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Styles of Presentation: Formal, Informal, and Beyond

Some people prefer “formal” concerts, where everybody dresses up, the musicians just play the music, and the audience just listens. Fans of this kind of presentation find that it helps them to focus on the music.

Others discover that another style of presentation suits them better. Nowadays concerts present music in a variety of ways and offer a range of formality and informality.

I belong to a chamber music group
that for many years wore the most
formal kind of outfit—white tie and
tails—while informally bantering
onstage with each other and with
listeners. Our audience seemed
to like this play of formality and
informality. (Recently we jettisoned
the tails for a less stuffy look, but we
still combine intense musicmaking
with casual conversation.)

Every aspect of a concert can be varied: the kinds of music, the dressiness of clothing, the interactions between musicians and audience, the appeal to other senses, the kinds of settings, the technologies used, the kinds of social interaction.

A classical concert may include wildly different kinds of music. Performers may talk about the music, perhaps demonstrating certain features. Listeners may have opportunities to ask questions or make comments. The concert may be combined with a meal or other social event. Audience members may be invited to play an instrument, try a dance movement, or sing the main melody. The concert may take place in a relaxed environment like a club or living room, or in a ballroom, a tent, or a wilderness amphitheater.

Concerts for singles combine music and socializing. Lecture-concerts and “informances” combine music and learning. Theatricalized concerts combine music with actors, lighting, costumes, and other effects. Conversation-concerts combine music and discussion. Other concerts combine music with wine, with snacks, with art, or with film or video.

New technologies may project words, amplify sounds, provide big-screen close-ups, offer hand-held commentary, or facilitate audience participation. Old technologies may contribute candlelight, incense, historical instruments, or period costumes.

The different ways of presenting music have no standardized names, but web sites, brochures, and advertisements often describe concert formats, giving you choices about how to experience live music.

Introduction to Classical Music
  Music Categories
  Musical Instruments
  History of Classical Music
  Discover the Classics
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Glossary of Musical Terms

A-Z of Opera
  Synopses of Opera
  Index of Operas by Composer
  Opera Libretti

How To Enjoy A Live Concert
  A Note from the Author
  The Listener's Job Description
  Part 1: Before the Concert
  Choosing a Concert 
Kinds of Concerts 
Styles of Presentation: Formal, Informal, and Beyond 
Buying a Ticket
Sections of the Theater 
Getting Ready 
Getting There 
  Part 2: At the Concert
  "Concert Manners" 
The Concert Ritual 
Reading the Program 
Instruments of the Orchestra 
Ways to Listen 
Meeting the Performers 
Essential Life Support 
  A Brief Glossary

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