on the trouble with sponsorship.

Let's be fair about this. The world inside the concert hall reflects the world outside it. No wonder it's not too happy a picture. For orchestras, venues, opera companies etc, adverts in programmes are a vital source of income. If they carry ads for private schools, that's not because it's necessarily what they choose editorially, so to speak, but because that's where the money is. That placement is an indication of a major problem in society, not merely at concerts.

Ditto, some people at a concert will know a lot, a little, or something about the music they hear; others will know nothing. In an ideal world, the latter wouldn't take others' knowledge as a personal slight, but might try reading the programme or attending the pre-concert talk; and the orchestra/opera house etc, for their part, would make an effort to help them by providing good, readable, informative and entertaining notes and/or talks. But this isn't exactly an ideal world and the reality, too, is a reflection of a divided society, which is further hampered all round by chips on shoulders. (Will McDonalds have a monopoly on those at the Olympics?)

I have a few very basic suggestions in my top ten about how to help create a nice atmosphere at a concert, including words of advice for all strata:

How to be a nice audience

1. Be friendly. Smile at people on your way in and out of the hall. Say hello to your neighbour when they sit down. Chat a bit. Talk about the weather if you must, or ask them where they're from or how they like the performance. If they know more about the music than you do, ask them for the information you feel you lack. If you know more about it than they do, you might find out tactfully if there's anything they want to know that you can help with. And if someone speaks to you, don't instantly assume they are stark raving mad or have evil intent, unless either fact is obvious.

2. Don't talk while the music's on. If people are quiet, it's because they're there to listen, not because they're being snobby and superior. Listening to music is why people go to concerts. So if someone makes a noise, it's the equivalent of going to an art exhibition and jumping up and down in front of a Monet or Rembrandt making BOOGABOOGA signs. Nobody is out to intimidate you or infringe your human rights if they ask for quiet - it just makes sense that if you are stopping someone from enjoying the music, they won't be pleased. It's a communal activity and requires communal good sense. And switch off your phone.

3. Try to keep clapping for the end of an entire piece. But if people around you clap between movements, remember that it's an indication of enthusiasm and don't be horrid about it.

4. Take a shower, use deodorant and wear clean clothes. Being stuck adjacent to someone with poor personal hygiene for the duration of a concert is enough to put anyone off the environment for life. This is my single biggest bugbear about audiences, by the way.

5. If you're a sponsor and you want to have a reception, do try to book a private room rather than fencing off part of the bar with a sign saying PRIVATE RECEPTION and letting the rest of the audience stare at you resentfully while forking out ££s for their own drinks. It's kinder, it doesn't infringe on public space, and people will generally assume that if you're a sponsor you can afford it.

6. Music may be the food of love, but please don't snog while the music's on. It's really distracting for the people behind you. And if music is, alternatively, the love of food - please wait until the interval before eating your sarnies. See point 2.

7. If you're worried because you don't know anything about the music, then Google or Spotify it a day or two before the concert. It's easy. A plethora of information is available at the click of your mouse. As you'll already know if you're reading this blog.

8. If you do know a little about the music, please don't turn to your partner exchanging meaningful looks every time the soloist hits a wrong note. That's the kind of thing that can make the insecure feel more insecure because they don't know what's going on. Besides, the performer may have other qualities to offer - like depth, insight and beauty that aren't marred by the occasional fluff - and you might be missing them!

9. If you really think the musical crowd seem snotty, snobbish and entitled, you ain't seen nothing yet. Just try an exhibition private view at a major gallery.

10. Stop worrying about all this extraneous stuff. Just relax and listen to the music. You might be pleasantly surprised.