Lead Author(s): Kathleen Melago
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Geared toward Music 101 classes, this e-book integrates other arts, key moments in the history of the wind band, and basic historical details with typical content one would expect in a Music 101 text. Depth of content is geared toward helpful information for an educated citizen, not preparation to be a contestant on Jeopardy. Special features include ties to students’ majors in most chapters and 17 chapters, including Activism in Music, Film Music, and Introduction to World Music.
Chapter 1: Attending Concerts
As a result of this chapter, you should be able to:
- locate concerts to attend.
- engage in preparatory activities before attending concerts to get more out of the concert.
- demonstrate appropriate decorum when attending musical performances.
Attending concerts is a great way to become acquainted with music of different styles and genres. As you progress through this textbook and learn more about types of music with which you may have previously been unfamiliar, hearing the musical styles performed live can be a good way to bring together your new knowledge with what you will likely find to be an enjoyable experience. Attending a concert alone or with friends, even for a musical style that is outside your comfort-zone, can be a nice way to relax. People are often surprised at how enjoyable hearing live music can be.
Finding a Concert to Attend
Even very small towns or remote areas tend to have live performances at least on occasion. In larger cities, you may be surprised to learn that music representing many different styles is performed live on almost any day of the year. You might already be familiar with where to find live performances of music in your preferred style but exploring other genres of music may be new to you. Obvious choices for locating concerts can be a local symphony orchestra or touring Broadway theatre shows, but there are likely other types of music, like jazz or world music, performed live nearby. These can easily be found with an internet search.
Using the internet search engine of your choice, search for a city near you and “live music.” For example, search for Pittsburgh live music. Look at the results and include a link here for a concert in any genre that interests you. Write a sentence about why that concert appeals to you.
Using the internet search engine of your choice, search for a city near you and “symphony.” For example, search for Pittsburgh symphony. Look at the results and include a link here for the schedule of a symphony in the town or city closest to you. Have you ever been to see that symphony live?
Using the internet search engine of your choice, search for a city near you and “jazz.” For example, search for Pittsburgh jazz. Look at the results and include a link here for a live jazz performance that sounds interesting to you in the town or city closest to you. Include a sentence about why that performance sounds interesting to you.
Other good sources of concerts to attend can be found at colleges, universities, and your local school district. Some churches will host a concert series to bring quality music to their area in worship spaces that are often beautiful and have great acoustics for music. When preparing to attend a concert, check to see if there are any discounts for which you or guests attending with you might qualify, such as a student or senior citizen discount.
Preparing to Attend a Concert
People vary in how much advance preparation helps them enjoy the concert, but there are several things that can be helpful, especially if attending a concert that is outside your comfort-zone. First, secure a ticket ahead of time, if possible, to avoid having to wait in lines at the box office or to learn that the event is sold out. Take time to research parking availability and consider things like whether you will be arriving during evening rush hour or if there is any road construction that might impact the route you plan to take. Planning to arrive early is smart in case you encounter delays. Often, once a performance starts, late-comers will only be seated during breaks, which can mean that you might miss some of the performance and feel awkward being escorted to your seat in the dark. If your situation permits, consider catching a meal before the concert to make more of the event.
Often, being familiar with the music ahead of time can help the concert be even more enjoyable. Listening to recordings of the music and looking up the translation of any texts that are in another language is a great place to start. Researching the background of the pieces, composers, performers, and/or ensemble can help you understand more about the context of the works.
Do your best to be rested for the concert, especially if the concert will take place in the dark with comfortable chairs. While nice music lulls even the most rested to sleep at times, you will not want to pay for a concert and sleep through the whole thing and if you snore, you will distract others. Be sure to take time to review appropriate concert etiquette so you will not interfere with the enjoyment of the concert for other attendees or the performers.
Which of the following can be helpful when preparing to attend a concert? Select all that that may be helpful:
Familiarize yourself with the music ahead of time
Research parking options ahead of time
What to Expect
The atmosphere of the concert will vary with the genre of music. In some concert settings, like those held outdoors at festivals, in restaurants, and at stadiums, the experience is casual and often familiar. You may be able to come and go as you would like, visit a snack bar, or enjoy table service. When attending an outdoor concert at a park or festival, bringing a chair or blanket is often helpful for comfort, as permanent seating may be limited. Depending on the venue, you may be able to bring food and drink with you. Always check on any specific regulations regarding alcohol before bringing it.
Many concerts occur in more formal or traditional concert halls. In those settings, you will often experience beautiful and sometimes quite old performance venues with chandeliers, marble, and rich colors. Some newer halls showcase contemporary architectural features. The fancy décor sometimes makes people wonder how to dress, whether they will be welcomed, and what to expect, but there is no need to worry. When you arrive at a concert hall, usually, the doors will open at least 30 minutes before the show. If you arrive before the doors open, there is usually a vestibule where everyone will wait. If the concert is very crowded, or depending on security procedures, you may have to wait outside, so be prepared to be out in the elements with an umbrella or warm coat, if needed. Many concert halls are now using security procedures similar to going to a sporting event or into a government building. Some items, such as larger bags and laptops, might be prohibited, so check the specific requirements for the venue. Often, outside food or drink, open or unopened, is prohibited.
Once through security, your ticket will be scanned by a greeter. Usually, provided the concert is not general admission where you can sit anywhere, the person will give you very general directions toward your seat, like “two flights up to your right.” Feel free to ask if the person does not tell you where to go. At this point, using the restroom is a good idea, as lines during intermission can get long. This is also a good time to look around at the lobby and gathering areas and maybe take some pictures. Some venues will sell refreshments. Always check to see if you will be able to take food or drink into the hall or if a special cup has to be purchased to do so. At least 15 minutes before the performance begins, make your way to the area where your seat is located. An usher should be available to lead you to your exact seat and provide you with a program, if there is one. While you do not have to use the usher to find your seat, doing so helps you avoid accidentally sitting in the wrong seat. Tipping the usher is not customary.
Once in your seat, look over the program for additional information that might help you have the best possible experience, such as program notes with additional information about the music to be performed or biographies of personnel. Take a moment to stow any items, like purses or umbrellas, and completely silence your cell phone. Even on vibrate, a phone will be able to be heard during sensitive musical moments, which would likely be embarrassing to you and distracting to others.
Regardless of whether the concert is indoors or outdoors, like a summer concert by a symphony in the park, these next things will happen. In the case of a band or orchestra performance, you will see musicians on stage warming up. They will all be playing at the same time and it may sound chaotic. Individual musicians have their own specific needs and procedures to warm up their instruments and bodies for making music, just like athletes warm up before a game. Warming up helps them prevent injuries and perform at their best. Eventually, they will quiet down and one musician will enter the stage, usually the principal violinist for an orchestra or the principal clarinetist for a band, and everyone will clap. This person is called the concertmaster. The person will play a note and the musicians will listen and tune their instruments to the pitch. This process may be repeated several times and with different instruments playing until the person sits down. Next, the conductor will usually come out, unless there is an announcement or introduction to be made first. When the conductor comes out, the ensemble members will stand and the audience claps. The conductor will bow out of respect for the applause that is occurring and the concert is then ready to begin! Depending on the concert, the National Anthem may be performed first. If so, stand and use the same decorum you would use anywhere for the National Anthem. Even when attending a concert in another country, you should stand for their national anthem.
This video is of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra live from Berlin. Please watch the opening 1:45 of this video, where you will first hear the end of the individual warm-up time, the concertmaster (principal violinist) come out to tune the ensemble, the ensemble stand as the conductor comes out and bows, and then they sit and begin the performance:
When attending a concert in another country, never stand during their National Anthem.
Always turn the sound on cell phones completely off because even on vibrate, they could make enough sound to cause a distraction in a performance.
The person, usually a violinist or clarinetist, who leads the ensemble in tuning is called the:
This section is geared toward attending a formal concert in a concert hall, but some aspects will apply to other types of performances. The most important things to remember about concert etiquette in a formal or informal setting are to avoid negatively impacting the ability for anyone else to enjoy the concert and to avoid anything that could distract the performers. Part of being an educated citizen is understanding appropriate decorum for various situations, in this case, the concert hall.
First, avoid being late. When people arrive late to concerts, other guests often have to stand and adjust for them to get to their seats. If you do arrive late, wait until a break in the concert before going to your seat, ideally, during applause. This will help minimize any distractions. The same is true for leaving early. If you realize that you will have to depart early from the concert for any reason, wait until a break in the performance to do so. The exception being if your presence would be more distracting than you leaving mid-piece, such as if you are coughing loudly and uncontrollably or about to vomit.
Wear appropriate attire for the performance. For most concerts, dressing business-casual is fine. Except for very rare situations, there is no need to wear a suit, tuxedo, or gown to a concert. Most people will be dressed like they are going to work or a church service.
Avoid being a distraction with your cell phone. Turn the phone sounds completely off and stow the phone away during the performance. You can access it during intermission. The sound of the phone vibrating can be distracting, especially during quiet moments in a concert. The brightness of the screen will distract people around you and can distract the performers, as they will see your face light up with their peripheral vision. Unless specifically instructed that it is okay to do so, do not record any of the performance on your phone and do not take pictures during the performance. Making recordings is actually a violation of copyright law in most cases, so technically, you could be fined or even jailed for making videos or audio recordings. More recently, at some concerts, you may be encouraged to take pictures and tag the ensemble or venue, even for formal concerts, like a symphony, but that would be announced. Before the performance begins, in most cases, you will be allowed to take pictures, but at times, even that is prohibited. Always look for signs and heed the warnings to avoid embarrassment or potentially even eviction from the event.
Avoid wearing hats to performances. Traditionally, men remove hats when entering buildings, and women sometimes wear hats for a fashion accessory. Old traditions aside, hats add bulk to your head and make it more difficult for people behind you to see.
If possible, avoid wearing headphones to concerts. Headphones can be a necessity for some people, such as individuals with hearing impairments or some people with special needs who are sensitive to sound. Most people do not fall into those categories, so wearing headphones usually means that they are listening to something else while at the concert, which is rude to the performers. Additionally, others nearby may be distracted if they can hear the sound from your headphones.
Eating and drinking is generally prohibited in concert halls and during performances. Besides the obvious mess it can make in a formal space, the sounds and smells can be distracting. Some concert halls do allow food or drink bought on the premises to be eaten in the hall, even during performances. This still can be distracting, so use good judgement about when to adjust the cellophane around the cinnamon-roasted almonds, for example.
During the concert, sit with reasonably attentive posture. In many halls, the performer can very easily see mostly everyone in the audience. When people look like they are there for napping, the performers can feel disheartened. Show respect by avoiding majorly slouching, putting your feet up on the seat in front of you, or lying your head back or down as if sleeping.
Be as quiet as you can be during the performance. This means avoiding talking, including whispering, opening candy wrappers, and moving around in your potentially squeaky seat. If you need to do any of those things, wait until there is applause or an intermission. If you are attending a concert with a child who becomes noisy, you should exit the hall so other guests and the performers are not distracted. Frequently, concerts are recorded for important purposes and noise can ruin the recording. While certainly a sensitive subject, as people with children want to be able to attend performances, out of respect for the performers and other audience members, sometimes, leaving the concert, at least for a while, is best. If planning to attend a performance with a child, always check to see if there are any age-restrictions. Additionally, some ensembles perform concerts geared especially for children, which may be a good option to pursue.
Applause during a formal concert can be tricky. First, applaud when the performers enter and exit the stage and at the end of pieces to show your appreciation. If you really like the performance, clap extra loudly to show that. Customarily, avoid whistling or screaming to show your appreciation in concert halls, but you could exclaim “bravo!” if you are really moved. Generally, avoid applauding between movements of the same work (a multi-movement work). For example,
Sonata in B Minor…………………….J. S. Bach
In that work, the audience would typically wait until all three movements, Allegro, Andante, and Presto, were performed and then applaud. At times, though, one movement of a multi-movement piece might be so extraordinarily performed or so exciting that it moves the audience to applaud, even though the piece is not over. Performers usually will not become upset if people applaud on purpose or accidentally before all of the movements of the piece are over, but you may notice that some people are not applauding or that the conductor or musicians do not turn and bow. This does not mean that they did not like the performance or that they are irritated. Instead, it means that they are waiting for the full piece to be over as is traditionally done.
This video, What is concert etiquette and should we care?, will provide a little more insight into concert etiquette:
More recently, ensembles might encourage audience members to take pictures even during the concert.
John F. Kennedy employed the help of his social secretary to help him do what?
Decorate the concert hall
Hire musicians for his concerts
Know when to clap during performances
Remove unruly guests from concerts
Even back to when Mozart was still alive, being quiet and still during concerts was expected at all times.
Attending concerts can be a fun and relaxing way to spend time during an afternoon or evening. Performers are always happy to have eager audience members, especially people who are new to attending concerts in the genre. Concert halls tend to employ friendly and welcoming people as greeters and ushers and people tend to feel welcomed at the venues. In the next chapter, we will look more deeply at music and its benefits. If you are not already looking forward to attending a concert, that might be all you need to take the first step!