I recently read a blog post entitled,  “Calling All Adults: Grow UP.”  It was an interesting read about the disintegration of parental audiences at school concerts. I’ve read several Facebook threads in response to this article that validate this writer’s experiences with some true oneupmanship in terms of stories of parent disruptions.

While I do concur that this is a real situation, I also believe we have the power to change this; we have the ability to create respectful and receptive audiences for our performers. Parental behavior will not change overnight, nor will every parent be 100% perfect, but I can tell you that in over 20 years of teaching, I have managed to eliminate the majority of rude and distracting audience behavior.

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Let’s name typical audience behavior issues:

  1. Shouting kid’s names when they are on stage
  2. Talking loudly with a neighbor
  3. Talking on the Cell phone
  4. Cell phone going off or vibrating
  5. Answering a phone call
  6. Texting on the Cell phone
  7. Taking photos with flash
  8. Eating (unwrapping candies or loud food)
  9. Exiting and entering during a song – and possibly disrupting the entire row while getting up
  10. Leaving as soon as their child is done – leaving the audience empty for the next or last group

If I’ve left out some behaviors, please acknowledge them in the Choral Clarity Facebook Community.

The reality is that there aren’t that many different things that audience members do. The distracting behaviors that we witness are similar each and every time.

Instead of giving remedies to each and every one, I’m going to go through an effective way to change the culture of our audience.

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1. Set clear guidelines for proper audience etiquette

Assume your audience has never been to a live performance before and create 3-5 clear guidelines that have no gray area.  May I suggest guidelines such as:

  1. Please turn off all cell phones
  2. Please only speak in between performances
  3. Please only acknowledge our performers with applause
  4. Please only exit or enter the venue between songs
  5. You many only take photographs without flash

Notice that the etiquette is framed positively. There is no insult above.

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2. Give your students a take-home quiz on the concert etiquette rules and require their parents to sign the quiz.

A parent’s signature is one way to reinforce the fact that this topic is being addressed in class, and also gives parents an awareness of concert etiquette, should they choose to look at their child’s homework.

Post Concert Self-Assessment – have your students assess their concert

3. Strongly encourage your students to teach their parents about proper audience etiquette

Since the audience guidelines are clearly spelled out, and quizzed with parental signature, it allows students to be able to discuss this subject at home. You can even give your students the dialogue to begin the conversation. “Mom, Mr. xxxx gave us these 5 guidelines for audience behavior and wanted us to ensure that you all know it too. (Please don’t embarrass me at my concert).”

4. Post the concert etiquette guidelines at every door of the venue

The sign is both clear and positive. As a result, parents will likely not take offense.

Alternative Concert Assignment – for singers who missed the concert

5. Post the concert etiquette guidelines inside the concert program

If an audience member opens the program, they will see these guidelines on the inside cover.

6. Politely begin the concert by mentioning the 5 clear concert etiquette guidelines

As part of an opening speech, it gives you a reason to explain WHY each one is important, if you believe parents really “don’t get it”. Here is an example of an opening speech.  The actual etiquette speech at my high school concert is not quite as wordy and is spoken by a student leader.

“Parents, noises coming from the audience are really distracting to our performers and also negatively impacts the experience of other audience members. Also, please turn off all cell phones. I’ll give you a moment to do that now…..If you wish to speak to your neighbor, please do so in between songs but please remain completely silent during every performance. Please keep in mind that no song in the entire program is longer than 6 minutes, etc. Unless it is an emergency, please wait until the completion of a song before standing up and exiting. Lastly, please avoid flash photography as this affects the performers on the stage. We will give you the opportunity to take photos right now before we start.”

7. Utilize ushers at every door

Ushers can ensure people don’t enter in the middle of a song. If someone must leave in case of emergency, the usher can minimize the distraction by controlling the doors.

Post Concert Self-Assessment – have your students assess their concert

8. Reinforce positive audience behavior

Positive reinforcement is a good way to remind audience members of what they are supposed to be doing. When they applaud their children, we can thank them for being so attentive and responsive. If the audience is acting in a less-than-perfect way, we can thank the members who acted appropriately and clearly state why that behavior is important. Here’s an example:

Situation: During a song, two cell phones go off.  After the song ends, “Thank you to everyone who made the effort to turn off their cell phones. As you all can hear, a cell phone ring can be really distracting, not only to the audience, but to the performers as well. I’d like to a moment right now for everyone to again check their phones and ensure their ringer and vibrate are both off.  Thank you all. On to our next selection!”

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9. Do not speak when the audience is speaking

In class, I will never talk if anyone else is talking. I do the same thing in a concert. I will kindly and softly  “shhhhhhh” them if needed, but I will never talk over them. Just setting the precedent that what happens on stage takes priority over their conversations can have a profound impact.


10. If the audience is beyond rude even after all of that, have a plan that isn’t about you

If you must stop the performance, stop the performance. If those performers on the stage deserve more from their audience, ensure they get it. “I’m sorry to stop, ladies and gentlemen, but I feel strongly that your children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends up on this stage have worked really hard and are so proud of what they’ve accomplished. I am too. We would like to request that you show them your love and appreciation by remaining quiet as we start again.” Starting again, which is a worst-case scenario after doing everything listed above, usually changes the mood of the room.

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On a different note, but still dealing with audience rudeness:

11. Give parents a reason to stay the entire time

A concert should not be a holding pen. If parents have their child only perform in the first act, it is a burden to make them stay an extra hour to sit through unrelated groups. If we want our parents to stay the entire time, we need to create cohesive concerts that keep the performers involved from start to finish. Create an opening an closing number that involves all students. Have an alumni song that includes all members, not just the top or oldest group.

Post Concert Self-Assessment – have your students assess their concert