I recently attended the Utah Symphony's performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. Aside from the music, which was phenomenal, this small page at the end of the program booklet made me laugh. It was written by Spencer Clark, the former Communications Manager for the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.
You've arrived safely at Abravanel hall and the helpful ushers assisted you in locating your seat. Take a look around at all of these culturally-aware people. Can you believe you are one of them? You are probably starting to feel like you're better than the people outside of Abravanel Hall. You are. You've invested your money in more than mere "entertainment." You've spent it on a cultural experience that will enhance your life. Start thinking of phrases to use on Monday morning. You know, like, "Yeah, I decided to head over to the Symphony. They were playing some (insert composer) which I found enjoyable since (insert phrase from program notes)." Your associates will be compelled to look up to you now. But don't abuse this new-found respect.
The orchestra is seated and warming up, and suddenly the concertmaster walks briskly onto the stage as everyone applauds. Let's not judge the concertmaster too harshly for being the last one to show up. It is far preferable that he arrive now than skulk meekly onto the scene halfway through the first piece.
The concertmaster doesn't sit until he has an opportunity to play a note and tune the strings. There seems to be an understanding between the strings and the winds that the tuning must be segregated. You're entitled to your own opinion on this matter, but I still have a dream that someday the orchestra will tune together and not base their tuning on the timbre of their instruments.
Now everyone is applauding as the conductor comes onstage. Don't you wish you were applauded just for showing up? I mean, imagine walking into your dentist's office and receiving such a reception. Unlike your favorite Looney Tunes episode, a real life conductor rarely raps his baton on his stand before beginning. Sorry—we do realize the baton-tapping would be much cooler.
It's time to relax and enjoy… and to pull your hair out as you desperately try to assess whether applause is appropriate at any given pause. It is important to know when to applaud so that you can smile smugly at audience members who applaud at inappropriate times. Relax. There is a simple rule for applause: You can be sure it's time to clap if the conductor turns around to face you or hugs the soloist.
Most guest soloists do not look anything like the photo that is inside your program. Take time to study the photo and guess how long ago it was taken. Make sure to appear to be thoughtfully reading the artist's biography when engaging in this activity.
Intermission lasts about 15 minutes, so decide now if you want to stretch your legs by strolling out to the lobby, or if you would rather bask in the simple elegance of the concert hall.
Now that you're back in your seat, take a look at those chandeliers overhead. They were made from 18,000 hand-crafted, Czechoslovakian crystals.
The major work of the evening is underway by now, leaving you with a few choices. You could focus on the visual aspects of the performance, examining the 85-100 musicians who are pouring their souls into this work, furrowed brows and all. You could also focus on the music alone. Your last option is to reflect on the endless inequities that pervade our plodding journey through this dreary life. I suggest you stick to the first two options.
As the thrilling performance ends, some people will feel obligated to give a standing ovation. If you are exceptionally impressed by what you've heard, please join them. If not, take pride in your act of dissent as you sit while applauding. Still, you've never felt more culturally in tune. You sense that you are not only better than the people outside of the hall, but most of the patrons inside as well. I hope this feeling will bring you back to enjoy the Utah Symphony again and again.