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Introducing Ritual

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I ask my Music 100 1 students to attend one concert during the semester and write a written response. I’m sure there will be some interesting responses, but that’s a topic for another post. In preparing my students for this assignment, I asked them to read an excerpt from Jonathan Bellman’s A Short Guide to Writing About Music on reviews. I also gave them some links to recent NY Times classical music reviews. The last thing I did was explain the ritual that is Orchestra Concert. My explanation when something like this:

While the audience is finding their seats, the members of the orchestra will gradually find their seats on the stage. They will be playing and warming up during this time. When the lights go out, the hall will get quiet. The concertmaster 2 will come out. Despite the fact that he or she has yet to do anything at all, the audience will applaud, and the concertmaster will bow. The concertmaster will turn his or her back to the audience. The oboe will play a note, and the ensemble will join. This may be repeated. Then, the conductor will come out and receive the same treatment as the concert master. He or she 3 will then begin the concert.

At this point, I was unsure of how to proceed. I think that in general, not clapping between movements is kind of dumb and arbitrary. Do I tell them the custom and perpetuate it? Do I tell them to be sure to clap despite the disapproving stares they will inevitably get? Or do I tell them nothing about this custom and let the chips fall where they may? My cop-out was something along the lines of “I think this custom is kind of arbitrary, and it certainly isn’t how Mozart and Beethoven heard their music performed. However, it’s important to me that you feel comfortable attending as many concerts as you want to.”

Yet another ritual.

Did I do the right thing here? What would you/have you told your friends and students attending an Orchestra Concert for the first time.


  1. Introduction to Music Literature, AKA Music Appreciation
  2. We’d just finished talking about sections of the orchestra and what the concertmaster does.
  3. Though in all likelihood, he.