How to DSSO
New to the symphony experience?
We are excited to welcome you to Symphony Hall! New experiences bring a breath of fresh air into our lives, moving us out of the everyday rhythms of life into something new and invigorating.
There are beautiful details of every concert, and there are many ways to explore those details even before you arrive at Symphony Hall. Whether you read the bulletin or listen to the spotify playlist, you will get a peek into the brilliant depth of the music.
Below you will find many potential questions, answered, to help make your experience more enjoyable.
About the concert
The concert experience is one that you can create for yourself, so don’t come into with any prior notions of what you need to do our expect. While there may be some customs that are new to you, everyone is there to enjoy the performance. Surround yourself in the shared experience of the evening and watch the musicians as they are directed by Maestro Dirk Meyer. Open yourself to the flow of the music – the various cadences and rhythms, the change in timbres and volume, and how melodies move through the instrument families.
Preparation is not required for you to enjoy our performances. The music will speak for itself. We know that many frequent concertgoers find deeper enjoyment and engagement if they prepare for the concert. People approach this in many ways, from reading the program notes in our Norther Sounds Magazine, to listening to recordings of the works.
You might! What people call “classical music” is all around us: in commercials, movie soundtracks, television themes, cartoons, retail shops, and even some elevators. Popular music often quotes classical melodies, as well. If you do not have some instant recognition, do not be alarmed! We care that you had a great experience and learned something new at our concerts. Recognition and familiarity come with time.
Our Masterworks Series is where you will hear pieces by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bernstein, Grieg, Mozart, Copland, etc. We call this the traditional cannon and is performed by orchestras all over the world. We will also feature new works by living composers or highlight specific artists at times. The Pops Series is where you’ll hear “popular” type music like The Beatles, Queen, movie music, Frank Sinatra, Broadway, etc. Either concert will provide you with a wonderful concert experience.
This is a short rest period for the musicians and conductor – very similar to half time in sports. Taking a break allows for the musicians to get prepared for the second half, with usually contains the longer and more complex pieces on the program. For the audience, listening is also an intense activity, and having some time to get up from your seat, read about the second half, and get a drink is a reward in and of itself. We have a standard 20-minute intermission at the DSSO.
About the orchestra
A symphony orchestra is a collection of up to about 100 musicians who play instruments of four basic families:
- 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.
- Woodwinds – flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and related instruments. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
- Brass – trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas, and similar instruments. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them in the rear of the orchestra.
- Percussion – drums, bells, 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 also found at the rear of the orchestra.
Just like athletes need to warm up before a game, musicians need to warm up their muscles and focus their concentration. Some of them are working on the passages they will be playing during the performance, with no regard for what anyone else is practicing.
This is a long tradition that started centuries ago. Sometimes musicians dress a little more casually, but they still try to look uniform, so that the audience can concentrate on the music. Soloists are the exception: they often dress distinctly, because they are the focus of attention.
The sound of each individual stringed instrument is softer than a brass or woodwind instrument. But in large numbers, they make a magnificent, rich sonority. For some large works, half the orchestra will be string instruments – as many as 40+ players!
The concertmaster sits in the first chair of the first violins. He or she acts as 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.
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 in agreement about the tuning before the concert begins.
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. This also allows for any changes to the stage to occur. We may need to adjust the seating for a soloist or bring out a piano. Some members or the orchestra may leave or come onstage, depending on what the instrumentation (musicians needed to perform a particular work) calls for at that time in the concert.