Concert Etiquette

As a former music major, classical music is emotionally overwhelming for me. So naturally my experience is spoiled when a performance is interrupted by a cell phone ringing or someone unwrapping candy.
09/04/2014 02:56 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2014

As a former music major, classical music is emotionally overwhelming for me. So naturally my experience is spoiled when a performance is interrupted by a cell phone ringing or someone unwrapping candy. Fortunately, at live performances we are reminded that phones and pagers must be turned off before the concert begins. But it never hurts to brush up on your concert etiquette before you leave the house.

• Unless you're at a rock concert, there are specific rules of behavior at live performances. The cardinal rule is to not do anything that distracts from the music itself.

• Arrive at least fifteen minutes early for the concert. Even if the lights haven't gone down, it's disruptive to make your way to your seat when most people are already seated in your aisle.

• Sit in your assigned seat. If you decide to move down to an empty seat closer to the stage, do so only at intermission and with the permission of an usher.

• Cell phones and pagers must be turned off. The only person who should have his or her phone on is a doctor on call, and even then, the phone must be on vibrate, and the doctor should leave the performance to take the call.

• Turning off your phone means not just turning off the ringer, but turning it off completely. Checking email or reading news, etc., on a smartphone during a concert makes no sound, but the bright light is distracting to others in a darkened room.

• It is discourteous and distracting to record or take photos during a performance, and often it is strictly against the rules of the venue.

• Be respectful of your fellow patrons. If you are wearing a hat, remove it; if you have glasses on your forehead, remove them. If you have a large purse, place it on the floor under your seat. Even sitting forward in your seat can block the view of the person behind you.

• It's traditional to applaud when the conductor enters the stage, as well as when he or she leaves the stage after the concert and during any curtain calls. Patrons may call out bravo and/or stand up during a curtain call to indicate special approval of the performance. Whistling or yelling is not an option.

• Don't talk during the performance. Period. The slightest whisper can be disrupting.

• Unless you're at a dinner theater, don't eat during a performance. This includes candy, which can be especially intrusive when being unwrapped.

• If you're worried about coughing during the concert, bring throat lozenges that are already unwrapped.

• Don't leave your seat during a performance unless it is an emergency.

• It is rude to leave the concert hall before the applause ends and the lights come up, no matter how much you want to beat the crowd.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.