Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

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Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.

Tips on Personal Branding

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Prospective Music Teachers: Why Personal Branding Might Help You Land a Job!

“A brand is anything—a symbol, design, name, sound, reputation, emotion, employees, tone, and much more—that separates one thing from another.”

– Neil Patel and Aaron Agius

optimism-1241418Quick – Who are you? Define yourself in three words!

This is one of the most common job interview questions. In my past blogs on the subject of getting a music teaching job (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/category/marketing-professionalism/), we explored preparing for interviews, planning portfolios, developing stories/personal anecdotes of your strengths, defining criteria for the ideal music teacher candidate, and understanding the term “professionalism” as it applies to music education. Now to wrap-up your “marketing plan,” it is time to dive into “personal branding” as it is presented by quite a few experts in the field.

business-card-1238267What is Personal Branding? Google defines it as “essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group or organization.”

Branding is critical to help you “stand above the rest,” showing you have what it takes and would be a major asset to a prospective employer, and marketing your own unique qualities that would make you “a good fit” for the specific job opening. But you don’t have to take my word on this… a quick search on the Internet yields numerous articles on branding and marketing yourself.

The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but whether you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined (or assumed) by others on your behalf.

According to Shama Hyder, bestselling author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, “The term branding has long been relegated to companies, but today almost every individual has a personal brand. Not many of us have consciously cultivated these brands, but they exist nonetheless. A digital footprint in the sands of time and space crowd sourced by friends, colleagues, and bosses. According to an AVG study, 92 percent of children under the age of two already have a digital footprint.”

At http://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2014/08/18/7-things-you-can-do-to-build-an-awesome-personal-brand/, Hyder posted “7 Things You Can Do to Build an Awesome Personal Brand,” including the following outlined summary. (Take a look – you won’t be sorry!)
  1. A young caucasian woman outdoors in a meadow, working on her computerStart thinking of yourself as a brand
  2. Audit your online presence
  3. Secure a personal website
  4. Find ways to produce value
  5. Be purposeful in what you share
  6. Associate with other strong brands
  7. Reinvent

You can learn something about branding from an accountant. In “Five Tips on Branding Yourself” (by the American Institute of CPAs) at http://www.aicpa.org/InterestAreas/YoungCPANetwork/Resources/Career/Pages/FiveTipsToBrandingYourself.aspx, steps are offered to help build a positive image and promote your professionalism. Branding helps “to remain current in your field, opens doors for you, and creates a lasting impression…”

  1. Define your brand and become an expert.
  2. Establish a presence.
  3. Generate brand awareness through networking.
  4. Remember the 3 Cs of brandingclarity, consistency, constancy.
  5. Get feedback from those who know you best—at work, at home, anywhere.

marching-band-1440110-1For #1 above, hopefully you have already read my epistle (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/marketing-yourself-and-your-k-12-music-certification/) on not limiting your options or selling yourself short as a music specialist (e.g. band director or elementary vocal teacher). If you want a job with a Pennsylvania Music K-12 Instructional certificate or equivalent, you have to be “expert” on all types and grade levels of public school music.

The music curriculum leader/department chair/lead teacher involved in the employment screening will want to know your mastery of creating lessons in everything from the foundations of “steady beat” and “matching pitch” to developing advanced technique and musicianship in any/all instrumental and vocal ensembles, including jazz improvisation, a cappella singing, and string chamber music.

However, principals, HR staff, and other administrators will likely care more about your classroom management skills, ability to communicate and work with others, personal initiative and willingness to work after school and in the evenings, record of consistent attendance (low incidence of absenteeism or tardiness re: college classes and other work history), and other personality characteristics. Believe it or not, at more than one interview, I was asked, “Since you call yourself trained as a musician, are you temperamental?”

The single most comprehensive publication on branding (and it looks like it is provided as a free service!) is The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand by Neil Patel and Aaron Agius” at https://www.quicksprout.com/the-complete-guide-to-building-your-personal-brand/.

According to them, the greatest rationale for building your personal brand is that it opens up more professional opportunities. “Creating a vision for your future and implementing that vision can lead to a better job…” You should take time to read the guide’s chapters in detail:
  • your-brand-new-website-1-1058679How to Create Your Personal Brand Vision
  • How to Define Your Target Audience
  • How to Build Up Your Online and Offline Assets
  • How to Build Your Brand Through Outreach
  • How to Get Free Press Coverage
  • How to Connect with Mentors
  • How to Monitor your Brand
  • Be Yourself Because Everyone Else Is Taken

After you peruse all of the above material on personal branding, here are my top ten “takeaways” specific to every budding music teacher.

  1. Your personal brand is everything about you – your values, attitudes, integrity, initiative, work ethic, skills, and personality traits.
  2. Remember, a career in public/private school education is based on very conservative values. Be cognizant of what you say, how you look and act, and the overall image you portray. “Everything you say and do (or have ever said or done) may be used against you…”
  3. In this profession, there’s no place for too much levity or a lack of respect for conformity, longstanding traditions, and the orthodox. At my first job interview, I carelessly made a crack about signing an outdated “loyalty” oath (“I promise I am not a communist and will not try to overthrow the government…”), the result of which the superintendent gave me a major tongue-lashing and a 20-minute lecture on patriotism (but, somehow I still got the job!).
  4. shame-1431469Clean up your social media sites (Facebook, etc.). A photo of you and your college buddies drinking “adult beverages” in bathing suits at a beach may be misinterpreted. Google your name to see what comes up. How would you define the content you see of yourself online?
  5. Create a personal website to warehouse the elements of your “professional brand,” including your philosophy of music education, mission, goals, and a digital resume of your education,  experience, and accomplishments. If your college/university does not set you up with a free online site, explore “doing-it-yourself” with WordPress, Wix, or Weebly.com.
  6. The only social medium I can recommend without reservation is LinkedIn. Create and optimize your professional identity on LinkedIn, everything from getting an excellent photo of yourself to providing copious samples of your references, writing, hands-on teaching experiences, etc.
  7. If you have personal essays on your educational philosophy and vision, share your priorities as they relate to music curriculum, lesson targets, concert programming, assertive discipline, collaborative projects, and professional development, and always be ready for the most commonly asked interview questions (beat them to the punch by posting in writing your thoughts): Why is music essential to a child’s education? Why did you choose to become a music educator? Who had the greatest influence on you and why? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses in this field?
  8. PaulFox_LogoIf you have time, design a personal logo, a symbol of you wherever you go on websites, e-mail footer, digital and printed portfolios, business cards, etc. Although I retired in 2013, I created the illustration at the above right. It implies that I am “a happy fox” (my last name), involved in music, and especially love a certain Beethoven symphony, reinforcing that I am an orchestral musician.
  9. Better than providing quick one or two-sentence answers to the interviewers’ questions, try to assemble a collection of personal anecdotes that dramatically illustrate your musical and teaching skills, critical thinking and problem solving, personality traits like patience, compassion, self-control, and thoughtfulness, and past successes. (For more information on developing story-telling skills, go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/when-it-comes-to-getting-a-job-s-is-for-successful-storytelling/).
  10. Whenever possible, archive your student teaching and other field experiences. “A picture says a thousands words!” Post short online video, audio, and photo examples of your positive interactions in music and with students in all kinds of settings.

One final thought. The best advice I have learned about branding is that it is all about “work in progress.” According to Adii Pienaar in “How to Build Your Personal Brand: The Next Step to Anything” (http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2013/08/18/your-personal-brand-the-next-step-to-anything/), “Your brand is a living organism just like you are as a human and it needs to mirror the same kind of progression, evolution and maturation that you experience in your own mac-stuff-4-1500018life. Whilst legacy is important (as it gives context to your brand), continuous improvement and change should be part of how you shape your brand over time.”

He adds, “Your brand should make mistakes and you should have the opportunity to learn from them.” Just like a model college-entrance essay relating how you have persevered and adapted to life’s challenges and solved problems, your online presence should reveal your dedication to and steps towards self-improvement.

Finally, I echo Pienaar’s conclusion that there is no time like the present to get to work on personal branding: “Start today and brand shamelessly.”

 

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox