AN FAQ for Newcomers to the SBSO
Welcome to the SBSO!
Your first orchestra concert can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! Everyone is welcome, and we’re excited to have you join us. We get a lot of questions about your first time attending one of our concerts, performances, or orchestras in general, so we put together this guide to get some of the basics out there.
I’ve never been to an orchestra concert before. What should I expect?
Expect to enjoy yourself! This if 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. Focus on the music, you’ll have a great time!
What if I don’t know anything about classical music? Do I need to study beforehand?
There’s no need to study, 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; or it can be more involved, like listening to recordings of the music to be performed in the days before they attend a concert. 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.
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.
What should I wear?
There is no dress code! Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Most people will be wearing business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, but you’ll see everything from khakis to cocktail dresses. 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 know!
If you do decide to dress up, though, go easy on the cologne, which can distract others near you and even prompt them to sneeze (which may distract you)!
Should I arrive early?
Yes! Doors typically will open an hour before the concert starts. We recommend arriving at least 20 minutes early so that you have time to find your seat and maybe grab something from concessions.
How long will the concert be?
It varies, but most orchestra concerts are about 90 minutes to two hours long, with an intermission at the halfway point. Very often there will be several pieces on the concert; but sometimes 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.
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. This is also a good moment to check your program, so you can see the names of the pieces that will be played and their order.
Then everything settles down and the music begins. The audience doesn’t usually applaud again until the end of the 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.
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.
Can I take pictures?
In short, yes. Photos are allowed, and we highly encourage you to grab a selfie or two.
Please be considerate of your neighbors, and refrain from using flash photography or obstructing any views. Video, however, is not recommended as the audio might be copyright protected. In lieu of video, we recommend sitting back and listening, and letting yourself fully experience the concert without being behind the lens.
Professional photography must be cleared ahead of time with a press pass – and please, absolutely no shutter noises.
Why are there so many string instruments compared to the rest?
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 sonority.
What does the Concertmaster do?
The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first violins. They act as leader of that section, but also plays a leadership role with orchestra as a whole. They are also the last orchestra musician to enter the stage before a concert, and cues the oboe to “tune” the orchestra.
How can I learn more about classical music?
Most orchestras give you several ways to learn more. You can read program notes online in advance of a concert, or in your seat before the concert begins. Our subscription concerts are preceded by free lectures or discussions at 7:15, 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!
Check the orchestra’s web site for future concerts that are specifically designed to help you hear the many layers in the music. Here are some links to web sites where you can look up composers and their works, buy recordings, and learn more about classical music:
For a wonderful introduction to American music, visit the web site for the American Mavericks public radio series, which features the San Francisco Symphony. The site includes biographies of composers, music downloads, and interviews and features on contemporary music.
Andante.com offers classical music news, reviews, and commentary. For a monthly fee, subscribers can download performances and access reference sources. The online store ArkivMusic.com has a very complete catalogue of classical recordings. So does Amazon.com.
For kids who are learning to play instruments, FromTheTop.org offers a great resource, and access to public radio’s From The Top programs.
Kids can play musical games at www.classicsforkids.com for starters, and visit its music links page to connect to more great music sites.
The Education section of the Naxos Records web site has an introduction to classical music, biographies of composers, a glossary of musical terms, and an excellent guide to live-concert listening. You can also stream loads of classical pieces, so this is a great place to visit if you want to listen to a work a couple of times before you hear it in concert.
And if you like the very newest “classical” music, don’t miss NewMusicBox, a monthly web ‘zine about living composers and their works.
See you at the symphony!
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