I should be ashamed, I know. Jacksonville is unique for a town its size in that we have our own symphony orchestra. People much smarter than me tell me that it’s a good one. I suppose I should know this since I was once a trumpet-playing member of the Jacksonville Symphony but that was many toots ago. However, I’m not a regular in the symphonic pews at Annie Merner or Rammelkamp because the group’s concerts always seem to fall on a date when I’m doing theatre somewhere. Still, I’m proud of our group.

The trouble with being an only occasional attender of the symphony is that I get rusty on the rules of symphonic etiquette. … the rules of the musical road. The result is that I’m in the same situation as when I attend a Catholic church, I have to watch the people around me to see what I’m supposed to do next.

One of the oldest and strictest rules of symphony going concerns when to clap. The commandment goes something like, “Thou shalt applaud at the conclusion of a piece of music, but not at the end of a movement.” Let’s say the work has three movements. The orchestra will play movement number one, Conductor Allman will bring them to a halt, adjust the collar on his tuxedo, wipe a bit of musical sweat, then put the group into gear again for movement number two. And again, when the movement ends you must not clap. People will look at you. They have looked at me. Only at the end of the entire suite of songs are you allowed to clap. Remember: entire symphonies get applause. Movement do not. My dad is currently a resident of Cedarhurst Country Club just west of town and he said that among his group any sort of movement deserves applause. I hope they don’t attend the symphony.

Rule number two: Make good use of the appreciative nod. Some Jacksonville Symphony patrons are really good at this and I know who most of them are. When something really spectacular takes place on stage they close their eyes, smile, and give an appreciative nod as if something really spectacular just took place on stage. My problem is that I wouldn’t know a spectacular event from a misplayed arpeggio, so I have to watch these veterans of the craft to see when to nod. You don’t want to catch yourself looking down at your program to see whether it’s a movement or a complete piece when it comes time for the appreciative nod. It happens quickly and if you find that you’re the only one in your row not squinting, smiling and nodding then you’ll be found out as an imposter and sent down the street to listen to a country band in one of the bars. If I think ahead, I’ll stand in front of my home mirror before attending the concert and practice my nodding. Of course, I don’t know how I’m doing because I have my eyes closed.

Singing or humming along with the orchestra is generally a bad idea. People look at you. At least they look at me because I’m often humming the wrong tune.

You must applaud when the conductor enters the stage. I realize that he hasn’t done anything yet, but you applaud anyway. Perhaps you’re simply congratulating him for showing up. In addition, in some symphony halls you also applaud when the concertmaster enters. He or she is usually the top violinist who gets to sit at the edge of the stage to see who’s giving appreciative nods.

Babies at a symphony concert: Why?

Turn off anything that vibrates or shakes unless she is a relative of yours.

Some symphonies suggest that if you have a cough or a ticklish throat you should bring unwrapped lozenges with you to avoid the crinkling sound during a batch of Beethoven. I’m not sure what you do about the lint the lozenge has collected while rolling around loose in your pocket.

According to “Affluent” magazine. I’m not kidding. There’s a magazine called Affluent, which touts itself as being the authority on lifestyle. According to the snoots who run that rag there is a proper way to clap. I quote: “Remember, the appropriate way to clap is holding your hands slightly to your left and clapping small brisk claps. Never clap in front of your face. For a standing ovation – stand, lift your elbows high and slightly to the left, then clap small and briskly.” I shudder when I think back to all the times I clapped with my hands slightly to my right and let my elbows sag during a standing ovation.

Truth be told, our local symphony players are an understanding bunch and if you break a rule or two they’ll not revoke your season tickets. Heck, they’ll just be glad you came. Just keep your elbows up.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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