The Concert Crowd

A faithful “06880” reader — who, for neighborly reasons, wishes to remain anonymous — attended 2 recent school concerts.  The music was great.

The crowd’s behavior was not.

The reader wrote:

At middle school performances and then the Staples Winter Concert I noticed (really impossible to miss) that as soon as their kids are done, parents get up and leave.  By the end, when the sophomore orchestra was to play, I would wager that 60% of the audience had departed.

This is so selfish, it’s beyond me.  These kids work hard, and the music is excellent.  Even though my child was on early, we stayed to enjoy the whole show.

What can be so pressing that so many people must get up and leave, showing no respect for the effort all of the kids put in — not to mention the music teachers (for whom it must be really distressing)?

I guess it’s a reflection of the “me first” mentality that people seem to have adopted.  And what was especially bad was when the man in front made a joke about leaving, as he got up to go.

The reader is right.  But — to get myself even more worked up — I showed the email to Staples orchestra director Adele Valovich, and asked her reaction.

He may not be your kid -- but he's someone's.

“I think we’ve lost our civility,” she said, politely but firmly.  “Common courtesy — which was the norm, and which we took for granted — no longer exists in society at large.”

So, she said, “I think it’s our job as teachers to educate the next generation of concert-goers as to correct deportment.”

That includes, Adele said, “staying throughout the entire performance; not being distracted by texting, cell phones or newspapers, and not walking around in the middle of a piece.”

Who knew?

Education begins with music students, Adele said.  “In rehearsals I talk all the time about staying until everyone is finished.  But some kids say their parents make them leave.”

The orchestra leader does not want to “insult” parents.  But, she said, “we may have to establish rules of conduct.”  Through announcements before shows and emails to parents, music educators would say “we expect your children and you to stay for the entire performance.”

Is that what you want your child to see from the stage?

It’s “very discouraging to be the last group playing, and look out to see a very scattered audience,” she noted.

“As a teacher, I know how much work my students put it.  They want to be acknowledged.

The most recent concert — the one the “06880” reader watched more than half the audience flee from — was “an hour and 10 minutes,” Adele said.

“I don’t think that’s an excessive amount of time.”

Adele suggested that “every parent imagine themselves in that last group of performers.  That might change some behavior.

“I think as a society we’ve become very ‘me-oriented’ — in all situations.  We seldom put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”

Or, it seems, our own children’s orchestra seats.

41 responses to “The Concert Crowd

  1. Darryl Coates Manning

    Sadly, this is not “new” Westport parent behavior. My children went through the Westport school system and were both involved in orchestras, choirs and theatre. They graduated in 1999 & 2004 respectively. I can safely say that at most concerts from middle school to high school, the audience thinned out considerably by the time the last group (usually the band) performed. I always felt so badly for band kids who’d worked just as hard as the orchestra and choir kids. And, they were usually terrific!

  2. I agree with everything Darryl said; my Staples graduates were in 1994 and 1998. We had noticed the lack of courtesy in elementary and middle school performances in a different community: parents blocking the view of other parents to get the perfect video of the event. Then they would leave.

  3. It was the same when I went through the school system.

  4. I come from an earlier era, and it did NOT used to be this way. I was involved in many school concerts and never saw this happen. And though I haven’t been involved with the schools lately and I have come to expect less than civil behavior as the norm, this kind of thing, directed at kids, shocks me a bit. And I don’t shock much.

  5. an interested reader

    As a parent who raised a child in the performing arts who has since become a professional performing artist — I’m sorry to read this and what is happening in Westport. I used to play in the children’s orchestra led by Mr. O’Hanion back in the day, and I remember how hard we all worked. However, when this teacher says “it’s the teacher’s job to educate the future generations….” Sorry again, it’s the parents’ job first and foremost to teach our children proper concert going etiquette; the schools can reinforce that behavior but it all starts in the home. My child would never walk out on a performance of any kind, nor would we as her parents, nor will she when she becomes a parent. And that kindness and civility was taught at home first. Children model much of their behaviors from what they see at home. One last thought –this is not happening everywhere, having raised my family elsewhere, and I can say, I never saw this rude behavior. Too bad for Westport– a once unbeatable town.

  6. Laurie Brannigan

    I too see this behavior around Westport. I don’t have children yet in middle school but when I read todays 06880 I immediately felt that pang in my stomach. I see things similar to this all the time, whether it’s an athletic event (collecting awards at the end), a performance or a meeting. People don’t seem to consider anyone except themselves and it makes me angry. Then I have to explain to my child why we can’t leave early when everyone else is . It’s worth it, though, and I promise, we will stay to the end of the performance when my kids are in middle school!

  7. I, too, felt a pang in my stomach to read this, Dan.

  8. Having had two band students (band normally playing last) I totally get all
    you mention here…
    However, the “concert” that your reader referred to was actually TWO
    concerts run back-to-back at BMS….first the All City (middle school)
    concert at 7pm, then the SHS concert (9th and 10th) at 7:30. When we arrived (to drop off 10th grader for second concert) we didnt know that this was scheduled this way (as two, separate, groups…there were two separate
    programs printed) and I assume that most of the parents from the earlier
    concert were unaware as well. Thus, no plans having been made as to
    where/when to meet their young student performers. And, I do not believe that the organizers had set anything up in advance, either. It would have been a good idea to let folks know and then have the students file into a reserved
    section to listen to the HS groups perform.
    The purpose for this note is to clarify this particular situation…I
    totally agree that, for the most part, folks do not display proper concert
    etiquette (from leaving early to videotaping and blocking others’ view).
    We have really enjoyed these concerts over the years!

  9. Before moving to Westport, we lived in Westchester and observed the same behavior at the concerts there. While parents would never consider leaving a school play early once their child’s scene was over, it’s apparently common behavior at concerts. I’ve always thought that any student who’s performing should be required to attend the full concert. Leaving early would be like cutting a class. Maybe that would give parents more incentive to stay.

  10. Warren Shapiro

    I have to check, but my wife could have written this (I don’t think she did) because we talk about this all the time. We have three kids who play music. At one point when two of them were at the Manhattan School of Music we noticed the same phenomenon. In teacher recitals there would be maybe 6 or 7 kids playing. After “your kid” finished the parents and sometimes extended family would get up and leave before the next kid performed. It was extremely rude as the rooms tended to be smaller and the audiences proportionately smaller as well.

    We have observed the same phenomenon at concerts here in Westport. The good news, it’s not only Westport, the bad news it’s still rude and discourteous.

    So, I won’t be negative here. We can do better here in our town. And we should! Trouble is, I have no idea how to make this happen. Perhaps a really friendly reminder to parents attending concerts that staying is both courteous and respectful to the performers? And, if you want your kids to be courteous and respectful you have to set a good example!

  11. What I have to say on this matter will not make many people very happy, but that’s not in my job description anyway.
    There’s another issue here–and that is the whole business of preparing young people for public performance on “the grand scale” of the auditorium, essentially putting them in the adult performance situation of the concert hall, if you will, when maybe the performance objective should be considerably more modest as befitting their age and experience–and hence, more rewarding for the players and for the audience.
    Several years ago I was at a Town Meeting in a little rural Vermont town where, in the Town Hall assembly room, the small local high school orchestra, tucked into a corner played a few numbers as folks came in for the day’s deliberation. Townspeople gathered around the players, everyone knew each other (“Why, that’s Earl and Mildred’s grandson on the clarinet…”) and there was an atmosphere of both attention, appreciation and fun. There were also cookies and cocoa for everyone, but the venue was age-appropriate for both the kids and for the audience. (Audience maturity is a whole separate issue.) When the selectman’s gavel came down to start the meeting, there were adult calls of, “C’mon, Ethan, can’t we have one more song?”
    We may very well be proud of or happy for our kids who can play, dance, act, sing–but maybe the adult behavior is somewhat more determined by the appropriateness and scale of the event.

    Karl Decker (Staples Enlgish Dept, 1960-1999)
    Townshend, Vermont

  12. Funnily enough, 1994 on up is considered “new Westport” to some of us old Westporters. I know that sounds odd, but being born and bred since 1971, I have a theory on the new Westport(ers) are the people who moved here in the late 80’s/early 90’s, many of whom moved from NY. I know many wonderful people who moved here in that time frame, so I’m not saying they are all dreadful, but there has been a major shift in attitude and a major decline in manners since that time period. These people are also breeding some dreadfully overly entitled and poorly mannered children too. Some, however, are the exception…..

    Since I started showing in my pregnancy, I’ve noticed a lot of kids/teenagers holding doors open for me. Adults clearing the aisles so I can pass by, and it has been really wonderful to notice how much people respect a pregnant woman — especially young men and boys. It’s a shame that people do not practice this kindness and consideration towards all people, but it is nice for me to get that taste of old Westport manners.

    However, speaking of theater, I went to the Westport Country Playhouse and saw a truly delightful performance of Chapter Two. When the play ended, you would think there was a fire in the theater, the way people where rushing to get out, cramming and shoving their way through and I was knocked around. I muttered a few times, “Way to show a little class, just knock the 9 month pregnant lady on her behind (okay, I said a three letter word that could also be used for donkey)” Where were these people rushing to? They now had to go sit in their cars and wait in traffic to leave anyway? Is it so unthinkable to take four minutes to hang back and let everyone safely leave the building? I hate to think what would’ve happened should there have been a fire.

    Getting up and leaving in the middle of a concert is horrific behavior and this is being taught to these kids. Dreadful behavior. I know it is up to me to teach my daughter about manners, hard work, and how to respect others. I know it is up to me to be well mannered, polite and show respect and I hope it catches on. When I’m at Oscar’s or Gold’s and I see a parade of people before me saying “Gimme a ham and cheese” or “I want a tuna on rye”. I want to correct them and say “Ever heard of the words please and thank you?” Instead, I emphasize my pleases and thank yous. Most of the time the people behind me will follow suit. When I’m at Trader Joe’s and the cashier thanks me for bagging, I make sure all the people behind me hear me say, “No problem, I can’t possibly imagine sitting there doing nothing, holding up a line of people, just because I’m too lazy to pack my own groceries” People behind me usually follow. (That’s a great story, why don’t people bag for themselves … especially when at Trader Joes!) When I hold the door open for someone and they walk through without saying thank you, I say “You’re welcome”. They are usually embarrassed. I just hope people catch on at some point that they are no different than anyone else and it’s true that money does NOT buy class!

    Okay, off my soap box and will start my work day. Enjoy your day!

  13. This is the way it has been in Westport for quite some time. I am not suprised.
    It is the new generation of westporters coming into town. Very self centered and RUDE!

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  15. Larry Perlstein

    The good news in Dan’s post is that parents are actually going to see their kids perform! I agree it sucks that they aren’t staying but let’s give them a bit of credit for making an effort. I’ve been involved in musical groups all my life and there’s nothing sadder than performing without any parental/familial support — I speak from experience. One way to combat this would be to always program a grand finale where everyone has a part — then there’s no sneaking out.

    Sadly, and this is a whole other discussion, once the child moves on to community orchestras, theaters and the like, they will be lucky to get an audience at all. Do I sound bitter??

  16. I don’t have kids and haven’t attended these concerts. How long do they last? Could they be running too long for commuter-weary parents to stick it out? Can any parents who had to leave a concert early tell us their rationale? There has to be another side.

  17. The Dude Abides

    Heck, I had a solo in the “Music Man” in 9th grade (’63) with my trusty trumpet and several starting booing at Bedford Junior. I believe one of those was my brother. Lighten up. Parents will look back one day and realize that they took much of these activities far too seriously. It is NOT
    Carnegie Hall.

    • Speaking of which, next time you’re in Carnegie Hall, check out the # of visible PDA screens. And, of course, if the atonal contemporary piece of music is programmed after the intermission, there’ll be a ton of empty seats when the 2nd half starts. ; )

  18. Elisabeth Rose

    As a resident of Westport and a teacher in the Fairfield schools, I can honestly said that yes, there has been a growing lack of civility among kids, -AND adults-, all over the place. While there are still, fortunately, many people who are polite, there seem to be tons more who are not. And having taught in NYC, Westchester and Fairfield Counties, in both public and private schools, I’ve seen it all over the place: kids and adults who don’t hold doors open for other people, people who don’t say please or thank you, and people who rudely get up to leave well before a concert is over.

    I have two Westport stories of ridiculous rudeness. The first occurred at the town pool (Longshore) about 10 years ago. I was going into the large pool to do laps during the “adult lap” time, and a little boy, about 11 years old, was playing in the pool, splashing a lot and kind of swimming every which way. The lifeguard, a young teenage girl, politely asked the boy to get out of the pool for the adult swim. He refused. She asked again, and again he just ignored her. Trying to be a bit more forceful but still polite, she repeated her request. The boy’s father, standing nearby, shouted out “Don’t listen to her, (so-and-so)! Do whatever you want!” I was stunned. To this day I marvel at the scenario, and can only imagine with horror what type of man that little boy has grown up to be…

    Another time I was at the Bowtie Cinemas (then called “The Crown Royale”), and my friend and I got to the movie theater just a bit late, during the previews. (I should add here that as a film junkie, I HATE to go to movies late, even during the previews, but there was traffic, we couldn’t find parking and, as the saying goes, “*#@^ happens…” ) Not wanting to sit in the front row and finding the theater packed, my friend and I scouted out seats in the almost-dark space. We saw two empty seats on either side of two women, so I asked, as nicely as I could, if they could possibly move down one seat so that my friend and I could sit together. The women glared at us, and one of them muttered loudly to me something about getting there on time. She then proceeded to complain very loudly about our tardiness for the next few minutes (since the movie hadn’t started yet…) I couldn’t believe it. I felt bad about being late (traffic), had been polite, but it wasn’t THAT big a deal. It was just after 9/11 and just after my mom had recovered from stage 4 Breast Cancer, so her carrying on about this small incident floored me. Even the people around us noticed how rude the woman was. Finally, I turned to her and blurted out, “Ma’am, if this is the worst thing that’s happened to you, you’re doing pretty well!”

    As one who doesn’t like to complain about things without offering solutions, I was thinking that perhaps the schools that have concerts with both the younger kids and the older kids could maybe be divided into 2 concerts…..? Especially if it is long, this might help. Also, eliminating an intermission is another option, if the concert is short enough.

  19. Yes, we live in a rude society, and Connecticut is among the worst of the worst, although I would expect the same behavior in the North Shore of Chicago or Long Island. And, of course, we should do otherwise and educate our kids otherwise– my son has been playing the cello since elementary school, and we never have left a performance until it was complete.

    But, the easy answer is for Ms. Valovich to ask students to adhere to and sign a code of conduct, similar to other codes of conduct at SHS. The code would include respecting other musicians and concert attendance. If they violate the code, it would count as a de-merit and cause their grade to fall. Since the kids sit together under supervision, it would not be hard to note who was leaving early. Simple solution for a complicated world– sad, but simple.

  20. I too grew up playing in Westport school concerts and never saw parents leaving early. I think the reason for this behavior today is simple; todays rude, self-centered parents are yesterdays spoiled children who always got their way.

  21. The Dude Abides

    You ever attend a 6 hour dance recital for your kid?? You know you are in trouble when the parents bring in Igloos full of beer. You all are overdramatizing this occurence. And people walk out in Sugarland, TX, San Clemente, CA, Farmington, MN and Naples, FL. Westport is not unique nor special in my mind. I think you all are being ANTI-RUDE RUDE. Chill.
    I bet the kids didn’t even notice.

  22. Staples Teacher

    At a recent curriculum night at Staples, three teachers were presenting their curricula to a room packed with parents. Midway through the presentation, a parent’s phone went off. Not a vibrate — a ring. Okay, maybe an emergency, maybe the parent just hadn’t remembered to turn the phone off. Distracting but very forgivable. The parent returned to the room, to his seat in the front row, middle, and proceeded to text and/or scroll through his smartphone for the duration of the presentation. Every day we work with our kids to promote civility, and often with good success, but this just took the cake.

  23. For every act of rudeness, I see many of kindness and
    thoughtfullness. I agree with the Dude above. Westport
    is no different than others. We have created a culture of
    “busy,more,greed,rude” is good. Need to change that

  24. My old man is still complaining about my sister’s elementary school dance recital from the 70’s when many other parents left before her performance. It still pisses him off to this day.

    Rudeness is nothing new, nor unique to Westport.

  25. Thats Westport for you. Not a desirable destination to reside, would rather Darien, Fairfield and Greenwich for that matter.

  26. And dude, the kids notice stop dumbing them down.

  27. The Dude Abides

    No one is “dumbing them down.” The kids are probably wishing they could leave with their parents.

  28. Shame on … you know who you are! If parents don’t teach by example, then what? If you walked out think of how your child would feel playing to empty seats. Just plain rude.

  29. The Dude Abides

    Stephen: I hear your reprimand. I am all for proper manners and I love my kids too. But do you really think the kids care all that much??? Picture the poor bastard who has worked for three weeks on an oil deal. He is leveraged to the hilt on his mortgage and needs this trade to make March’s payment and to pay for the 20 activities his kid is already involved in. He catches a late train and arrives tardy to the band recital. The minute he walks in, he gets a text that the trade has gone south to hell. He watches his daughter play “Mary, mary had a little lamb” on the violin for the 400th time and then heads for an exit to attempt to put the deal back together. And you want to shame this guy? This is the culture we have created. You want peace, tranquility and perfect attentive parents, head to Vermont with Karl Decker. I say it comes with the territory.

    • Well said, Dude! And he could be a single parent or a widowed father struggling to balance his hectic work life and his rare time with his teenaged kid(s).

      • Perhaps the first step in civility is to assume the best in people rather than the worst. Everyone has reasons for what they do and maybe it is none of our business what those reasons are. Live and let live, and enjoy your kids’ performance.

  30. To the Dude:
    A school concert IS Carnegie Hall when you’re 8 years old!

    To the schedulers of these concerts:
    I was venting on this subject to a friend of mine. Her reply: when my kids were growing up in the Weston school system, the music department purposely scheduled a grand finale with ALL singers and ALL instruments, so the parents would have to stay until the end.

    • Hogwash Holly. You are “dumb downing” these kids. They know exactly what it is. It is the parents and faculty that make it grandiose. But your Weston buddy has a good idea. Or perhaps the administrators could merely tell attendees that they can’t leave. Not rocket science.

  31. When I was still in orchestra in elementary and middle schools, I was always envious of the kids who left early with their parents after their portions were done. My parents insisted that we stay for the entire concert, much to my dismay as I watched all my friends leave almost simultaneously with the end of their performances. Now, I’m glad that my parents instilled in me the importance of manners, even in such a seemingly basic way.

    And by the way- yes, the kids on stage absolutely notice when people leave. We also know exactly where our parents are sitting.

    • The Dude Abides

      I have played on stage at Staples and no way you can see much of anything with the lights down. Maybe at the band room at Bedford but usually these kids are too busy kicking one another to notice anybody leaving. Tainted memory. Reality check!

  32. There are only so many hours in a day. Concert 7:00-8:15, kids there by 6:30, 20 minutes travel time, 15 minutes parking and waiting to get out of the parking lot = two+ hours away from home on a school night. These kids have to get home and do their homework! If you want students (and their parents) to hang around, you might do better to mandate “no homework on concert nights,” or schedule performances for Friday evenings. (And, since concerts are considered mandatory classwork, they’d have to preempt sporting events. Imagine!)

    • Jake Gallagher

      Good point.
      Some simple common sense by school officials might solve many of
      the problems addressed here.

  33. “Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.” Bronte