Will this be your first time going to a concert of classical music? Is the process shrouded in mystery—maybe even a little scary? Never fear! We are thrilled that you’ll be joining us for the concert and can’t wait to introduce you to this wonderful music. Below are some questions we get quite often—and answers we hope will be helpful!
Isn’t classical music just boring old music by a bunch of dead white guys?
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Okay, so a lot of the music which is played IS by deceased men of European origin. But the music goes far beyond that. Composers throughout history include women, Africans, Asians, South Americans, and, yes, living people. And the music isn’t boring! We’ll tell you why….
What is the music about? There aren’t any words. Isn’t it just boring and intellectual?
Boo! Why are people allowed to get the impression that it’s boring? Here’s a little secret: there is a lot of BAD classical music out there! This music has been written for over 500 years, and not everything that’s been written has been a masterpiece. But there’s also a lot of good music—and a lot of great music, too. Music isn’t always ‘about’ something, but it always has meaning. That meaning can be many things—composers have written about love, lust, youth, old age, religion, atheism, literature, history, sadness, happiness, anger, trust, disappointment, life, death, anxiousness, fear, confidence, romance, national pride, parenthood….the list goes on and on. Just because it doesn’t have the words to go along with it doesn’t mean that the meaning isn’t there.
OK, fair enough. But how do you hear the meaning? Don’t I need to be a connoisseur or to have a fancy degree in music to understand it?
No, you don’t. The wonderful thing about this music is how human it is. This music is universal—it has a message and meaning for everyone. Just look at Beethoven. He grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father, had to go to work at the age of 12, was hated by his teachers, was unable to date the women he wanted because he belonged to a lower class than they did, suffered from deafness, never married and had a strained (to put it mildly!) relationship with his family. I bet there’s at least one thing in there that any of us can relate to! And all of these things helped make his music what it is—the meaning is there. Sure, in certain ways knowledge of music history or music theory might help you enjoy a performance more, but the music—and your enjoyment of it—is just as powerful and meaningful without it.
Fine. But you keep talking about Beethoven and other dead foreigners. Be honest—isn’t it just more of a European art form? And out of date? It’s really just not American!
Not at all! The last 100 years has seen major contributions from American composers. Do you remember the ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!’ commercials? How about the movie ‘Platoon’? They featured music by two of the greatest composers in American history—Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. Copland was from Brooklyn; Barber grew up in Philadelphia. They both wrote American classical music—about American experiences. And there are many more! Bernstein, Ives, Gould, Mennin, Persichetti, Piston—to name a few. There is music about the New England countryside, music about the Upper West Side, music about the Appalachian Mountains, music about the wild west….music about the Grand Canyon, music about Abe Lincoln, music about the African American experience, music about Ellis Island…the list goes on!
And it’s not just America. Classical music is global. For example, one of the most famous conductors in the world is from Venezuela. Asia has some of the finest—and most robust—orchestras in the world. Music is an international language!
Alright, I can try coming to a concert some time. But wait….I don’t own a tuxedo! Should I rent one?
Only if you really want to! Once upon a time it was mandatory to wear evening attire to a performance—that meant an elegant gown for women and a tuxedo or tails for men. But those times are past. Wearing a suit is great. A sports-coat and khakis would be more than acceptable. Women can wear a nice dress or skirt—or jeans. Taking a shower at some point that day is strongly advised—but seriously, you don’t have to dress up very formally. Just keep in mind that this is not just a performance, but a social event. Have fun with it!
Great. I may even attend! I’ve heard that I shouldn’t let my cell phone ring during the concert. But what about clapping?
Ahh, the Art of Clapping. Recent tradition has been to clap only at the very end of a piece. Some pieces may have more than one movement, and clapping between these movements may disrupt the momentum. And sometimes a piece will seem like it is over—when you’re really just in the middle! So it can be a good idea to wait to see when others clap.
But if you do happen to make the ‘mistake’ of clapping when you are ‘not supposed to,’ don’t let it bother you! We’re grateful for your enthusiasm.
As a closing note: yes, those of us on stage are talented. We have devoted our lives to music. We practice many hours a day, have spent many years in school (and other studies) to perfect our craft and make our career in a very demanding field. But we’re people! And for us there is no greater joy than sharing this music with others. Remember, without YOU, the audience, it would not be a performance. YOU are the reason that this music exists. So we thank YOU for coming—and for giving us the opportunity to share this wonderful world with you. We hope to see you soon!