Ethical Behavior of the Classical Music Audience

By Wilson, Mary Katherine; Marczynski, Sarah et al. | Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ethical Behavior of the Classical Music Audience


Wilson, Mary Katherine, Marczynski, Sarah, O'Brien, Elizabeth, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry


The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of expected ethics of audience behavior during a classical music performance. Through a better understanding of cultural identities and practices of the classical music audience, symphony organizations may be able to more closely align audience expectations and the socialization frameworks that are present throughout the classical music experience. The researchers engaged in an ethnographic qualitative research approach in this study. Specific to this study, the researchers were engaging in gaining a greater understanding of classical music audience culture and how this may be impacting participants that are of a "marginalized" or non-traditional classical music audience group. There were 6 new-to-file ticket-buying patrons from the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera who participated in the study. The predominant theme that emerged from the focus group participants was that they like the traditional classical music experience, including venue, audience behavior expectation, and orchestration components, as it is. Further research is needed to better understand if these preferences root in long-standing structural and institutional frameworks that perpetuate cultural identities and practices and minimize audience "performance anxiety" because of reassurance of learned socialization processes (Jacobs, 2000; Mándeles, 1993). Or, if the American classical music audience of today authentically desires the concert etiquette and rituals that began in the 19th century European concert halls because the etiquette and rituals provide an ideal psychological setting for enjoyment of the classical music experience.

Keywords: ethical behavior; classical music; symphony audience

The American classical music experience of today is rooted in conventions, etiquette, and rituals of the 19th century European concert halls and reinforced through socialization processes that adhere to the sociocultural behaviors established by the old aristocratic classes (Mándeles, 1993). If these conventions, rituals, and socialization processes make new audiences feel uncomfortable and out of place, what implications might this have for classical music organizations in recruitment and retention of new audience members?

HISTORY OF ETHICAL PRACTICE IN THE AMERICAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

With the establishment of American symphony orchestras and other cultural institutions in the late 18th and 19th century, the arts were moved into a free market system, quite different from that of the European patronage system funded by the aristocratic class and the church. The institutions, primarily presenters of high art (Kirchberg, 1994), were typically founded and associated with wealthy individuals and classes, the elite of society, who became the core audiences. Kirchberg (1994) and the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPAA) defines "high art" as attendance at dance, operas, classical music, art museums, jazz, and classical theatres. Popular art or "low art" includes dinner theatres, nonclassical, popular concerts, live music clubs, and movie theatres.

These core audiences were also responsible for institutionalizing conventions, concert etiquette, and rituals found in the 19th century European concert halls (Mándeles, 1993). These norms are mutually agreed on between artist, institutions, and audiences but are unspoken, unwritten, and passed down through experience-when to clap, when to leave, how to dress, etc. Wheeler (2004) wrote, "it depends upon the processes of socialization in which audiences learn the conventions of a particular art world" (p. 336). Hasitschka, Goldsleger, and Zembylas ( 2005 ) suggest that formal and informal frameworks of action contribute to socialization and tacit understanding of situations.

The socialization process for classical music often begins with early experiences through school field trips, participation in a youth ensemble, or concert attendance with an adult. …

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