A newsletter arrived in my mail yesterday that reminded me that I have not been to a classical concert for quite some time, and listening to the odd bit of Mozart or Vivaldi on the car radio is really not much of a substitute. A (good) live performance stirs the soul in a way that the most sophisticated electronic sound system cannot and reminds you that beautiful music comes from the loving work of real live artists. To enjoy it with others can produce a sense of social harmony that is perhaps not too common now.

So, with winter coming up I’ve decided to schedule a couple excursions to the orchestra, using some tips provided by New York violinist Alice Trimmer in the above-mentioned newsletter as a refresher course. You might appreciate them too:

1. Your enjoyment will be increased greatly if you are a bit familiar with the music. Find out what is on the program and download a recording.  Or look it up on YouTube, it will likely be on there unless it is a premiere.  If you don’t have time to listen to the entire work, at least find out what the opening sounds like. 

2. You can also check Wikipedia for some background information on the composer and piece.  Many well-known pieces have their own articles, often including the duration, so you can find out what to expect.

3. Arrive early in time to read the program notes, get settled, turn off your cell phone, and take a cough drop if you are suffering from a cold.  Unwrap your next cough drop during the applause; the crackle of paper can magnify itself to an unbelievable extent during a quiet passage.

4. If the work has several movements, save applause until all movements are played.

5. Do not become upset, worry, or feel guilty if you do not like the music, even if it is a very famous or acclaimed work.  Everyone is entitled to their own taste, although you may find that you like it better on repeated hearings.

6. Much contemporary music can be challenging to listen to.  If there are no program notes to guide you, be aware that sometimes rhythm and tone color are more of the focal point than melody or harmony.  So enjoy the pyrotechnics of the performers and be ready for the unexpected.

7. If you have a friend who is in an orchestra, chorus, or other performing group, he or she will count it as an act of great kindness to attend their performances.  Enjoy looking for them in the group and do go up to say hello afterwards.

8. But what to say if the performance was kind of, well, rocky?  Avoid generic comments such as “Well you did it!” or “That was quite a performance.” These are well-recognized code phrases for “That was pretty mediocre [or a disaster]”. Instead, say something genuine and positive, for example, how much you like the piece, or how glad you are that you were able to come.

9. Each musical performance, whether it is obscure or acclaimed, is a partnership between the performer, the composer, and the audience.  The audience is the most important of the three; otherwise it would be a rehearsal.  Realize that your presence and attention is critical, and enjoy the experience of live music, where anything can happen.

Alice Trimmer plays violin in the New York Repertory Orchestra. Reproduced from the Murray Hill Institute Spring Newsletter.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet