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Standing For The National Anthem Performance

Recently, my daughter’s high school choir and orchestra put on a concert. It was a lovely event with many talented performers. The audience was also fantastic; holding applause until the conductor indicated movements were finished, and no talking or cell phones going off.

There was one thing that left me wondering what the proper etiquette was, though. The first and second pieces the choir sang had the performers spread out through the entire auditorium, in the aisles and along the sides. Their second piece was “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Ordinarily, one would stand for this, but since the choir were standing throughout the house, if the entire audience stood no one would have been able to see any performers not directly in front of them. Several people in the back of the house did stand, but the rest of us remained seated.

There was no flag displayed in the auditorium, so I’m not sure if it’s covered by the Flag Code or not. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about the National Anthem, but I am curious whether it’s polite to remain seated in a situation like that. Is it more impolite to remain seated than to block the view of anyone not taller than oneself? 1031-13


An interesting question!   There is not only US flag and national anthem etiquette but how to respond to hearing the national anthem is a matter of US Legal Code.   According to 36 USC § 301 – National anthem

(a) Designation.— The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conducting during playing. During a rendition of the national anthem—

(1) when the flag is displayed—

(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

It seems to me that the error in etiquette lies with the orchestra/choir director who did not research national anthem etiquette and protocol beforehand and choreographed it in such a way as to make it quite awkward for individuals to choose to stand during the playing and singing of the anthem as their conscience dictated.   People were placed in an awkward choice of either obstructing the performance or honoring a commitment to respect the national anthem.   This was a particularly difficult choice to put on veterans and military people in attendance as they are honor bound to behave in a prescribed manner upon hearing the playing of the national anthem.    Had this performance occurred at a military base, one would presume that the entire audience would have stood up at attention at the first notes of the anthem thus making it quite obvious to the performers and director that perhaps performing it in this manner was not the best way.

Bottom line:   People have the hard fought freedom to choose to not stand during the anthem but there should be no barriers, physical or socially, to people choosing to stand.

{ 66 comments… add one }
  • BekkaW November 13, 2013, 6:16 am

    @Marie : I’m Australian but travel frequently in the US and have attended events where the anthem is played. Both DH and I always stand out of courtesy and respect, but as we are not US nationals we do not sing nor place our hands on our hearts.

  • The Elf November 13, 2013, 8:00 am

    Re: Removing hats for the national anthem.

    Yes, men remove hats and women are not expected to. I should have clarified that. However….. If I (female) am wearing a hat that is a “man’s type of hat” like a baseball cap or a knit winter hat, I take it off. The last time I stood for the national anthem it was at a football game and I took off my knit hat. The rule dates back to the days of fancy women’s hats. Some still wear those, of course, and you’re not expected to remove them. But if it you are a woman wearing a hat easily removed and replaced, like a baseball cap, then I think it is respectful to remove it during the anthem.

  • AMC November 13, 2013, 9:08 am

    Thank you to Admin for posting this. I was confused about whether or not it was appropriate to place my hand over my heart during the National Anthem or it if applied only to the Pledge of Allegiance. Many times, I’ve seen people simply stand and fold their hands in front of them politely during the Anthem, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been about this.

  • Daria November 13, 2013, 10:40 am

    The women-don’t-remove-hats thing, in etiquette, has nothing to do with modesty or religion.

    When “modern” etiquette rules were developing it was no uncommon for women’s fashion headwear to be secure with hatpins or otherwise worn in a way that would be difficult to remove, or would disturb their coiffure or fashion ensemble. They were not expected to keep taking hat off and putting it on — this is also why it is correct for a woman to wear a hat indoors during daytime hours (never evening, except for tiny cocktail hats) except in her own home.

    Women who are wearing easy-to-remove unisex hats are expected, by etiquette, to remove them as a sign of respect for national anthems, funerals and indoors in homes and churches.

  • Powers November 13, 2013, 11:53 am

    The Elf:

    Yes, Miss Manners has made clear that the hat rule depends on not the gender of the person, but on the style of the hat. A ladies hat, part of an ensemble, need not be removed; a masculine hat, with a basic utilitarian function (regardless of ornamentation) should be.

    Powers &8^]

  • Kali November 13, 2013, 12:19 pm

    As a Brit, I’m very surprised that these guidelines exist, and to learn how specific they are.

  • David November 13, 2013, 7:33 pm


    As to the etiquette of standing while it is in a movie – no, if it is part of a movie or a play then you do not stand and place your hand over your heart (like when it was sung during “A League of our Own”.

    However, when I was younger, they would open the movie showings in both drive-ins and theaters with the National Anthem and we would exit the car/stand in place

  • The Elf November 13, 2013, 9:13 pm

    Kali, it strikes me as odd that it surprises you. The US flag code is based on UK flag culture. Makes sense, really, since our country was born from the days of the British Empire.

  • Hallie November 13, 2013, 10:19 pm

    Guys, this is precatory language. There’s a reason it’s full of shoulds. Our law is full of this stuff; it establishes an advisory for behavior in certain situations. It’s etiquette codified into law, basically. Which is fine, and this is an etiquette site, but I see people here talking about stuff like how it’s never enforced for civilians. Well, right, it’s never enforced for anybody because there is no penalty associated with it. It literally cannot be enforced. If you’re in the military you’re subject to the UCMJ and that’s completely different.

  • Anonymous November 14, 2013, 11:33 am

    @Daria–That makes sense, but there are grey areas. For example, a lot of places hold outdoor ceremonies for Remembrance Day, or Veterans’ Day, on or around November 11th. In some places (Canada, for one), winter can be in full swing by then, or at least in its early stages. So, naturally, people who attend the outdoor Remembrance Day services might wear winter hats, or jackets/coats with hoods up. I’m not sure if this is rude, or just practical–in fact, for some people, it might not even occur to them that it might be rude, because a hat is an expected part of dressing for cold weather.

  • eek November 14, 2013, 8:57 pm

    This has been an interesting post for me. I would stand. I would recognize, at a concert, that I was attending a performance – but also that the music performed has particular significance to me. And, frankly, I think I would get chills to see the wonderful and symbolic movement of folks rising out of respect, while the choir mixed with the audience sings. That seems lovely.

    The question I have – as regards the inclination toward “public performance of the national anthem” – is that this is the US’ National Anthem, and in most US venues, the singing of the national anthem is constructed as an audience participation event. I can see that it might not be proper to join in during a concert at which it is performed; however, when I’m at a game and some luminary arrives to sing the anthem, is it right to regard that person having been chosen to lead the singing, as opposed to “performing” for the audience?

    Most people in the stands are silent. Me, I sing along. LOUDLY. Like democracy, I think it’s an audience participation event. But I suppose some folks think I’m rude, for ruining a “performance”…am I?

  • nk November 14, 2013, 11:33 pm

    For everyone saying it’s an insult for Americans to choose not to stand for their national anthem, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people don’t stand for the anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, or any other nationalistic displays because it goes against their religious or political beliefs–beliefs which are protected by the First Amendment. If anything is insulting, it’s claiming that everyone should behave exactly as you do, even if it violates their personal beliefs. The politest thing to do is to respect people’s decision to stand AND people’s decision not to stand.

  • Lillie82 November 16, 2013, 8:58 pm

    I have a funny story to share related to this topic. One of the theatre directors at my college was originally from Scotland. She directed a show about Americans travelling in England, and the British National Anthem was played in between acts. Her family came over to see the show, and I heard her mention beforehand that she knew they would feel compelled to stand when their national anthem was played – which they did. And the rest of the audience stood, most of whom were presumably American, too! We didn’t know if that was out of respect, a sort of automatic following of the crowd, or if it was because the American song “My Country Tis of Thee” is set to the same tune as the British National Anthem, and that’s what the Americans in the audience thought they were hearing!

  • Enna November 23, 2013, 5:34 am

    I think admin’s advice is good on this one. I’m also with Kali on this one.

  • Karen Damon October 29, 2014, 7:12 pm

    Do people have to stand up for the USA national anthem when there were 6 people in the room watching a sporting event?

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