“So, you dare to think you might possibly be qualified to even consider buying a ticket for classical music concert? Really? But you don’t even have perfect pitch! And you surely don’t know the Kochel numbers of Mozart’s big works. Answer me this: what instruments use a double reed or when should you applaud in a concert? No, why don’t you just reconsider now and save yourself the embarrassment.”
If even a smidgen of the preceding, supercilious-toned remarks passed through your mind the last time you jumped in the car or subway to head down to your local symphony hall, I apologize. Not that I had anything to do with it. Well, maybe, something I wrote over the years may have seemed arcane, but I am one of a growing number of critics who steadfastly feel that the stuffy atmosphere at classical concerts needs to change. Actually, most orchestras, operas and chamber presenters already becoming more relaxed and not nearly as elitist as they used to be, although there are occasional curmudgeons.
I am here to tell you classical music need not be stuffy and elitist. Its concerts are not only often spiritually moving, they are fun. They may never be cool — that’s more of a term of fashion and pop culture — but there are many cool things to be experienced within them. The greatest is, of course, the music. So, here is my advice to anyone going to their first classical concert, or first since they were a kid.
One, just be yourself. Don’t worry about how to dress or behave, just do your best to be polite and to learn from watching others what is acceptable behavior. Use common sense. Why should going to a concert for the first time be any different than your first visit to any social gathering? If you attend a church of a different faith or a local school board meeting, wouldn’t you be polite and take your cues from others until you got the lay of the land? Do the same at a concert hall.
Two, don’t fear — or mock — what you don’t understand. Either enjoy the music you hear on a purely sonic level and or take some time to get to know it. I think many of the posts on the Take Your Friend to the Orchestra thread mention becoming familiar with the music before you go. It’s a great idea, if you want to. But if you don’t want to, that’s okay. You don’t have to do anything in advance to enjoy a classical concert, but don’t complain that you don’t understand something if you haven’t taken the time to do so!
I can’t stand when someone thinks classical music is elitist simply because it asks you to reach out and learn about it. Everything does! You couldn’t show up at a pop concert cold and understand the meaning, let alone the lyrics, behind every song. If you stopped into a hockey arena for the first time, you wouldn’t find the rules passed out in a handout. You would have to ask questions and do a little research. Classical music is no different. So, if you want, buy a CD or download the music you are going to hear, Google it or — gasp — head to the library to read up on the composer. You will vastly improve your enjoyment of it.
Three, have an opinion about what you hear! I don’t care if you never played an instrument and only think you know “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.” If you have a brain, you have an opinion; if you attended a concert, you are able to say what your feelings were. It may be that another patron or (hopefully) the critic has a more informed opinion, but that doesn’t make yours wrong. The more you think critically about what you hear the more you will be engaged by it.
And don’t end with saying that you hated it or you loved it. Express to your date or guest the shades in between or why you felt that way. This is the true way to becoming a fan of classical music — not swallowing the party lines about which composers are great. Plus, if you went to a concert of Mozart and decided you really just can’t get into him, it won’t sour you on all classical music, a scenario that happens far too often for first-timers. There’s plenty of music out there. In fact, that’s the beauty of classical music. Far from being only the mythical “canon” of a few pieces, actually a wild variety of music has been written and continues to be programmed everywhere.
So, relax a little, don’t worry, but get to know classical music like you would anything else before and during your first concert.