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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Let students shine, not the light from your phone

The children filed in behind their teacher, who gently herded them into three rows on the steps of the stage. Some of their dapper duds were already rumpled. Shirts coming untucked, hair ribbons askew. It didn’t matter.

It was as if a world-renowned opera singer or rock star had taken center stage.

The children blinked as the flash of cameras lit up the audience like twinkling Christmas lights. They fidgeted and scanned the faces before them, looking for the most important. The face that belonged to them.

The audience mirrored that search but with uncontained intensity. It bubbled up from the seats as parents craned necks, waved or called out, anxious that their little ones see that they could be seen.

After waiting patiently for the exuberant fans to take retake their seats, the teacher took the microphone to introduce this year’s holiday concert, the culmination of much practice.

But before leading the children in song, she made an admonishment that underscored the same instruction printed in the program. “Please silence your cellphones.”

Again, she waited. The children also waited, fidgeting with their collars, scratching their stockings and rocking side-to-side while the adults poked in pockets and purses. A prelude of artificial tones filled the space.

Finally, the children’s voices rose, their sweet sound sung with hope and innocence an instant reminder of the season’s sentiments. Peace. Goodwill. Love.

The holidays are well-seasoned with concerts, recitals and plays. As a parent of a musician, it’s the Christmas tradition I enjoy the most. But as I anticipate another season filled with song, I have one dread: the audience member, or more, who upstages the performers and mars the music.

A musical moment is broken as a discordant ring upstages the performers on stage. Sometimes that call is answered, as if the loud whisper is only audible to the person on the other end and not the audience, “I’m at Joey’s concert. Can’t talk.”

A parent half-stands to get a better picture midsong, blocking the view of those behind him and distracting the singers. Sometimes parents, in an attempt to be more courteous, stand in the outside aisles, but if there are several of them, they lean around each other to improve the view.

Then there are the children in the audience. This one gets a lot of grace from me. The sound of children’s voices are an acceptable, unanticipated accent in a concert because children are still learning to sit quietly and it’s a good thing to have their lives enriched with music.

That said, if a child’s noise is loud, lengthy and inconsolable and the parents don’t take a break in the hall, it makes the moments miserable for everyone, from performers to audience members.

The finale of errant etiquette is the well-meant but premature clapping, as if hurrying the performers to end their piece before it’s even finished.

Is it bah-humbug to expect the adults in the audience to observe basic concert etiquette and begin teaching their children? Are these common scenarios just uninformed concert-goers who don’t know any better?

It’s all quickly forgivable, but holiday concerts, and concerts throughout the year, would be better enjoyed by all if we observe a few simple things:

Turn the phone off and put it away as soon as you sit down, if not earlier. Then check it twice the same way Santa checks his naughty and nice list.

Take pictures before or after the concert, not during. Sit back, relax and enjoy the moment. Not everything has to be recorded and captured. This season is a good time to slow down and listen to the music.

If you still desperately want video from a children’s concert or recital, ask in advance if someone will record from an unobtrusive location and see if it will be available to download or purchase. If not, see if other parents want to pool together to hire or appoint one videographer. With minimal setup, you can even utilize free streaming for out-of-town family.

Remove yourself or your child if you’re making noise that causes heads to turn. This includes coughing fits.

Hold your applause until the conductors hands come down. This is the signal that the piece is finished and usually comes after the last note has faded into a satisfied silence. This rest at the end of a song is as important as the first note. It respects the performers and lets the music finish seeping into your soul.

Finally, remember, we’re there listening together as a community. A little noise is understandable but if we remember that our actions impact those around us, holiday concerts would be more enjoyable for everyone, especially those on stage.

And if someone still doesn’t seem to know any better, remind yourself, that this is an opportunity for goodwill to all.

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