Tips for Beginners | Visitor Information

Classical music has a rich history and has lasted for centuries because of its broad appeal to audiences. If you’ve never been to an orchestral performance, perhaps you think it’s all stuffy and formal. Not quite! Yes, it has a formality to it, but it’s far from stuffy. Young and old people enjoy the symphony for a variety of reasons; exposure to the arts, a night out, class credit, making a good impression on a first date or to clients, or entertaining family and friends. Whatever the reason, the Muncie Symphony Orchestra invites you to join us for a concert you won’t forget.

Three myths debunked

Myth: You must get “all dressed up” to attend a concert.
Reality: People enjoy concerts most when they are comfortable. While you are welcome to get all dressed up, most people wear “everyday” clothes, from business casual to jeans. Come in what makes you most comfortable.

Myth: Only the “experts” can truly appreciate symphonic music.
Reality: Music is very personal and maybe enjoyed by everyone. While some people choose to study music as a hobby or profession, your opinion is just as important and valid as theirs. The experience of live music is a joy for all.

Myth: Symphony concerts are only for the rich.
Reality: Great music attracts people from all walks of life. The Muncie Symphony Orchestra’s audience simply enjoys the best in music in Delaware County. Our audience is diverse and welcoming to all.

About Your First Concert

What is classical music?

The term “classical music” can be problematic. Music history refers to the years from roughly 1750 to 1825 as the “classical” period, when Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven achieved their glory. But in a broader sense, the term classical music is used to describe the continuing heritage of music mostly written to be performed in concert halls by orchestras, singers, choruses, chamber ensembles, and solo instrumentalists.

I’ve never been to an orchestra concert before. What should I expect?

Expect to enjoy yourself! This is the time to let go of any preconceptions you may have about classical music or the concert experience. Some things about the concert may seem strange because they’re new to you, but if you just focus on the music, you’ll have a great time. Open yourself up to the music. Feel the rhythms; follow the tunes. Watch the musicians and the conductor; see how they interact with each other. Notice how the music ebbs and flows – surging and powerful at some times, delicate and ephemeral at others.

What if I don’t know anything about classical music? Do I need to study beforehand?

There’s no need to study. The music will speak for itself. Just come and enjoy it! Over time, many frequent concertgoers do 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.  You are invited to attend our Pre-Concert Talks before select concerts. During the Pre-Concert Talk,  the conductor talks about the music and often the guest artist talks about his/her instrument, musical journey, and the music he/she will be performing.

Will I enjoy the concert?

Live music is amazing! And, odds are, you’ll recognize some of the music. Many of today’s popular songs, television shows, video games, and movies include classical music, like the Lone Ranger theme (Rossini’s William Tell Overture), the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” (Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries), Call of Duty (Mozart’s Dies Irae), and many more.

You’ll notice that each classical piece uses its own group of several tunes over and over, in different ways. You’ll start to “recognize” these melodies as a work progresses. Listen for the ways a melody is repeated: Is it exactly the same as the first time, or with a different character? Does it start the same as before, but go off in a different direction?

What should I wear?

There is no dress code! Anything that makes you feel comfortable is fine. Some people will be wearing business clothes or slightly dressy casual clothes, and you’ll see everything from jeans to dresses. Some people enjoy dressing up and making a special night of it. If you do decide to dress up, though, go easy on the cologne. It can distract others near you and even prompt them to sneeze (which may distract you).

Should I arrive early?

Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before concert time, so you can find your seat, turn off your cell phone, take a look at your surroundings, absorb the atmosphere, and have time to glance through the program book, too. Most concerts start on time. If you’re late, you may end up listening from the lobby! If that happens, the usher will allow you inside during a suitable pause in the program, so your arrival won’t disturb other concertgoers. Don’t forget MSO’s Pre-Concert Talk before select concerts.

How long is the concert?

It varies, but most classical concerts are about 90 minutes to two hours long, with an intermission at the halfway point. Our free outdoor concerts are usually about an hour, and Family/Pops Concerts may be about an hour to 90 minutes long, with an intermission at the halfway point.

Can I take pictures?

Cameras, video recorders, and tape recorders are NOT permitted in concerts. Please remember to silence your phone and put it away before the concert begins.

When should I clap?

Generally, it is considered proper concert etiquette to clap only after a piece is complete. This means that, for example, if you’re listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which has four movements, it is appropriate to clap after the last movement. You can look at your program book to find out how many movements each piece has. Usually, there is a 15- to 30-second pause in between movements. So, in the case of that Beethoven, you know you’re hearing the Finale after a lengthy pause. If all else fails, you can always wait for the rest of the audience to clap before applauding. Another good sign is when the conductor either turns around or steps off the podium.

Why is there an intermission, and what should I do during it?

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 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 you know what to expect. Most intermissions of the concerts are 20 minutes long and often refreshments are available in the lobby.

Can I bring my kids?

It depends on the concert and on the age of your kids. Many standard-length classical concerts may difficult for small children because they require an attention span that may be beyond a youngster to maintain. The MSO designs several concerts especially for children (Family Concert Series and Education Programs) and is a great way for families to enjoy classical music together. To further build your children’s interest in classical music, play classical music at home or in the car. When they are old enough to sit quietly for an extended period, you may wish to bring them to the first half of a Classical concert. In all cases, it’s a good idea to check with the orchestra directly about the appropriateness of the concert you plan to attend with your kids. Ask about discounts for students and children.

About the Orchestra

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, and bassoons of all sizes. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
  3. Brass – trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them in the rear of the orchestra.
  4. Percussion – drums, bells, tambourines, chimes, symbols, woodblocks, and sometimes odd things such as hubcaps that are struck, plucked, rubbed, etc. This includes the tympani, the harp, and, on occasion, the piano. Some works use lots of different percussion; others may have a single musician playing the tympani, or no percussion at all. The percussion section is at the back of the orchestra because percussionists often play more than one instrument and need space to move from one to the other during the concert.

Learn more about each instrument:

Violin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMGW9V-9iLw&t=181s

Viola: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BhuV5qBzM8

Cello: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMYMa3tPbNE

Harp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCZcTPR3hY

Flute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj09cbUK9Mk&t=215s

Clarinet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wkzu8gDWTCs&t=263s

Bassoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piUxvLCHIjM

Trumpet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm2BZATNN7c

Trombone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCRI-ZcL_Sg

Percussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4lSTN11xt0&t=301s

Piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUlXPgwMr_g

Why are the musicians onstage playing before the concert begins?

Just like athletes warming up before a game, musicians need to warm up their muscles and focus their concentration. 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.

Why do the musicians wear formal black clothes?

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

How come there are more stringed instruments than anything else?

The sound of each individual stringed instrument is softer than a brass or woodwind instrument. But in large numbers, they make a magnificent, rich sound.

Why do their bows move together?

The players of each individual section – first violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses – play in unison within each section. So all the cellos move together, for instance. Each type of bow movement produces a different sound.

What does the concertmaster do?

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

Why do all the musicians tune to the oboe?

The penetrating tone of the oboe is easy for all players to hear. And its ability to sustain pitch is very secure. The oboe plays the note “A,” and all the players make sure their “A” is exactly on the same pitch as the oboe’s “A”. This ensures that they all are on the same pitch before the concert begins.

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. The musician on the inside seat turns pages while the musician on the outside seat continues to play.

Why does Maestro leave after most pieces of music?

This provides the conductor a little breather – a chance to collect his or 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.

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 curveball. They’re “in the Zone.” Some musicians “feel” the music and move in their chairs or move their heads. After the music is over, you may see them smiling broadly. If it was a concerto, and they liked the soloist’s performance, they won’t just smile – the string players will tap their stands with their bows as a sign of appreciation and others will stomp their feet.

Before the Next Concert

How can I learn more about classical music?

There are several ways to learn more about the music you hear at the Muncie Symphony. Program notes are provided online for each concert at least one month prior to the concert. These same program notes are provided in the concert program at the concert that evening.

Here are some links to websites where you can look up composers and their works, and learn more about classical music:

Indiana Public Radio – IPR’s mission is to educate, entertain, and engage our communities through distinctive and enriching public media as we support the academic and community service mission of Ball State University. They offer a variety of programming which includes a selection of classical music.

Exploring Music – Exploring Music is nationally syndicated, broadcasting from stations as geographically diverse as KNOM in Nome, Alaska, KHPR in Honolulu, WXXI in Rochester, New York and KPRG in Guam. The show is hosted by William (Bill) McGlaughlin.

Performance Today – Performance Today features live concert recordings that can’t be heard anywhere else, as well as in-studio performances and interviews. Also, each week composer Bruce Adolphe joins host Fred Child for a classical music game, the Piano Puzzler. In the PT Young Artist in Residence program, Performance Today highlights young soloists from American conservatories who have the potential for great careers.

Classical Arts Showcase — This free cable television program is a “music video” channel, showing thousands of arts clips from the world of classical music, theater, opera, classic film and more. The presentation is leisurely and eclectic, and features rare film footage, lost television kinescopes, as well as contemporary performances, with no commercials. It is designed to bring the classical experience to the largest audience possible.

ArkivMusic.com — This online store has a vast catalogue of classical recordings, as well as Amazon.com.

Naxos Records — The Learning Zone of the Nexus Records website has an introduction to classical music, biographies of composers, a glossary of musical terms, and an excellent guide to live-concert listening. You can also stream loads of classical pieces, making this a great place to visit if you want to listen to a work a couple of times before you hear it in concert.

FromTheTop.com — For kids who are learning to play instruments, this site offers a great resource and access to Public Radio’s “From The Top” programs.

NewMusicBox — And if you like the very newest “classical” music, don’t miss this monthly web ‘zine about living composers and their works.

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