Thursday, May 04, 2006

How to Listen to Music

A Beginner’s Guide to Live Chamber Music
Welcome! You’ve made one great decision: coming to a concert. Now what? Well, you’re reading the program, another good start. This is a little helper and guide for you in any concert situation, and by no means the only way to enjoy a concert. We thought you might like some tips and observations from a veteran concertgoer and avid fan of music.
Chamber music is very special, and it is a good basis for other sorts of musical events too, perhaps inspiring you to catch your local symphony, church choir or even brass band. These groups have the same sort of interaction that chamber music does, only on a larger level – so things you observe and hear here, are likely to show up in those performances too.
Arriving a little early always helps listening to a concert. Not only being comfortable in your seat and being able to chat with your companion beforehand, you might meet the people around you. Often audience members are not only quite friendly but they’re there for the music or performer – just like you! Being in the concert hall early also allows you to hear the acoustics (does it echo a little or a lot?) and what sort of set up is on stage: is there an organ you’ll hear? (or perhaps you’ll see a pipe organ and be interested in hearing it at a future event?) Is the hall wooden or modern? Is the décor pleasing?
As the lights dim and the musicians come on stage, make sure you’ve looked at the program and won’t crumple, rustle or make extraneous noise. Concert halls are designed for sound – so when you make other sounds – the musicians and other audiences members will hear them too! Whispering to a friend or companion can be done between movements or pieces, but it’s more respectful not to talk while the musicians are playing.
So as the music starts, my recommendation is to have an open mind. Great music will speak to the mind and heart – and good musicians will pass this along. A pianist, string quartet, even an orchestra or choir will express the melody even though there may be lots of other notes that you are hearing. One easy key is to observe a conductor (not usually found in chamber music!) who will guide the ensemble and the audience in important points: where are they looking, what sort of gestures are they making? In chamber music, almost always one musician will start the group – it’s really fun to see who that is – because it often changes, even during the middle of a piece. Another great aspect is to see the performers communicating with one another – you’ll often see players smile and look at one another.
Applause comes (generally) after a complete piece of music –a little different from attending a sporting event or speech, where you might cheer or clap after a goal is scored or important point in a speech is made. A good rule of thumb is to clap when the rest of the audience applauds. As for standing ovations, I really believe they should be special, for a moment when you are really moved – in over 3,000 performances I’ve heard, perhaps 30 of those did I really believe were once in a lifetime and I had to jump up with excitement.
Intermission or a pause in the concert is a great time to get up, discuss the concert, and further check out the program, venue et al. The concert will resume and you’ll see and hear even more great music. Afterwards, stick around if there is a “talkback” and ask the performers a question; or if the artists are available to talk to or sign autographs, go meet them. Almost every great artist I ‘ve met or interviewed enjoys meeting folks after the concert. Let them know how much you liked the concert!
Finally, if you enjoyed the concert, share it with someone else. Bring a friend to the next one, or friends. Music is written by a composer, but needs two elements to be successful: performers and an audience. Performers are just that, they want someone to play for…thank you for being here!

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