The Top 5 Ways I Can Tell You Aren’t a Music Major

Last weekend I attended a Vocal Performance major’s senior recital, and shared a knowing look with fellow music majors when within minutes novice classical concert goers clearly revealed themselves by clapping at the inappropriate time. The etiquette of classical concerts can be peculiar and intimidating for those who do not frequent such events. In the hopes that by shedding light on some of these peculiarities more novices will attend concerts, I have created a list of The Top 5 Ways I Can Tell You Aren’t a Music Major.

1. To clap or not to clap?

Easily the biggest give away, clapping at the wrong time can be embarrassing (especially if you are the only one) and disruptive to other audience members. A foolproof method to ensure that you are not the only person clapping is to never clap first, rather join in once the applause has begun.
So why isn’t there applause following every piece? Think about the applause scheme for the presentation of a paper. There is often applause as the presenter walks on stage, when an extremely powerful point is made and following the conclusion of the paper. A symphony is much like a basic paper where each movement resembles a paragraph of that paper. While a movement of a symphony (or a paragraph) represents a coherent thought it is part of a much larger musical idea. Since the symphonic idea is not yet complete applause between the movements is considered disruptive.

2. You don’t know your way around the theater

Most theaters consist of the same basic layout from the box office location to the layout of the auditorium. In any given area there are only so many theaters, allowing frequent theater goers to know exactly where their seats are without the aid of an usher.

3. Jeans or evening gown?

In talking to my non music major friends I have discovered that one of the most intimidating aspects of attending a music event is knowing what to wear. Contrary to popular belief, the easiest way to spot a novice is not because they are underdressed but because they are overdressed. Many theaters do not have dress codes (including the Metropolitan Opera in New York) and so often I will attend shows wearing whatever I wore to my morning lectures. Check with the theater about the dress code and when in doubt you can’t go wrong with khakis.

4. [bize] or [bizÉ›]?

Another easy way to tell who is familiar with the repertoire comes from the ability or inability to pronounce the name of a piece in a foreign language. This is not full proof as rumor has it that a music school professor referred to La Boheme [la bɔɛm] as [la bəhimə] at a recent graduation ceremony.

5. I don’t recognize you – or any of your friends

The music school is small with approximately 115 students per grade. Since all of our classes are in one building I can very easily recognize a fellow music major (even if I don’t know them) simply because I have seen them walking the hallways of the Moore building numerous times before. Music students often go to concerts in pacts so if I have never seen you or any of your friends before, odds are you aren’t a music major.

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