Keep your ticket in your pocket, that way you won’t lose it. Take it out before you get to the door so you don’t hold up the whole line. The elevators are for the elderly and handicapped, take the stairs. If you get out of breath, rest on the landings, nobody likes to have to sit next to someone sweaty and panting. Use the restroom before the concert, not during. Wash your hands with soap, and for God’s sake don’t dry them on your nice clothes. We may not go to church, but your concert clothes are what your friends would call your Sunday best. Don’t forget to take a handful of lozenges from the bin in the lobby. Show your ticket to the ushers, and let them direct you to your seat, even if you think you know where it is. Nobody likes arrogance, particularly in the young. Get here early enough you don’t have to ask people to stand up. If you’re late, tell them not to stand up, even though you don’t really mean it. Say excuse me, never pardon, and for God’s sake don’t try to step over anybody’s bag, ask them politely to move it. This is how to get down the aisle without sticking your rear end in the faces of the philistines who refuse to stand up for you. This is how to fold your good coat behind you so that the sleeves don’t get stepped on. You have plenty of time to look at your clothes at home, I didn’t buy you that ticket to stare at your clothes. Don’t fidget. Are you listening? Then stop fidgeting. Nobody wants to listen to your chair. Or the paper in your program. The program is for before the concert and during the intermission, nobody likes to sit next to somebody reading during a performance. But I’m not fidgeting. Don’t rustle the paper like that, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Put your program in your bag when the lights go down, not on your lap, it can fall off and ruin the concert for everybody. Put your phone in your bag. Make sure it’s turned off first. On second thought, give it to me. This is how to stow your umbrella under your seat so that it doesn’t fall over and ruin the concert for everybody. This is how to sit with your elbows in, so you don’t usurp your neighbor’s armrest. This is how to cross your legs without kicking the seat in front of you. Don’t uncross your legs during the concert, nobody likes to listen to your pants crinkle in the middle of the Adagio. If you absolutely have to move, do it during the noisy parts, and for God’s sake don’t try to do anything during the Adagio. This is how to sit so the people behind you can see without having to lean to one side. This is how to politely snub your neighbor if they talk to you during the performance. This is how to sit so that others around you know you’re listening attentively. This is how to fold your hands on your lap so you won’t be tempted to drum your fingers. Nobody paid good money to listen to your fingers. Or your feet. But what if my leg falls asleep during the Adagio? Don’t look around at the balconies or the ceiling, the concert is on the stage, I didn’t buy you that ticket to gawk at the auditorium. You can think about boys at school, here you should be thinking about the music. Don’t yawn. If you’re paying attention you won’t get bored. If you have to yawn, do it with your mouth closed, into your fist, like you’re suppressing a cough. Don’t cough. If you have to cough, cough in the rests between movements. But for God’s sake, cough discreetly, not like your father, he sounds like he should be in the hospital. Didn’t I tell you to take some lozenges? If you can’t finish unwrapping a lozenge in the rest between movements, wait until the end of the next movement. If you want the binoculars, tap once lightly on my shoulder. If I don’t hand them to you, I’m telling you I’ve been swept up in the performance, like you could be, if only you stopped thinking about your clothes and boys and stopped gawking at the ceiling and really paid attention. But I did take lozenges. See? Put the strap around your neck so you don’t drop them and ruin the concert for everybody. Don’t hog them, it’s one of your sister’s least-attractive qualities. One pair of binoculars is enough for a family, if we all understand how to share. Don’t applaud between movements, and for God’s sake don’t get up until the intermission. These are just the sorts of things that will announce you as the rock-and-roll fan I can’t seem to stop you from becoming. This is how to applaud with a combination of enthusiasm and discreetness. This is how to applaud with your coat over your arm. This is when to stop. This is how to sit for the encore if you’ve already gathered your things. Don’t stand up unless everyone around you does, and for God’s sake don’t stamp your feet. This isn’t Madison Square Garden. Never shout encore. Never shout bravo. Never shout anything. Are you listening?
* of “Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid, The New Yorker, 26 June 1978. Maybe because I just finished posting about pedagogy, in hindsight it struck me that this might make an interesting exercise for students to do with another genre of music.