Q. I've never been to an orchestra concert before. What should I expect?
A. 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
Q. What if I don't know anything about classical music? Do I need to study beforehand?
A. There's no need to study. The music will speak for itself. Just come and enjoy!
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. Our Music Director also does a pre-concert presentation one hour before showtime for most of our concerts (not for Holiday Pops or the Family Concert) that is free for ticket-holders. This fun presentation, called Downbeat Downlow Live, provides some back story on the concert, listening tips, and more!
You know yourself best, so if research interests you, go ahead and follow your curiosity.
But if studying isn't your thing, there's no need to be concerned about
it. Just listen with an open mind.
Q. Will I recognize any of the music?
A. 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?
Q. What should I wear?
A. 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. Still, evening gowns and tuxedos are pretty rare
unless you've bought tickets for a fancy gala—and if you have, you'll
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
Q. Should I arrive early?
A. 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 early to read the program notes, visit with friends, or just watch the orchestra
Rushing to your seat at the last minute doesn't really give you enough time
to get settled, so you may not fully enjoy the first piece on the program. 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
Q. How long will the concert be?
Q. When should I clap?
A. It varies, but most orchestra concerts are about 90
minutes long, with an intermission at the halfway point. Very often there will be
several pieces on the concert; but occasionally there is one single work played
straight through. It's a good idea to take a look at the program before the
concert to get an idea of what to expect. Except in rare occasions, you will be leaving the theatre within two hours of the concert’s beginning.
A. 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. This is also a good moment to make sure your
program is open, so you can see the names of the pieces that will be played and
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 never applauds
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
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.
Q. What if I need to cough during the concert?
A. 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:
Q. What should I do with my cell phone during the concert?
- 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. (At most concerts, our ushers will have cough
drops if you request them.) Have a few out and ready when the music begins.
- 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.
A. 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" or they can give their pager to an usher,
who will summon them quietly if they are paged.
Q. Can I take pictures or record the concert?
Q. Why is there an intermission, and what should I do during it?
A. Audio or video recording of our concerts is not permitted at any time. And, please refrain from taking pictures during the concert – it is distracting to the performers and to your fellow audience members. 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, or in the lobby.
A. 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 or a snack 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.
Q. Can I bring my kids?
A. Generally, yes! However, it may depend on the concert
and on the age of your kids. Many standard—length classical concerts are inappropriate
for small children because they require an attention span that is difficult for
youngsters to maintain. Our Saturday concerts begin at 7:30pm, and may stretch beyond
"bedtime." But, our Sunday matinees begin at 3:00 in the afternoon, which
may be better for youngsters.
So if your children are very young, check with the Symphony office if you are unsure
whether a particular concert is appropriate for them. We may be able to recommend
additional events we're presenting during the season that would be a great way
for families to enjoy classical music together. When you do attend a symphony concert
as a family, try to sit up close to the orchestra, so your kids 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. When they are old enough to sit quietly for an extended
period, you may wish to bring them to the first half of a standard concert. An interested
preteen or teenager could also have a marvelous time at an orchestra concert, particularly
if it features several different pieces.
Also, be sure to ask us about discounts for students, children and families!
Q. What is a symphony orchestra, exactly?
Q. Why are the musicians onstage playing before the concert begins?
A. A symphony orchestra is a collection of 60 to 100 musicians
who play instruments of four basic types - strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.
A. Just like basketball players taking shots and practicing
moves before the game, musicians need to warm up their muscles and focus their concentration.
This is fun to listen to and to watch. Some of them are working on the passages
they need to polish up before the performance, with no regard for what anyone else
is practicing. Pick out the flute or the trumpet playing a solo line over and over,
and listen to how it changes. Does it get smoother? If the player stops in the middle
and starts over, can you hear the reason why? (It's especially fun to recognize
these solos later in the performance! Give a silent cheer for the player who nails
Q. Why do the musicians wear formal black clothes?
Not all of the orchestra players practice onstage, of course. Just like the audience,
everyone is doing his or her own thing. Some are talking; others are paging through
their music. And some don't come onstage at all until a minute or two before
the performance. But at concert time, everyone is in place and ready to start.
Q. How come there are more stringed instruments than anything else?
A. This is a long tradition that started a few centuries
ago. Sometimes, these days, musicians dress a little more casually. But they still
try to look uniform, so that the audience can concentrate on the music. Soloists
are the exception: they often dress differently, because they are the focus of attention.
Q. Why do their bows move together?
A. The sound of each individual stringed instrument is
softer than a brass or a woodwind instrument. But in large numbers, they make a
magnificent, rich sound.
Q. What does the concertmaster do?
A. The players of each individual section—first
violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses—play in unison
(the same notes as each other) most of the time. So all the cellos move together,
for instance. As you listen, noticing the different bowings for each section gives
you a visual clue to sort out the various melodies you're hearing.
Q. Why do all the musicians tune to the oboe?
A. The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first
violins. S/he acts as leader of that section, but also plays a leadership role with
orchestra as a whole. S/he is also the last orchestra musician to enter the stage
before a concert, and cues the oboe to "tune" the orchestra.
Q. Why do the string players share stands?
A. The penetrating tone of the oboe is easy for all players
to hear, and its ability to sustain pitch is very secure. The oboe plays the note
"A," and all the players make sure their "A" is exactly on the
same pitch as the oboe's. This ensures that they all are in agreement about
the tuning before the concert starts.
Q. Why does the conductor leave after every piece of music?
A. Fewer stands mean that the musicians, who are moving
around quite a bit, have more room to play freely. Also, because the strings play
more continuously than the other parts, their page turns can fall in inconvenient
places where there should be no break in the music. Look closely and you'll
see that the player on the outside keeps playing, while the player on the inside
briefly stops playing to turn the page.
Q. Why don't the musicians smile while they play?
A. This provides the conductor a little breather—a
chance to collect his or her thoughts before starting the next piece. If the applause
is very enthusiastic, the conductor will come onstage again, bow, and perhaps recognize
some musicians who played important solos in the piece. S/he may depart again once
or twice before moving on to the next piece on the program.
A. Look closely and you'll see that some of them do!
But in general, they are concentrating deeply, just like outfielders waiting for
a fly ball or pitchers winding up to a curve ball. They're "in the Zone."
After the music is over, you may see them smiling broadly. If it was a concerto,
and they liked the soloist's playing, they won't just smile—the string
players will tap their stands with their bows as a sign of appreciation.
You can read program notes online in advance of a concert,
or in your seat before the concert begins. Some concerts are preceded by free lectures
or discussions, and these can be entertaining and enlightening. Sometimes the conductor
or soloist even talks about the music during the concert.
But you might not need to "know" more to have a great time at your next
concert. Most people who attend concerts frequently find that it's like any
other passionate pursuit: The more you do it, the more you enjoy it. Most of the
classical works you hear repay frequent listening: The more often you hear a piece,
the more wonderful layers you hear in it. If you enjoyed your first concert, plan
to come again!
Concert halls in larger cities often have gift shops you can visit. You may find
books and recordings that will help you enjoy your next concert even more. Of course,
searching the web is a great way to learn more about a particular composer, a particular
work or a musical style.
Last, if you have questions about a Missoula Symphony concert, contact us! We'll
be glad to answer any questions you may have. Call us at 721-3194 or Click Here to email.