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Ways to Listen

There are lots of things to enjoy at a concert, lots of things to pay attention to. Your job is to be affected by the music, but you can be affected by whatever most appeals to you, or by whatever grabs your interest. Here are a few choices for what to listen to. Choose whatever you like, switch as often as you want, and feel free to add to the list.

Some things to enjoy in classical music

  • Loudness and softness
  • Changes and transformations
  • Recognition of something heard earlier
  • Different speeds
  • Instrument sounds
  • Melodies
  • Rhythms
  • Patterns
  • Terrific performing
  • Ebb and flow of energy
  • Musical conversation
  • Moods and feelings
  • Memories that get triggered
  • Visual images that come to mind

What to Watch

A concert is an event for the ears, but there is plenty for the eyes, too. Watch the players
and feel their energy and intensity; watch what they do to make their instruments sound
in different ways. Watch as the music moves between players, or between groups of
players. Watch the way the conductor controls events, or how he or she gives control to
the musicians.

What if I get bored?

Don’t worry; it happens to all of us at one time or another. Sometimes you don’t connect with the music. It’s perfectly normal.

If this happens, just choose one of the many ways of enjoying the music.

What if I don’t like the concert?

I can remember one concert
where I didn’t like the playing, but
I still noticed that the music was
touching me.

No one expects that you will like every moment of every concert. Remember, your job is to be affected, not to like everything.

Everybody’s taste is different, so a concert that is wonderful for one person might be awful for another. All you can do is let yourself be affected by whatever the music has to offer.

Evaluating the Concert

Human beings instinctively want to evaluate their musical experiences. Some music critics give the impression that the listener’s job is to pass judgment on the performance, and that the performer’s job is to try to get a good rating, like an Olympic ice skater.

Of course we all try to pick concerts we will like, and we all talk about what moved us and what didn’t. But don’t be fooled by all the judgment that surrounds classical music. The listener’s task is not to pass judgment; it is to be affected. Instead of asking yourself, “How good is this?” or “Do I like this?” you can ask, “What is happening now?”

Coping with Snobs

Snobs are everywhere, in every field. Baseball snobs sneer at neophytes who don’t know Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average or Willie Mays’ hat size. Computer snobs roll their eyes if you don’t know ROM from RAM.

Classical music snobs can be some of the snobbiest snobs of all. They assert their superiority by showing off their knowledge and declaiming opinions. Often their snobbery masquerades as helpfulness, but snobs have a way of making ignorance appear to be shameful.

Nobody should feel ashamed of ignorance. If a classical music snob tries to shame you at a concert, don’t take it personally. They’re just showing off, and may be unaware of diminishing others.

Classical music has a reputation for snobbery, but in fact the audience is full of wonderful people who aren’t snobs at all, people who come to enjoy the beauty of the music. These people know that what really matters is your willingness to open your mind and heart to the music.

What if I don’t understand the music?

See “The Listener’s Job Description” at the beginning.


Introduction to Classical Music
  Music Categories
  Musical Instruments
  History of Classical Music
  Discover the Classics
     Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3 | Vol. 4

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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