21 Jun 2016

The Art of Etiquette - symphony orchestra

From Upbeat, 1:41 pm on 21 June 2016

Art comes in many shapes and forms. So far on The Art of Etiquette Upbeat has covered ballet, opera and musical theatre, wine tasting and art galleries.

Upbeat producer Zoë George delves into the world of symphony orchestra concerts with cellist Brigid O’Meeghan from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Discover the answer to the most divisive question in the concert hall…

NZSO National Youth Orchestra

NZSO National Youth Orchestra Photo: Inspire Photography

When should I applaud?

Brigid O’Meeghan: I think normally at the end of the work when it’s obvious the work has ended. But there are some movements that end on a high climax and people spontaneously applaud. It shows the music has got to the heart of the people. I don’t have a problem with that.

Some people find the thread of listening experience has been broken when that happens, but there are some who find the experience arousing and want to show their appreciation.

What’s more irritating to us is when you have a quiet ending and everything goes completely still. There’s always one or two in the audience who want to let everyone else know that they are the ones who know the work has finished and they start applauding. But it destroys the magical end. That’s a more disturbing aspect than applauding after the first movement of a work.

We should also applaud when the conductor enters. It’s a greeting and a welcome. The concert master comes out first, bows and sits. Then the conductor follows. Sometimes they will speak to the audience and you can applaud then too.

Do also applaud solos. I don’t have a problem with that at all. It’s right and appropriate and okay.

Some conductors segue into the next movement to limit the amount of applause. Sometimes that works better than others.

How do we know when the work has finished?

Brigid O’Meeghan: It’s a period of silence and stillness and if it’s prolonged the conductor will quietly lower their hands and that’s a visual cue for the audience to respond.

According to an article in Affluent Magazine, the correct way to clap at the concert hall is by “holding your hands slightly to your left and clapping small brisk claps”.  How should we clap?

Brigid O’Meeghan: I’ve got a lot to learn about clapping! I go to concerts and if I’ve been to it and enjoyed it and my hands go together and I make as much noise as I can with my hands, and sometimes with my feet.

What about stomping our feet?

Brigid O’Meeghan: It shows a double whammy of appreciation. You’ll see orchestral members stamping discretely after an awe inspiring solo.

Can we move to the music in the form of head bopping and air-conducting?

Brigid O’Meeghan: For some people it’s irritating, for others it’s part of the engaging experience of the music. Just try a little gesture which is discrete and not distracting to others. The golden rule is to be respectful and considerate of others.

Can we make requests?

Brigid O’Meeghan: We just can’t pull the piece out of our hats. On the whole it doesn’t happen in the hall, but it’s happened in informal concerts.

Can I be "fashionably late'"?

Brigid O’Meeghan: No!

What should I wear?

Brigid O’Meeghan: Wear whatever you want to wear as the traditions have changed. 40 to 50 years ago people dressed formally; men wore bowties and women wore dresses and we stood up for God Save the Queen. Avoid noisy fabrics like silk taffetas or jackets that are slightly plastic. It’s extraordinary how the noise carries in the hall.

What about perfume? The Toronto Symphony Orchestra encourages a 'scent-free' environment.

Brigid O’Meeghan: Use cologne and perfume sparingly. Some people are sensitive or allergic and it can be quite distressing when they start sneezing or getting a runny nose.

What should I do when I get a coughing fit?

Brigid O’Meeghan: It’s something that happens to the musicians at times. Cough into an arm or elbow. If it doesn’t stop, leave discreetly. Bring unwrapped lozenges with you. The plastic is noisy. Also drink some water before you go into the hall. Many halls don’t allow food and drink so plan ahead.

Talking isn’t appropriate in the hall. How do we tell one of our neighbours nicely that their conversation is distracting from the music?

Brigid O’Meeghan: Try body language. A little smile and a finger to the lip and gesture with the eyes, to say “please be quiet!”
Sometimes people aren’t aware that the sound in the auditorium is not just one directional from the stage. The musicians hear everything. We are in the business of listening. The quietest whisper will be heard by us and by everyone else.

What about technology? Can I tweet, text and take photos?

Brigid O’Meeghan: No. Turn it off.

What about bringing children?

Brigid O’Meeghan: Please do bring them. They are our future audience. But as the parent you know your children best and whether they can sit still for a long period and have learnt the art of listening.

What advice do you have for those wanting to go see the orchestra for the first time?

Brigid O’Meeghan: Don’t be afraid to buy a ticket. Come with an open heart and mind and be prepared for the experience. Research the programme. If you are not sure, ask friends. Also don’t worry if you’re doing something right or wrong, take your cues from others. Sit and enjoy.