Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Should you bring a baby to a concert?

As we approach the end of the year, every year, we often reflect on the past 12 months. These have, without a doubt, been 12 of the most politically unexpected and even politically unimaginable I have ever lived. First people in Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, and then Donald Trump won the US election in a historic vote.

But some things never change. I attended a number of concerts and fine arts performances in high schools across the country this year—at least 112, although not all of them printed programs or tickets I can use for counting purposes. They varied in quality, just like everything else does in our schools, but they also varied significantly in terms of the concert etiquette on display by students and others in attendance at the concert.

For example, at a wind ensemble concert in January for the high school in Jenison, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, I marveled at the model behavior shown by students at the school, their parents, and everyone else in attendance. Then in April, I saw a musical performed at a high school in Surprise, Arizona, just west of Phoenix, where a baby was crying in the first row of the audience for the entire first act.

I’m not the only one reflecting on these past 12 months. The folks at the National Association for Music Education, or NAfME, posted a list of the 10 most-read articles on their website for 2016. An advice column about concert etiquette made the list. See, not only are schools teaching students how to perform the music, but they’re also teaching kids how to behave in different settings. It helps if the adults in the theater or auditorium put their best behavior on display.

That includes not bringing infants or toddlers who tend to make noise during long periods of having to sit still.

But that wasn’t even the top recommendation for good concert etiquette that I’ve read in the many programs I’ve collected. The top distinction goes to the need to keep cellphones silent. In most cases, vibrating mode works just fine unless the phone is in contact with something that can serve as a sounding board, like a tabletop.

And we all realize, if you’re an ER doctor or a parent with a small child at home, being watched by a teenage babysitter so you can attend your son’s concert, that anybody who calls during the concert is more important than what’s happening on stage. In an emergency like that, the best etiquette is to step away from the auditorium so you can carry on your conversation as you need to. Walking away quietly is far less rude than talking at your seat.

Here’s a page one NAfME member posted to the association’s website, and it may seem simple, but it can be surprising how many people don’t recognize some of the rules:

Finally, we end this survey with some words from Plato about the changes during his time in audience behavior at music performances:

[Previously,] there were no whistles, unmusical mob-noises, or clapping for applause. The rule was to listen silently and learn; boys, teachers, and the crowd were kept in order by threat of the stick. … But later, an unmusical anarchy was led by poets who had natural talent, but were ignorant of the laws of music. Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their works and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges. So our theaters, once silent, grew vocal, and aristocracy of music gave way to a pernicious theatrocracy. … The criterion was not music, but a reputation for promiscuous cleverness and a spirit of law-breaking.

Ahh. Good times, as Ancient Greece undergoes some interesting changes.

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Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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