Concert etiquette for beginners

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

The problem of attending a classical music concert for a newcomer is a real one but is based essentially on a misunderstanding. The popular conception of classical concerts, perpetuated by Hollywood and others, as hoity-toity social affairs, bears little resemblance to reality, especially these days. Furs and monocles are optional.

As it happens, what to wear is usually the first question that the classical neophyte feels he or she has to grapple with. The grappling is unnecessary. As in all areas of dress these days, the trend is toward more casual attire. A classical devotee is likely to see a wide range of fashion at most concerts, from T-shirts and jeans to suits and ties and stylish dresses. (Black tie and lavish gowns are reserved almost exclusively for the occasional gala.)

When I started out as a staff music critic at a newspaper, I would usually wear a suit and a tie to concerts. But what I soon found was that nine times out of 10, I was overdressed. These days the suits and ties generally remain in the closet; I’d rather not be noticed. If you are a classical newbie and would similarly like to blend in, then “casual dress” is the safest bet.

The next question that comes up is when to applaud. The answer is simple, but applying it is complicated. The proper moment to applaud is at the end of a piece. The problem with this dictum is that newcomers don’t know when the end of a piece is; they think it’s when the music stops. Which is not always, or even usually, the case.

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