Dear Audience! There will be a quiz!

I was just talking to my husband about a blog post I’m working on, about how it’s intimidating to approach a musician after a chamber recital to give them praise for a job very well done, because we in the audience rarely know how to answer the resulting barrage of questions from the musicians.We went back and forth a little bit, and he cautioned me not to sound accusing. Musicians really want feedback, because they love the pieces they are performing. They want to know how we, the audience, are reacting to them—what they did well, and what they need to work on.

He told me that musicians often don’t realize that they speak over our heads, and they would hate to think that they’re making us feel stupid or uneducated in any way. To a musician, the program is a road map to a journey we all just took together. To us, it’s more of a list of names, dates, and foreign words that we dare not try to pronounce.

What is that..? Scer? Sher? Scare? Suh-chuch-mo? Cher’s-toe? It’s Cher’s toe, isn’t it?

Well, my husband gave me some simple advice about how we the audience can get more out of our chamber concert experiences, and how we can give something back to the musicians. That advice is: follow along in the program, and take notes. They don’t have to be savvy or anything, just jot down, into the program, something that really caught your ear.

Of course, even following along in the program seems daunting, when you’re staring at a list of very long name, with dates and a bunch of bullet points with foreign words in italics. It only takes a little bit of practice, though, to figure out the flow of a recital, and soon you too can know when you’re listening to the Scherzo (Cher’s Toe) and the Adagio (isn’t that a type of cheese? I love adagio cheese!) Here are a couple of things I learned, and I will use last night’s program to demonstrate.


Here’s a breakdown of all that information:

A: This is the composer (you may or may not recognize the names; good luck pronouncing them)

B: These are the dates of birth and death  (included for Tuesday trivia night.)

C: The title of the piece of music (obligatory parenthetical for consistency.)

D: The movements in the piece (in this case there are three: Allegro non troppo (I’m guessing it’s an allergy medicine that does not contain coconut) Adagio (delicious, delicious cheese) and Vivo (use it to record your favorite TV programs))

E: These are the performers (presumably still alive.. or else.. vampires)

You have a lot of room on that sheet to jot down a word or two about your experience. You can write Cello So Tranquil next to the adagio movement. Or never heard before-flute blow next to the vivo movement to remind yourself to mention that the “jet whistle” part of the third movement really piqued your curiosity. But wait! How can you tell the movements apart?

Here’s a trick. If the musicians pause playing, look at one another with expressions of satisfaction and change pages on their music stands, and the audience as a whole is *not* applauding, then one movement has ended, and the next is about to begin. When the musicians put their instruments down and smile, and the entire audience applauds, then the piece has ended. So if a 4 or 5 minute piece of music ends, and nobody is clapping, or only a couple of people in the audience do, don’t fret. It’s customary to hold your applause until after the whole work is completed.  The musicians will let you know when that is.

Musicians like to hear what moves their audience, so make a note of what stirred you, and don’t worry about using fancy language. The point is to stimulate dialogue and to have answers for the questions that often come after your initial congratulations. The performers will appreciate your enthusiasm, and you will learn more about the wide world of music.

So that’s pretty much all I have to say right now. Musicians may quiz you, but not because they are trying to trick you and make you feel foolish. They genuinely appreciate our praise.

Also, all the social etiquette caveats here:

  • Respect the musicians’ personal space.
  • They have a lot of people to talk to after a performance, so let them greet other people too.
  • If you heard a mistake, trust me, they heard it too! They’re human beings, not studio recordings. They don’t need every twitch, scratch, and pop pointed out to them.
  • It’s probably best to keep your comments related to the performance you just watched.
  • Don’t bother asking to hold the instrument; it probably costs as much as your car. The answer is no.

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