Newcomers’ Guide to the Charlotte Symphony

Attending a Symphony concert can be intimidating to the uninitiated. You may have heard various opinions on when to clap or you may worry about what you should wear, or you may just be wondering how to get the most out of your concert-going experience. Never fear! Below are answers to some frequently asked questions. If you have further questions, please call 704.972.2000 to speak with a Symphony representative.

"All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." -Marcel Duchamp 


  • What is a symphony orchestra?
    • A symphony orchestra is a large ensemble of players of musical instruments arranged in sections or "families" namely, the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, and the percussion. Instruments you will see in these sections consist of violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and harps; flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons (with the occasional contrabassoon); trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas; and timpani, snare drums, bass drums, xylophones, and many other percussion instruments. You can learn about the musicians in each section by visiting the Musicians page.
  • Do I need to have studied music or played an instrument to enjoy classical music?
    • NO! Do you have to study art history or know how to paint in order to understand the emotion behind Edvard Munch's The Scream? Think of classical music as any other art, which comes from and appeals to the human experience. Don't worry if you don't know the history behind the music or what tonality means. Just be open to the sounds you will hear. Close your eyes, block out any other distraction, and just listen.

      If you are interested in the history behind a piece or want to learn more about the works you hear, there are several educational options offered around the concerts. You can read the program notes in advance, listen to a recording the day before the concert, attend the Musically Speaking Chat before the concert, or stay after the concert and ask questions of the conductor and soloists. Or simply ask your neighbor for their opinion during intermission you might even discover a new friend!

      There is a reason Beethoven is still performed today: successful music challenges us; it constantly evolves in the minds and hearts of the audience in relation to their individual experience, and thus, remains timeless. If you are human, you can enjoy classical music.
  • When do I applaud?
    • Generally, during a classical music concert, the audience applauds when the entire piece is over, not at the end of a movement. To determine the number of movements, check out the program notes and also note the length of the piece. Another hint is to watch the conductor: When the baton goes down, and the conductor turns to the audience, the piece is finished. This is the current ritual to which many concertgoers ascribe. However, it was only a short time ago that audience members clapped and booed whenever they felt like it, and a new composition might even encourage a riot! So if you happen to applaud at the end of an especially moving section, don't be embarrassed. Chances are, the person next to you wanted to do the same, and the conductor and musicians will appreciate your enthusiasm and passion!
  • What's with all the other clapping at the beginning of the concert?
    • In a symphony orchestra, the leader of the violin section is called the concertmaster. Often the concertmaster stays backstage until the concert is about to begin. He or she then enters and bows to the audience and the audience welcomes the concertmaster with applause. He or she then turns to the orchestra, plays a tuning note, and the musicians tune their instruments. The conductor then enters, shakes the concertmaster's hand, and bows to the audience as the audience claps. He or she then takes to the podium, raises the baton, and the music begins.
  • What should I wear?
    • There is no formal dress code; you will see people in everything from jeans and t-shirts to tuxedoes and cocktail dresses. Often, people dress up a bit more for Classics concerts and are more casual for Pops and KnightSounds. Many people wear business or business-casual attire (jackets and slacks for men, and casual dresses or pantsuits for women.) However, as you can see from our varied response, you should feel free to wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
  • What happens if I arrive late?
    • As a courtesy to all patrons, latecomers will not be seated until the first appropriate pause in the music. Latecomers can stand at the back of the theater and an usher will show you to your seat when appropriate. Please try to arrive at least 30 minutes before the concert to avoid having to wait to sit. Arriving early leaves you plenty of time for parking, picking up your tickets if they are at Will Call, locating the bathroom, finding your seat, and reviewing the program. Arriving early also allows you to attend any regularly occurring pre-concert activities such as the Musically Speaking Chat at all Classics concerts.
  • Are refreshments available and may I bring drinks or food into the theater?
    • Yes, refreshments are available for purchase in each lobby before the performance and at intermission. You may pre-order a drink to avoid waiting in line at intermission. Just ask a bartender about this service before the concert begins. Currently, you may bring purchased drinks into Pops and KnightSounds concerts. Food is not allowed inside the theater.
  • Do I have to turn off my phone?
    • Please be sure your cellular phone and other electronic devices are silenced and put away. Additionally, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, web surfing, etc. is distracting to all patrons and we ask that you refrain from using your phone at all during the performance. If you are in a profession that requires you to be on-call, you may leave your phone or pager at coat check and have an usher come get you if necessary. Otherwise, please be discreet, and leave the theater quietly before answering a page or dialing a call.
  • Where should I park?
  • What if I've misplaced my tickets?
    • Call 704.972.2000 in advance of the concert and we will reprint your tickets and send them or you may pick them up at the concert. If you lose them on your way to the concert, don't panic! We can write you a seating pass to enter the theater.
  • What about accessibility services?
  • May I take photographs or videos during the performance?
    • No. Unauthorized photographic, audio recording and video equipment may not be used during the performance. If you are a member of the media, please call 704.714.5116 to arrange a visit at least 24 hours before the concert.

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