I have decided that performance etiquette basically ruins a performance experience in most situations.
I recently wrote about the church-like atmosphere at a concert I witnessed. People were greeting each other and walking in while the performance was going on but it was not out of disrespect for the music. They did it in whispers which didn’t distract that much and in the end, there was a sense of community that made the performance infinitely better for both the musicians and the audience. Was it really that big of a deal that they didn’t hear every single note? I don’t think so. So I say let the people greet each other and walk in late!
At a different concert at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival, I saw children running and playing (it was an outdoor concert). And I loved it! Why should children be made to sit still and listen to music? They should be allowed to run and play while listening to classical music provided of course that there is room for them to do so. In fact, why not let the adults run and play too?
I was at an orchestra performance of some very polarizing, new music at Spoleto Festival USA in which a man stood up at the end and boo’ed the orchestra very loudly. And I loved it! People should have opinions about music!! That is kind of what we musicians are going for. “That was lovely” is probably my least favorite comment. My performances at nursing homes in high school were “lovely”. I would much prefer “I had no idea what was going on” or “I hated that so much” than “The flute is so pretty!”
I was at another performance at Spoleto by Taylor Mac, the “radical liberal” performance art drag queen about which someone expressed some negative opinions (which I was expecting given the performer and the South Carolina setting). Taylor simply said “I love it!”, thanked them for their opinions and continued the show. Surprisingly no one else walked out or yelled despite him forcing the whole audience to slow dance with a member of their same gender.
And these were probably the most memorable experiences of my life. The standard classical concerts which I have paid hundreds of dollars to see have had little effect on me in comparison to these “non-standard” performances. I saw the New York Philharmonic when I was in high school and beyond the fact that they played Pictures at an Exhibition, I can’t say I remember much about it.
So I say forget performance etiquette! If the music demands silence, let the music itself inspire reverence instead of it being enforced by some kind of overlords. Are we trying to produce the most sterile, reproductive performances of classical music or are we trying to create lasting experiences? To me, the answer is obvious.