Why teaching proper recital behavior isn’t extra, it’s crucial…
A few years ago, I held a recital for my students. They all worked incredibly hard to prepare, and I was excited for them to perform for their families. Little did I know what chaos lurked in the shadows, waiting to disrupt my lovely little studio recital.
In the two months prior to the recital, I had an influx of new students. There were about six new families, and I was pumped about these kiddos. It didn’t occur to me, that maybe…just maybe…they (and their families) didn’t know how to behave in recitals.
(Before I continue, let me tell you that I accept full responsibility for everything that happened in this recital.)
I very foolishly neglected to mention anything about appropriate concert behavior, assuming it was something everyone knew about.
Well. That recital was nuts. Totally crazy. Toddlers were running and screaming—across the stage. Food was spilled, (in a room where we weren’t supposed to have food at all.) Performers were distracted by multiple children coming in and out of the room—going into the main library to get books, or going to the bathroom—during pieces.
Parents were answering the phone, and whispering loudly to their kids. (They were also NOT chasing down these stray toddlers on the stage—that I really don’t get, but whatevs.)
I can’t even describe the chaos. I was embarrassed. I felt bad for my students who performed, I felt bad for the families who did behave well whose experience was made…more difficult because I didn’t DO MY JOB.
Because that’s what it is. As a music teacher, it is our responsibility to train up a new generation of concertgoers. Not everyone in this day and age is able to attend amazing Classical music concerts at a young age, and even adults aren’t aware of some of the traditions and expectations involved of audience members. (I was incredibly lucky that my parents—though not classical musicians—provided those opportunities for me.)
Rather than complain about the decline of western civilization, why don’t we do something about it?
Nowadays, a little recital etiquette review is just one step in my studio’s recital preparation checklist. Repetition is the foundation of all learning, so reminding everyone before each recital (multiple times a year!) seems to be a good way to instill those behaviors that show respect for the performers and other listeners.
Isn’t that why we insist on such rigid conduct in recitals and concerts? Respect? I think if you approach teaching these behaviors from a foundation of showing respect that most children will get it. They know how stinkin’ hard it is to play this beastly instrument, and that it takes loads of concentration. Your students will want to help their studio friends play their best—and that means being on their best behavior.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that recitals should be totally silent with no whispering at all. Nor do I think parents should leave their babies and toddlers at home. (And as a mama of two babies under three, I know that you can’t make them be quiet. My two crazies can be so noisy sometimes.)
However, I think the goal should be respectful behavior. And I think you can begin teaching that when they are small. If you have to take a crying baby or toddler out into the hall, take heart, parents!—I’ve been there. But please don’t let them run around the room. If you need to sneak them some cheerios to keep them appeased—please do! (But try not to leave a mess for me to clean up later. Or break rules. Not so cool to show your children a complete disregard for rules…)
I think most school-age children can be expected to sit (relatively) quietly. My recitals are short—I very purposefully keep them under an hour. Most of the time they are only 45 minutes! If they have a hard time, bring a book or coloring book—I won’t judge! I’ve been there.
After I began doing consistent education (and then reminders) about concert etiquette, our recitals were so much more fun. And parents thanked me. I was surprised by that, actually. But they did! Some just weren’t sure what was expected. Others were reassured because I said it was ok that their little one made some noise or squealed excitedly when they saw their older brother on the stage. Other parents were grateful for the reminder to talk to their children about what was expected at the recital.
I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by assuming they knew, or pretending there wasn’t a problem (when there was.)
I need to continually remind myself, “As this child’s violin teacher, what can I encourage them to learn that they may not learn anywhere else?” Recital etiquette is just one of those things.
Anyway, what do you think? Is teaching proper concert etiquette a moot point in our society today? Or is it a vital part of music education?
If you would like my Recital Etiquette Template (The text I send to students the week before the recital) you can download it here!
Send me the Template!
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