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Concertgoers: Mind your manners

  • When the back wall of the Green Music Center's Weill Hall is open — such as at July's Josh Groban concert, above — there is a second, more relaxed set of etiquette rules for patrons on the lawn than for those seated inside. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

When it comes to booking artists to perform at the world-class Weill Hall, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University has earned high marks.

But when it comes to audience etiquette, the reviews have been more mixed. Applause at the wrong moments and high-tech gaffes can annoy performers and patrons alike.

When the Santa Rosa Symphony led by conductor Bruno Ferrandis trailed off during the final note of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in March, the spell was broken by a jarring, electronic noise.

“Someone's phone went off for an extended length of time, clearly audible through the delicate, quiet ending,” violinist Marcia Lotter said. “Bruno was entirely livid.”

As the center gets ready to launch its second season on Sept. 15, we checked in with experienced concertgoers and etiquette experts to help guide patrons through the maze of awkward issues that can arise.

Lisa Mirza Grotts runs her own etiquette business, the AML Group of San Francisco, and is acutely aware of the problems that can occur, especially in the sensitive acoustics of a place like Weill Hall.

“A classical music concert is not a rock concert. ... You don't talk or take photos,” she said. “The main obligation of the patrons is to observe silence so the music can be heard.”

Even the slightest murmur can be heard around the hall, so a candy being unwrapped can sound like the shot heard 'round the world.

Although patrons are reminded to turn off their cellphones, some blatantly check texts during concerts.

“The tiny LED light is visible,” said Jessica Anderson, associate director of marketing for the Green Music Center. “When the house lights are down, you don't want to look at it at all.”

A more delicate problem involves hearing aids. Many folks turn them up for the concert but cannot hear the noise they emit.

“That high-pitched sound is so loud,” Grotts said. “An usher or someone in the audience has to tell them when it happens.”

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