Now that the season is upon us, get out there and enjoy the culture. If you are invited to the philharmonic or a chamber music performance, don’t be intimidated if you’ve never been. Herewith a simple list of what to expect and how to prepare.
Familiarize before you go - Find the music or video of the performance on the internet and listen to the work ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the music. You know, just like you would do if you were going to a Wilco concert. You’d spend the week before listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so you could jam along in the rare event that Tweedy performed one of the songs you actually knew the words to.
Dress up – If it’s opening night, black tie. If any other night, a suit and tie. At the very least a blazer. NO jeans.
Cell phone off – Turn OFF your damn cell phone when you walk into the hall. No vibrate, no text, no nothing. Disconnect from the outside world completely. You will never appreciate what is happening if you don’t let it flow inside and around you.
Make NO noise – Do not talk, whisper, rustle, cough, sneeze, what have you. If you have a cough that a drop won’t help, hold the cough until between movements. If it’s uncontrollable, leave the hall until you regain composure.
Caffeinate – Drink a strong coffee before you go. It isn’t easy sitting there in warm concert hall with mellifluous music wafting over you. Concerts usually last 2 hours with an intermission in between.
Avoid the Wine - If you forget to drink coffee, definitely forego the wine that flows at all concert halls because you will zonk completely out. But if you do fall asleep, it’s not the end of the world. It will be the most blissful sleep you’ve ever experienced. Of course, if you snore you will be humiliated so keep that in mind.
Sit on your hands - There is no clapping in between movements of a symphony or chamber piece. This is the biggest trap new comers fall into. It’s not the end of the world, but it is easily avoidable. Just don’t clap until the majority of people in the hall have begun clapping. Because this is such a no no, don’t even trust the people next to, behind or in front of you. Pieces of classical music have movements and when the first movement ends and the second one begins, you will look like a rube if you clap off cue. Classical music was the movie, play and TV show of its day and hence the public’s main source of entertainment. The movements told stories. The audience waited until the end of the entire piece to applaud. Save the woo hoos and yee haws for the Wilco concert or the football game. Polite and enthusiastic applause is all that’s called for in a concert hall. Look in the program you receive from the usher as you enter the hall. This will tell you how many movements are in the piece.
Know the form - The normal four-movement form is:
1. an opening allegro
2. a slow movement
3. a minuet or scherzo
4. an allegro or rondo
For example, the program notes for Mahler’s First Symphony would look something like this.
1. Langsam, Schleppend (Slowly, dragging) Immer sehr gemächlich (very restrained throughout) D major
2. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (Moving strongly, but not too quickly), Recht gemächlich (restrained), a Trio – a Ländler-
3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen (Solemnly and measured, without dragging), Sehr einfach und schlicht wie eine Volksweise (very simple, like a folk-tune), and Wieder etwas bewegter, wie im Anfang (something stronger, as at the start) – a funeral march based on the children’s song “Frère Jacques” (or “Bruder Martin”)
4. Stürmisch bewegt- Energisch (Stormily agitated, energetic)
SP Recommends jumping into the classical music pool. There are symphonic and chamber music organizations in most larger cities and college towns as seen in this map. Check it out. Handy Terms can be found here.