Bassoonists aren’t allowed to do concertos very often. I could go on about how unfair this is but you’d probably lose the will to live so I won’t. Anyway, I had to do a concerto a couple of months ago. It’s such a rare event that I had to Google it. Not the notes. They were fine… well, mostly fine. No, I had to check what to do when going on and off stage. Concert etiquette. Until I looked it up, I hadn’t fully realised what a load of bollocks it all is.
The rules of concert etiquette apply to two groups of people – 1) the musicians and 2) the audience. Let’s start with the audience.
I reckon people avoid classical concerts is because they’re intimidated by them. Look at it this way. Can you think of any other performance-related event where you’d get tutted…for applauding? Do musicians care if you clap between movements? No we do not.
In Mozart’s time the audience would burst into spontaneous applause when they were impressed with a tricky bunch of semiquavers. Or surprised by an unexpected key change. No one tutted.
Mind you, they were probably pissed. In those days you went along with your mates, had a drink, danced, chatted someone up, and occasionally paid attention to what was happening on the stage. I’m going to make up some new rules for audiences. Here they are…
- Wear what you like. The musicians are just grateful that you’re there.
- Clap whenever you like. Especially when surprised by an unexpected key change. In fact, shout “Bravo!”
- Bring alcohol.
- Cough. Preferably during the loud bits.
- Fall asleep. If it’s boring then it’s our fault. Try not to snore. Or fart.
Concert etiquette is equally annoying for musicians, especially the men. Take concert dress. Imagine, if you will, that it’s the hottest night of the year. The audience are politely fanning themselves with their programmes and are wearing as little as politely possible. And what are you wearing?
A full dinner suit. The whole shebang. Trousers, dress shirt, dinner jacket, cummerbund, bow tie. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be wearing a tail coat. For heaven’s sake, is anyone actually impressed by this anymore? OK, it would be disconcerting if the whole band turned up in Hawaiian shirts and matching shorts but really, what’s wrong with wearing black?
Here are my new rules for classical musicians…
- Wear black. Make sure it matches.
- Shout “Bravo!” whenever your colleague plays some tricky semiquavers. Or inadvertently makes an unexpected key change.
- Drink alcohol.
- Cough. During the loud bits.
- Don’t fall asleep.
Incidentally in case you were wondering, I came on stage, ignored everyone, played lots of notes. Afterwards I fell off the stage, gave the orchestra the finger and burped.