Concerts Should be like Church

While working at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in Tennessee, I helped to coordinate a concert in a small, rural arts center. Throughout the concert, people were idling in and helping themselves to their seats even though music was going on.  This is sometimes considered rude so I expected to see the usual crowd of classical music aficionados reprimanding them. However, what I saw was the people around the late-comers greeting them warmly and welcoming them to the show!  But I wasn’t mad about it…

Their tardiness and interruption of silence was not out of disrespect for the music.  On the contrary, they were perhaps the most warm and supportive audience we had during the festival!  This was, I think, because there was a sense of community in the room in addition to the great music being played.  They were attending a concert with all of their closest friends (who probably, judging by the size of the town, lived within walking distance of the venue).

I later learned that the town uses that same space for Sunday church services.  It made so much sense!  They were used to greeting each other as they sat down as if they were exchanging signs of peace and reconciliation during a religious ceremony.  It was a concert but it was also a social gathering, a spiritual ritual, and a town meeting.  It was creating an amazingly warm and welcoming environment in the room.

Which is one of the keys to a good performance I think.  Usually, the “rules” of going to a classical music concert (the dress code, silence, rules about applause, rules about entering and exiting etc.) serve as a barrier to most people’s attendance.  But if going to a concert felt like going to the church you go to every Sunday, I think musicians would see a growth in population as well as attentiveness at performances.  Sure, there are still expectations about dress in some churches.  But if we can make our concerts like the churches that say “All are welcome, y’all feel free to come join us!”, it would be a change for the better.

So I say, let them greet each other and welcome each other.  Let them attend a concert as if they attend the most open and welcoming church service!  If they clap in between movements, it is probably because they like the music!!  If they greet their friends, it is because they are happy they are there to hear the concert.

There was a lady at the gathering in Tennessee who, in between each piece, would get out her cell phone and make a call.  Each time she would speak to a different person and say “You need to get down here, this is incredible!!”  If that is the message you have to share, I say USE YOUR CELL PHONE ALL YOU WANT!

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