FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Can I bring my kids?
Generally, yes! However, it may depend on the concert and on the age of your children. Many standard-length classical concerts require an attention span that is difficult for very young children to maintain. We rely on your good parental judgment as to whether or not your child will enjoy the concert. When you do attend a symphony concert as a family, try to sit up close to the orchestra, so your children will have a great view of everything that’s going on. Young children are especially intrigued by the many different instruments of the orchestra and the way they are played.
To further build your children’s interest in classical music, play classical radio or CDs around the house.
I’ve never been to an orchestra concert before. What should I expect?
Expect to enjoy yourself! This is the time to let go of any preconceptions you may have about classical music or the concert experience. If you feel a little nervous, that’s OK. Some things about the concert may seem strange because they’re new to you, but if you just focus on the music, you’ll have a great time.
Open yourself up to the music. Let it trigger your emotions – maybe even your memories. Feel the rhythms; follow the tunes. Watch the musicians and the conductor, and see how they interact with each other. Notice how the music ebbs and flows—surging and powerful at some times, delicate and ephemeral at others, and everything in between.
What if I don’t know anything about classical music? Do I need to study beforehand?
There’s no need to study. The music will speak for itself. Just come and enjoy!
The pre-concert talks that begin 45 minutes before each concert are informal and informative. This is one easy way to enhance your concert experience.
Over time, many frequent concertgoers do find their enjoyment is deeper if they prepare for a concert. This can be simple, like reading the program notes beforehand (they’re posted on our website); or it can be more involved, like listening to recordings of the music to be performed in the days before they attend a concert.
Will I recognize any of the music?
You might! Classical music is all around us: in commercials, movie soundtracks, television themes, cartoons, retail shops, and even some elevators! Popular music often quotes classical melodies, too. While you’re listening in the concert to a piece you think you’ve never heard before, a tune you’ve heard a hundred times may jump out at you.
Whether or not you’ve heard the music before the concert, as you listen, you’ll notice that each classical piece uses its own group of several tunes over and over, in different ways. You’ll start to “recognize” these melodies as a work progresses. Listen for the ways a melody is repeated: Is it exactly the same as the first time, or with a different character? Is it played by the same instruments, or different ones? Does it start the same as before, but go off in a different direction? Or start differently and surprise you by developing into the tune you recognize from earlier in the piece?
What should I wear?
There is no dress code! Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Many people will be wearing business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis or jeans with a nice shirt to cocktail dresses and suits. Some people enjoy dressing up and making a special night of it, and you can, too.
If you do decide to dress up, though, go easy on the perfume and cologne, which can distract others near you and even prompt them to sneeze (which may distract you)!
Should I arrive early?
Absolutely! Plan to arrive 20 minutes before concert time, so you can find parking, find your seat, turn off your cell phone, take a look at your surroundings, absorb the atmosphere, and have time to glance through the program book, too. You won’t be alone. Most concertgoers make a point of coming 45 minutes early to take part in the informal pre-concert talk given by the conductor.
And there’s another good reason to come early: Most concerts start on time. If you’re late, you may end up listening from the lobby! If that happens, the usher will allow you inside during a suitable pause in the program, so your arrival won’t disturb other concertgoers.
How long will the concert be?
It varies, but most orchestra concerts are about 90 minutes long, with an intermission at the halfway point.
When should I clap?
This is the number-one scary question! No one wants to clap in the “wrong” place. But it’s simpler than you may think, and quite logical on the whole.
At the beginning of the concert, the concertmaster will come onstage. The audience claps as a welcome, and as a sign of appreciation to all the musicians.
After the orchestra tunes, the conductor (and possibly a soloist) will come onstage. Everyone claps to welcome them, too. Then, everything settles down and the music begins. Just listen and enjoy! The audience doesn’t usually applaud again until the end of each piece.
In most classical concerts – unlike jazz or pop – the audience doesn’t usually applaud during the music. They wait until the end of each piece, then let loose with their applause. But this can be a little tricky, because many pieces seem to end several times – in other words, they have several parts, or “movements.” These are listed in your program.
In general, musicians and your fellow listeners prefer not to hear applause during the pauses between these movements, so they can concentrate on the progress from one movement to the next. Symphonies and concertos have a momentum that builds from the beginning to the end, through all their movements, and applause can “break the mood,” especially when a movement ends quietly. Sometimes, though, the audience just can’t restrain itself, and you’ll hear a smattering of applause – or a lot of it – during the pause before the next movement. It’s perfectly OK to join in if you enjoyed the music, too.
(By the way, disregard anyone who “shushes” you for applauding between movements. It’s only in the last 50 years or so that audiences stopped applauding between movements, so you have music history on your side!)
What if you lose track, and aren’t sure whether the piece is truly over?
One clue is to watch the conductor. Usually, s/he won’t relax between movements, but keep hands raised; the attention of the musicians will remain on the conductor. If in any doubt, it’s always safe to wait and follow what the rest of the audience does!
At the end of the piece, it’s time to let yourself go and let the musicians know how you felt about their playing. Many pieces end “big” – and you won’t have any doubt of what to do when! Some end very quietly, and then you’ll see the conductor keep hands raised for a few seconds at the end, to “hold the mood.” Then the hands will drop, someone will clap or yell “Bravo!” – and that’s your cue. There’s no need to restrain yourself. If you enjoyed what you heard, you can yell “Bravo!” too.
What if I need to cough during the music?
Everyone gets the urge to cough now and then. Worrying about disturbing your fellow listeners is a laudable impulse, but don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of the concert. There’s a funny thing about coughing – the less worried you are about
it, the less likely you are to feel the urge! So chances are you’ll feel less need to cough if you’re prepared:
Be sure to visit the water fountain in the lobby before the concert, and at intermission.
If you have a cold, take some cough medicine in advance and bring wax paper-wrapped – or unwrapped-lozenges with you.
Allow yourself to become involved in listening to the music and in watching the performers. The more you are absorbed in what’s going on, the less likely you are to cough.
If you absolutely can’t restrain yourself, try to wait for the end of a movement. Or “bury” your cough in a loud passage of music. If this is impossible, and you feel a coughing fit coming on, it’s perfectly acceptable to quietly exit the concert hall. Don’t be embarrassed—your fellow listeners will probably appreciate your concern for their listening experience.
What should I do with my cell phone during the concert?
Turn it off! The same goes for pagers and alarm watches. It’s a good idea to double-check in the few minutes before the concert begins, and again as intermission draws to a close. Better still, leave them at home or in the car if you can.
Doctors and emergency workers who are “on call” should put their pagers or cell phones on “vibrate”.
Can I take pictures?
Cameras, video recorders, and tape recorders are not permitted in concerts. If you have a camera and want a souvenir of a special evening at the symphony, it can be fun to ask someone to take your picture outside the concert hall before you go in, in the lobby, or with one or some of the performers following the concert.
Why is there an intermission, and what should I do during it?
It’s a short rest period for the musicians and conductor – once you see how much activity goes into a performance, you’ll understand why they need a break!
Listening to music is also an intense activity (even if considerably less physical), and a break in the middle helps the audience concentrate better in the second half. Rarely, a concert will have no intermission because it would interrupt the flow of a long work. Check the program before the concert so you know what’s coming.
Most intermissions are fifteen to twenty minutes long, which gives you time to socialize with your companions, get a drink of water in the lobby, visit the facilities, or simply sit in your seat and read the program notes. Do whatever puts you in a good frame of mind to hear the second half of the concert.
Special thanks to the League of American Orchestras for their assistance with this section.