What to expect at a Symphony Concert

A few useful notes, with special thanks to the Arapahoe Philharmonic (www.arapahoe-phil.org)


Many times, those new to attending symphony performances are nervous about attending concerts because they don’t know what to expect in terms of concert etiquette, and they may have heard that it is kind of “stuffy” with lots of rules. Relax! Classical music isn’t as intimidating as you might think. Use the tips on this page as a starting point to help you fully experience the wonderful classical music performed by the Salisbury Symphony, whether it is your first time attending an orchestral concert or you are a seasoned concert-goer.


What do I wear?

Our performers will generally be in formal attire, unless we are having a special themed event such as our collaborations with country or folk musicians or some other themed program. HOWEVER, as an audience member you can wear whatever is comfortable for you!  A good guide might be your personal dress code for dinner with friends, or “smart casual.” But you will probably see other concert-goers in everything from relatively dressy attire to a T-shirt and jeans, so you can feel comfortable wearing just about anything in this range. If you wear a hat, don’t forget to remove it during the performance so as not to block anyone’s view of the stage.


When should I plan to arrive?

Most concertgoers plan to arrive at least a half-hour to forty minutes before a concert.  Because we don’t have assigned seats at our concerts, you may want to come earlier if you have a special preference for seating.   The Lobby doors are opened one hour before each performance and we generally open the doors to the performance hall about a half-hour prior to the performance.  There are chairs in the Lobby area if you wish to enjoy some refreshments before the concert.  Concerts will rarely be delayed unless there are still long lines of guests at the box office.


Cellular Telephones, Pagers and Cameras

Please plan to silence your cell phones, pagers, alarms, and other audible electronic devices before the concert begins. But feel free to check in online or tweet a photo! We love engaging with audience members on social media! We do ask, however, that you do not use flash when taking photos during the concert and that you are mindful to not disturb your nearby seat neighbors. Phone screens give off more light than you’d think in a darkened hall!  We record our performances, so we appreciate your help in maintaining the quality of our recordings.

Where should I sit?

It may take you several concerts to decide where you prefer to sit. Do you want to be on the left side of the auditorium close to the front and watch the percussion section? Do you want to be in the center near the back and see the bigger picture of the whole performance? Do you want to be nearer the front on the right and keep a close eye on the cellos and bass players?  We do reserve seating along aisles and at the rear of the orchestra section of seats for our wheelchair-bound guests as it requires fewer ramps for access.  Ask a concert volunteer for help if you have trouble choosing a seat.


Late Seating

If you arrive late, it is best to wait until a break between pieces for an usher to allow you to enter the hall. Please try to arrive in plenty of time to get seated before the lights dim and the concert begins.


How will I know when the concert is about to begin?

When you first take your seat, you may find that some musicians are already on stage even though the concert isn’t scheduled to begin for a while. Don’t worry; you’re not late. The musicians are warming up, checking over their music, looking at difficult music page turns, and getting settled before the concert begins. Just before the start of the concert, after all of the members of the orchestra are seated, the lights will dim, and the concertmaster will come out to the front of the stage, take a bow, and signal to the first oboe player to play the note A. The rest of the orchestra will then tune their instruments to match the oboe. The conductor will then come out onto the stage. He will take a bow also, then turn around, mount the podium, and begin the concert. It is appropriate to clap for both the concertmaster and the conductor as they bow.


Is it time to clap yet?

While tradition has changed over time, today’s audiences usually wait until the end of an entire work to clap, even though the piece may have several parts or movements where the orchestra will pause before continuing.  Why is it important not to clap at these break points? Holding applause between movements is considered to be respectful to the performers’ concentration and maintains the momentum of the music they are creating. In addition, quiet endings have a lingering magic that can be too easily broken by audience members in a hurry to initiate applause. Sacred works offered in worship are not applauded at all, but when presented in an artistic context such as in a concert, sacred works still often get respectful silence for a long moment before any applause is generated.


If you want to anticipate when the composition will come to an end, you can count the number of movements for an entire work as listed in the program booklet. The movements are also usually easy to hear because of the different tempos or speeds and moods of the music, so keep track of the sections and applaud after the final movement. The occasional composer can trick you, however, by not inserting a pause between movements. Beethoven, for example, doesn’t have a pause between the third and fourth movements of his 5th Symphony. Your best bet is to watch the conductor. He will let you know when a piece is over, so wait until he puts his arms down and turns to face the audience. If his hands remain in front of him, he is waiting for the orchestra to be ready to continue with the next movement of the piece. If the work is completed, the conductor will also shake the hands of the concertmaster and the soloist if there is one. If you’re still in doubt, you can always wait until the majority of the crowd begins to applaud.


Other Sounds During the Concert

The most important thing to remember at a classical music concert is to make sure others can listen to the music undisturbed. Instruments are usually not amplified, so audience noises can be distracting. Our audiences want to hear everything this wonderful music has to offer! Don’t talk, whisper, sing or hum along, or move personal belongings. Even the quietest whispers can be heard in the concert hall and can prove to be a distraction to patrons and musicians alike. Conversation at a concert normally stops at the first entrance of the concertmaster, conductor, or soloist. Save your comments until intermission or after the concert, as it will give you and your friends much more to discuss. This will ensure that you and the other patrons will enjoy the full benefit of the performance.


Don’t enter or exit the hall while a performance is in progress unless absolutely necessary. If you must leave your seat, do so quickly and quietly, proceeding to the nearest door or asking the nearest usher for assistance.


If you have a cold or allergies, please take appropriate medication in advance to control symptoms. For that tickle in the throat, use a cough drop to ensure that the concert experience is as pleasurable as possible for you — and those around you.  Experienced concertgoers try to suppress coughs and sneezes until a loud passage arrives, and muffle these. If you cannot suppress a fit of coughing, it is acceptable to depart from the Hall until you feel better. There is water available in the lobby.



Most concerts will have a 15-20-minute intermission about halfway through the concert. You may take the time to visit the restroom, get a snack or other refreshment in the lobby or visit briefly with other concert-goers or orchestra performers who may be spending intermission in the lobby along with our patrons. Watch for signs that you should return to your seat – flashing lobby lights or a bell ringing will be typical indicators.



Occasionally, if the audience continues enthusiastic applause and a soloist and orchestra are prepared to play an additional composition, an encore performance will be provided.