Deirdre Moore | July 2014

Audience Etiquette

Indulge me, if you will,  while I paint you a picture and then go into a little rant.

In my pursuit of summer arts experiences I attended a very cool concert given by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra this past weekend.  The setting was perfect.  Downtown San Diego was transformed into some kind of cartoon/comic book fantasy land for Comic-Con, a convention celebrating all things comic book and sci-fi.  As  I made my way from the trolley to the waterfront for the concert carrying my blanket, beach chair and cooler I saw lots of adults dressed as comic book characters casually walking down the street.

Strange looking alien creatures, zombies, princesses, and lots of others I couldn’t even venture to guess were crowding the sidewalks along with others hauling goodie bags designed with comic logos and sci-fi movie pictures.  After passing a miniature Gotham City, I finally reached The Embarcadero where my concert was being held.  Appropriately enough, I was about to watch Star Trek (2009) with the soundtrack being played live by the symphony.

For big money, there was assigned seating at tables and chairs set out on the lawn. For a little less money, there was assigned stadium style seating. And for the first-come-for-best-selection cheap seats, there was a grassy area off to the side where the riffraff like myself could set up a picnic and watch the movie under the stars.  Some people took it really seriously with their compact low-level portable tables and portable lounge chairs dining on wine and other find looking foods.

I hunkered down with my sandwich and enjoyed the spectacle of the adults dressed like Star Trek characters and a beautiful sunset over San Diego Bay.

Just before 8pm John Cho came out to chat with us about being in the movie and then the composer of the soundtrack, Michael Giacchino ( a student of filmmaking who started his illustrious career making music for video games) came out to address the crowd.  Being a fan of both movies and music I have always appreciated the soundtrack of any movie I am watching but a really good soundtrack is so integral to the movie that you may not even notice it.

As I watched this movie (for the first time, I might add) I had to now and then remind myself that I was watching and hearing a live orchestra creating the powerful and perfectly timed music I was hearing.  I had just been writing some arts integrated curriculum and had stumbled across a YouTube video where the creator had taken a clip of Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean and played it several times with different kinds of background music.

I am aware of how important music is to setting the mood for a scene but was still struck by just how much the music can change what you think is happening in a scene or change the way you feel as you watch it.  So, I was perfectly primed for this experience of a live soundtrack being created before my eyes and ears.

Now for the rant.

Here I am enjoying the experience whole-heartedly when the movie comes to its conclusion. The credits are rolling and the orchestra is playing triumphantly. Just as they would in a movie theater the large group of people sitting in front of me start to get up, start packing up their chairs and saying their good-byes loudly, apparently unaware that people like myself sitting behind them were still trying to enjoy the live music being played by an incredibly talented orchestra.

I guess I can understand it – trying to get out before the crowd, the casual feeling of sitting on the lawn with friends, perhaps forgetting that this wasn’t a movie theater but a symphony concert but I must say I was pretty peeved nonetheless.  As much as I enjoyed the experience as a whole, it was tainted by those last few minutes where certain members of the audience etiquette went about their business of getting home oblivious to the fact that the concert was not yet over.

So what’s my point?

I guess my point is that I wish to have educated audiences of people who truly appreciate great music when they hear it and understand that certain elements of concert hall behavior should apply even if that concert is outside on a lawn.  The music is no less impressive and the performers and fellow audience etiquette members deserve no less respect when the music is still being performed.

So to all of you educators out there who work with your students on being respectful audience etiquette members I both thank you and applaud your efforts.  May those efforts yield great results, even at symphony concerts on the lawns of outdoor venues.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.