A lot of millennials I’ve met expressed interest in attending their first orchestra concert, but they’re usually a bit intimidated by the notion of attending one. I’ll do a write up in the future about picking your first concert or concerts I recommend, but this will be focused on people who have already bought tickets and are attending one soon!
Super quick about me
I’m a classically trained clarinetist, and I’ve played in wind ensembles and orchestras since I was in 4th grade. In addition, I’m a huge classical music nerd and attend at least a few concerts a year.
What to wear to a classical concert
My local symphonies have been SF Symphony and NY Philharmonic, and the dress code can vary quite a bit. The symphony or classical concert attire is really up to you and what you want to make out of it. The most common attire is business casual or nice casual for guys. This means either a nice button down with slacks or chinos with a button up and a sports coat or blazer. You’ll also see couples in full suit and cocktail dresses, so you won’t feel out of place dressed up.
With that said, you won’t really feel out of place no matter what you wear as long as you aren’t dressed like a slob in flip-flops or baggy jeans. I’ve been to dozens of concerts wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, and as long as you look put together, you’ll be alright. I do occasionally feel like I get some judgy looks from people working there, but you can ignore them.
Before the concert
If you have enough time, get tickets delivered to you. The pickup line is usually fast, but it’s always the fastest option to have it on hand. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the concert if you have tickets on hand. Maybe 45-60 minutes earlier if you need to pick up tickets and do a coat check.
What to expect
The average age. I’m in my 20s, and I’m significantly younger than the average attendee. I would say the average age is probably in the 40s or 50s, and research seems to support the same. Orchestra concerts surprisingly start on time, so be punctual! This isn’t a rock concert where you’ll have an opening act.
During the concert, there is a couple of classical concert etiquette you should definitely follow.
- PLEASE put your cell phone on vibrate or silent. People will glare at you
- DO NOT talk during the concert. If you talk during the concert, I will tell you to shut the hell up and glare at you
- No photography during the concert
- Don’t eat during the concert
Honestly, these are the most important ones, and they’re not even that unusual; however, you’d be surprised at how many people can’t follow these rules. The rest is not etiquette related, but more around tips for attending your first symphony.
- They will sound a bell which will indicate people to return to the seats. Some orchestras do 5-minute warnings. NY Phil does a 10 minute and 5-minute bell.
- You will usually have a 15-20 min intermission, which should be indicated on the program.
- The program is specific to your concert, so take a look!
- There’s no introduction of the program where someone announces what’s going to be played.
- There’s no interaction or communication between the orchestra and the audience.
- When the lights dim, someone will come out and play a single note (this person is the concertmaster, which is a status given to the best violin player in the orchestra), with the rest of the orchestra also playing the same note after. This is called tuning.
- As soon as tuning is over, the conductor will walk on stage, there will be a quick applause, but the program will start immediately with no other communication – people usually find this weird when I take them to their first concert.
- Do not clap between movements of the same work. There will be pauses, the conductor might take a few moments to shake it out, but it’s rude to clap between movements. Some people have been arguing about this recently, but if you want to be safe, just hold your applause until everyone else is clapping.
- People cough a lot between movements. Even after dozens of concerts, I find this hilarious. Maybe it’s because I’m young…
- When the program ends, if you enjoyed the concert, you’re welcomed to give a standing ovation.
- A note on applause – people clap forever in orchestra concerts. They’ll clap, the conductor will go backstage, people will still clap, conductor comes back, people clap even more, conductor may identify key players and tell them to stand, more clapping, he goes back again, people are still clapping, he or she comes back, more applause, the orchestra stands up, more applause… you get the point. It’s like going to a rock concert and trying to an ask for an encore.
- Check out the swag store after.
Other pro tips
These symphony tips are completely unnecessary to enjoy your first concert, but it might help.
- Look up how long the program is. Sometimes, you’ll be sitting through a 50-60 min work.
- Don’t call individual work a “song”. Unless someone is singing actual lyrics, the work is called a “piece.” If someone tries to correct you, ignore them – they’re being a pretentious snob.
- Calling it an “orchestra concert” or “symphony concert” is a better way to say it than a “classical music concert,” since classical music technically denotes a specific era in which the work was written. If someone tries to correct you, again, ignore them.
- The concert hall is kept slightly cool, so bring a jacket
- There’s usually some sort of food or drink vendor in the hall, but it’s going to be pricey. Eat something before.
- They do bag checks, so don’t bring questionable stuff into the hall
- Enjoy the experience! There’s no correct way to enjoy the experience, so sit back and enjoy!
I hope this guide on attending your first orchestra concert helped!