Prompting a Closer Look at Pomposity

It is a pivotal moment in classical music culture. Audiences are dwindling and classical music institutions struggle to stay afloat. Many fear a future in which classical music only exists in a rarified state or not at all. 

Among contemporary fans, there is a growing rift between two audiences in classical music: traditionalists and modern fans. Traditionalists uphold strict concert etiquette, such not clapping between movements, dressing formally, and omitting any visual or lighting aids that would distract from listening and focus on the stage. Modern fans and most performers see the art form they love rejecting opportunities for reach and relevance by making new audiences feel embarrassed about not knowing concert conventions or uncomfortable behaving naturally. The staunch commitment to outdated conventions is keeping the classical music world from evolving with the times and exploring ways of becoming more inclusive of visitors from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, disabilities, and experiences with the arts. 

A tool is needed to help the classical music community have a conversation about the value of policing concert etiquette. So I created a speculative design project called “Etiquette Enforcer.” This project exists in a fictional scenario where wealthy patrons, fed up with the constant dumbing down of performances, demanded a way to experience performances unencumbered by concert etiquette faux pas. 

Fictional Scenario

They dreamt of a perfectly silent hall, where every once in attendance was there to serve the same gods of gentility and refinement. A beautiful reprieve from the world of Cheetos and American Idol.

Many voices in symphony management were horrified with the idea, but donors kept raising their annual gifts and used their sway to push the idea into reality. They insisted, “All we want is the right to enjoy the performance is the best way possible; And that means making sure people in the audience are behaving appropriately.” They posted excessive signage around the concert halls, included warnings along with ticket sales, but believed the clappers to be willfully ignorant of their requests. So they hired a tech consultancy to help identify then penalize or remove the guilty parties.

The product they created, a set of gloves, triggers an alert when someone behaves claps at an inappropriate moment. When the alert is triggered, backstage security can view the offending party’s seat assignment along with a profile with his or her class index and choose their appropriate response. Possible responses could include sending a mild shock to the patron or keep them from returning at a future performance by raising ticket prices based on individual concert etiquette performance or asking them to leave mid-performance. ”Donors see this as an extreme, but temporary measure. They believe “Etiquette Enforcer” will distill their audience down to only the purest fans in short time. ‘If you kick someone out once, they are not returning. And they will tell their friends.’

How it works

The Etiquette Enforcer system was created to give you more control over the quality of your audience. Creating an environment with everyone attuned to the same rules of decorum and refinement takes considerable effort in the post-Kardashian universe. Finally there is a way for you make sure denim-clad, Twinkie-eating, DaVinci Code readers know they don’t belong in your world of tailored evening wear, polite conversation, and strict adherence to concert hall conventions.   

1. Distribute Gloves

Each guest will be assigned a pair of gloves. The gloves will be linked to their ticket and seat assignment upon entry. 

A variety of styles for men and women will be offered, but all will add sophistication to the attendees outfit, or make their poor clothing choices more observable by contrast.

2. Track Audience Performance

When the performance begins, connection will be activated between the gloves and a seating chart of the auditorium. An LED in their corresponding seat assignment will light up when they applaud.

If a patron claps between movements, or at another inappropriate moment, their LED will light up. Inappropriate behavior can be tracked manually by security staff, but their performance will also be added to a database. Their audience performance will be recorded alongside socioeconomic status. 

3. Enforce Desire Outcomes

Once you know who isn't behaving, you can choose how you want to move forward. Here are some options:

  1. Quietly ask them to leave
  2. Send a small electric shock 
  3. Raise ticket prices on patrons with past performance issues

Initially it will require considerable effort to monitor the offending parties, but in short time, the audience will be reduced to the purest fans. 

It's time for a critical conversation

While I created a working prototype, I strongly hope no system like this will never be used. 

Classical music is being held back, not by the art form, the musicians, or the symphonies and opera houses eager to embrace change, but by the patrons who feel there is only one way to enjoy live performances. The community at large needs to have a critical conversation about who feels excluded or rejected before it’s too late to build a future for classical music.