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Classical Music FAQs

Classical Music FAQs

ORCHESTRA

FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES

ETIQUETTE

ORCHESTRA

Why are the musicians onstage playing before the concert begins?

Just like basketball players taking shots and practicing moves before the game, musicians need to warm up their muscles and focus their concentration. This is fun to listen to and to watch. Some of them are working on the passages they need to polish up before the performance, with no regard for what anyone else is practicing. Pick out the flute or the trumpet playing a solo line over and over, and listen to how it changes. Does it get smoother? If the player stops in the middle and starts over, can you hear the reason why? (It’s especially fun to recognize these solos later in the performance! Give a silent cheer for the player who nails the solo.) Not all of the orchestra players practice onstage, of course. Just like the audience, everyone is doing his or her own thing. Some are talking; others are paging through their music. And some don’t come onstage at all until a minute or two before the performance. But at concert time, everyone is in place and ready to start.

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Why do musicians wear formal black clothes?

This is a long tradition that started a few centuries ago. Sometimes, these days, musicians dress a little more casually. But they still try to look uniform so that the audience can concentrate on the music. Soloists are the exception: they often dress differently, because they are the focus of attention.

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What is a symphony orchestra, exactly?

A symphony orchestra is a collection of up to about 100 musicians who play instruments of four basic types:

  1. Strings—violins (smallest and highest in pitch), violas, cellos and double basses (largest and lowest in pitch). These players sit in a semicircle directly in front of the conductor and make up more than half the orchestra.
  2. Woodwinds—flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and related instruments. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
  3. Brass—trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas and similar instruments. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them at the back of the orchestra.
  4. Percussion—the drums, bells and other fascinating instruments that are struck, plucked, rubbed, etc. This includes the timpani, the harp and, on occasion, the piano. Some works use lots of different percussion; others may have a single musician playing the timpani or no percussion at all. The percussion section is also found at the back of the orchestra.

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What is the difference between a symphony orchestra and a philharmonic orchestra?

Essentially there is no difference. Both are made up of the same instruments and can play the same range of music.

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Why are there are more stringed instruments than anything else?

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, deep sound.

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What is a concertmaster?

The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first violins. S/he acts as leader of that section but also plays a leadership role with orchestra as a whole. S/he is also the last orchestra musician to enter the stage before a concert and cues the oboe to “tune” the orchestra.

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Why do all the musicians tune to the oboe?

The penetrating tone of the oboe is easy for all players to hear, and an oboe can easily sustain its pitch. The oboe plays the note “A,” and all the players make sure their “A” is exactly on the same pitch as the oboe’s. This ensures that all of the instruments are in the correct key and are ready for the performance.

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Why do the string players share stands?

Fewer stands mean that the musicians, who are moving around quite a bit, have more room to play freely. Also, because the strings play more continuously than the other parts, their page turns can fall in inconvenient places where there should be no break in the music. Look closely and you’ll see that the player on the outside keeps playing, while the player on the inside briefly stops playing to turn the page.

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Why does the conductor leave after every piece of music?

This provides the conductor a little breather—a chance to collect his/her thoughts before starting the next piece. If the applause is very enthusiastic, the conductor will come onstage again, bow and perhaps recognize some musicians who played important solos in the piece. S/he may depart again once or twice before moving on to the next piece on the program.

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Why don’t the musicians smile while they play?

Look closely and you’ll see that some of them do! But in general, they are concentrating deeply, just like outfielders waiting for the fly ball or pitchers winding up to a curve ball. They’re “in the Zone.” After the music is over, you may see them smiling broadly. If it was a concerto, and they liked the soloist’s playing, they won’t just smile—the string players will tap their stands with their bows as a sign of appreciation.

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FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES

Will I enjoy the music?

Absolutely. Classical music is exciting, surprising and often funny. Each piece has a story to tell, and you’ll catch yourself hanging on every note and creating your own story and experience.

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What’s a good seat?

The acoustics are fantastic in all of the locations in the Knight Concert Hall. You can’t go wrong!

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What should I expect for the price?

Every concert is different, but generally prices start between $30 and $50 and might go as high as $165.

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What do I wear?

Contrary to what many people think, formal attire—such as tuxedos and evening gowns—is not required at classical music concerts. In fact, most people only wear formal clothing to our annual gala. At our other concerts, most concertgoers wear business or cocktail attire.

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Do I need to study before the concert?

There’s no need to study. The music will speak for itself. Just come and enjoy! You also have an opportunity to attend our popular Pre-concert Lectures that are held 60 minutes prior to some of our Classical performances in the Peacock Education Center in the Knight Concert Hall. The Pre-concert Lectures are hosted by the guest speaker who will go over some of the program that will be performed that evening. Over time, many frequent concert goers also 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.

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How long are the concerts?

Concert lengths vary. Visit the individual concert pages for specific times of each concert.

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Should I arrive early?

Please arrive at least 45 minutes prior to the scheduled performance. The main lobby doors open one hour prior to the performance time. The doors to the performance spaces usually open 30 minutes prior to performance time for guests to take their seats.

Concessions are available for all ticketed performances one hour prior to performance time until the performance begins and at intermissions. Bottled water [in plastic bottles] purchased at the Arsht Center is permitted into the theater. The food and beverage policy varies per event. Please ask the theater staff if food and beverage is permitted in the theater. No outside food or beverage will be allowed into the theaters.

As a courtesy to the performers and other audience members, latecomers will not be seated until an appropriate break in the performance occurs once the curtain goes up.

Please note that certain programs are performed without an intermission; therefore, no late seating is offered.

Late guests may view the program from one of the monitors located throughout the lobby until late seating is permitted.

No refunds or exchanges of tickets will be issued for any latecomers to a performance.

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What happens if I arrive late?

Please arrive at least 45 minutes prior to the scheduled performance. As a courtesy to the performers and other audience members, latecomers will not be seated until an appropriate break in the performance occurs once the curtain goes up.

Please note that certain programs are performed without an intermission and therefore no late seating can be offered.

Late guests may view the program from one of the monitors located throughout the lobby until late seating is permitted.

No refunds or exchanges of tickets will be issued for any latecomers to a performance.

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What if I have to leave early?

As a courtesy to the performers and other audience members, try to leave between pieces. If you must leave in the middle of a piece of music, please leave as quietly as possible.

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Why is there an intermission?

It’s a short rest period for the musicians and conductor—once you see how much activity goes into a performance, you’ll understand why they need a break! Listening to music is also an intense activity (even if considerably less physical), and a break in the middle helps the audience concentrate better in the second half. Some concerts, though, have no intermission because it would interrupt the flow of a long work. Check the program before the concert so that you know what’s coming. Most intermissions are fifteen to twenty minutes long, which gives you time to socialize with your companions, get a drink or a snack in the lobby, visit the facilities or simply sit in your seat and read the program notes. Do whatever puts you in a good frame of mind to hear the second half of the concert.

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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.

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Where did the word “orchestra” originate?

“Orchestra” is the Greek word describing the circular space occupied by the chorus in the ancient Greek theater, and its name was transferred to a similar shape made by a group of musicians, especially string players.

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What is the difference between a Recital and a Concert?

A recital is a solo or small duo performance and a concert is a performance by a group.

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ETIQUETTE

Can I take pictures?

All audio, visual and audio/visual devices and photography, filming, recording and taping is strictly prohibited. The Arsht Center reserves the right to deny entry to, or to remove any guest from the premises that refuses to comply with this policy.

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Can I use my cell phone?

No. Please turn it off. The same goes for pagers and alarm watches. It’s a good idea to double-check in the few minutes before the concert begins, and again as intermission draws to a close. Doctors and emergency workers who are “on call” can give their pagers to an usher, who will summon them quietly if they are paged.

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Can I eat or drink during the concert?

A variety of light food and beverage is available one hour before the show and during intermissions in the theater lobbies.

Bottled water [in plastic bottles] purchased at the Arsht Center is permitted into the theater. Beyond that, the food and beverage policy varies per event. Please ask the theater staff if food and beverage is permitted in the theater. No outside food or beverage will be allowed into the theaters.

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Is the concert appropriate or fun for kids? / Can I bring my kids?

Normally for classical music concerts, we recommend that the concert might not be appropriate for children under 8 years of age. And please note that everyone is required to have a ticket regardless of age.

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When do I applaud?

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 make sure your program is open, so you can see the names of the pieces that will be played and their order. Then everything settles down and the music begins. Just listen and enjoy! 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. In general, musicians and your fellow listeners prefer not to hear applause during the pauses between these movements, so they can concentrate on the progress from one movement to the next. Symphonies and concertos have a momentum that builds from the beginning to the end, through all their movements, and applause can “break the mood,” especially when a movement ends quietly. Sometimes, though, the audience just can’t restrain itself, and you’ll hear a smattering of applause—or a lot of it—during the pause before the next movement. It’s perfectly OK to join in if you enjoyed the music, too. (By the way, disregard anyone who “shushes” you for applauding between movements. It’s only in the last 100 years or so that audiences stopped applauding between movements, so you have music history on your side!) Mozart would have been shocked and disappointed if there was no applause between movements of one of his symphonies.

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What if I need to cough during a performance?

Everyone gets the urge to cough now and then. Worrying about disturbing your fellow listeners is a laudable impulse but don’t let it ruin your enjoyment of the concert. There’s a funny thing about coughing—the less worried you are about it, the less likely you are to feel the urge! So chances are you’ll feel less need to cough if you’re prepared.

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