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We are very pleased to welcome you to the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra. Whether you are new to classical music or just new to the NBSO, this is the place to start. Please explore this page to learn more about what to expect at our concerts and the way we like to offer classical music to our community. If you have any questions, or if you have any comments or suggestions you would like to share, please call me at 508-999-6276 x221 or email me at dprentiss@nbsymphony.org. I also cover the “NBSO Hotline” on concert days so feel free to reach out then if you have any last minute questions or issues I can help with. See you at the Symphony!

Dave Prentiss, President and CEO

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are there any dumb questions in classical music?

A: No! Please never hesitate to ask us about anything you need to know or that you are wondering about.

Q: How long are concerts?
A: Concerts from start to finish are usually about 2 hours long but will vary a bit. Plan on a 45-50 minute first half, a 20 minute intermission, and then another 45-50 minutes for the second half. If you do that math you’ll see we have left a little wiggle room. We list the length of each piece of music on our website and in the program book, but the time of the whole concert will vary because our Music Director, Yaniv, usually likes to spend a some time introducing a piece or telling a joke or two (please laugh at his jokes – it means a lot to him)! Sometimes we also need to move around musician chairs between pieces or bring out (or take away a piano) from the stage. There’s a lot of moving parts to a symphony orchestra concert!
Q: Is there a dress code?
A: Nope. Some people like to dress up (suit jacket and tie, a dress), some take the middle road (suit jacket with no tie, a dress or skirt), and some come pretty casual (slacks, jeans, funky-self-expressive ensembles). This list is not exhaustive and all we actually care about is that you want to spend some time with us enjoying music, so the bottom line is be yourself and dress however your mood strikes you.
Q: Can I take photos?
A: Most definitely before the music starts and after it finishes. We love people to take photos of us. We have even been known to put out props to liven things up and have some fun. (Once it was life-size cardboard cutouts of Yaniv spread around the lobby.) You’ll notice we said before and after the music – we are always mindful of the concentration, focus, and passion our musicians show while playing and we never want to distract them from that. The only thing we ask is don’t just take photos, post them on social media and share with friends. Tag us. Help make us (and you) famous!
Q: I’ve heard that songs in classical music can sometimes be pretty long. Is that true?
A: The short answer is yes, that is basically true. And the medium answer is that classical music pieces tend to be longer than what we are used to generally from rock, folk, and other types of music. Let’s take your typical symphony. We can think of that as one song broken up into three or four parts. The whole symphony might be 30-40 minutes long but each of the three or four movements are often anywhere from 6 to 12 minutes long. The orchestra usually takes a short pause between each movement to catch their breath, allow for a little change of mood from one movement to the next, turn the pages in their music, and maybe even stretch a bit or reposition themselves in their chairs (it’s important to be comfortable when playing)! If you are interested in the long answer for why classical music pieces tend to be longer, and what that means for us listeners, check out “Why I Love Long Pieces of Music (and Short Ones Too)” by our CEO, Dave Prentiss, at the bottom of this page.
Q: What’s the story with clapping?

A: Maybe you’ve heard, or maybe you haven’t, but classical music has kind of a weird history regarding applause. Back in the day, composers loved audiences clapping whenever the spirit (of the music) moved them, including right in the middle of an opera or right after a movement in a symphony or concerto. In fact, there’s a letter by Mozart where he complains to his father that an audience didn’t interrupt his music enough with clapping. But then at some point some people decided that when it comes to symphonies and concertos, silence is golden (between the movements). So this expectation and practice developed in classical music where the audience sat on its hands (metaphorically speaking – you can sit anyway you want during a concert) in between the movements of symphonies and concertos and they held their applause to the very end of the whole symphony or concerto. Actually, you can pick from a number of rationales, some of which might be pretty good and some of which are definitely a bit pompous: the silence increases the intensity and pleasure of the moment, it helps the conductor and musicians concentrate on the next movement, or (this is the pompous one) the audience should be in such reverence of what they just heard that silent awe is the only appropriate reaction to it. In any event, that tradition has been criticized by some of late and now we often have a mixture of people in the audience, some who clap after a movement and some who don’t. At the NBSO we’re fine with that! One of the main points of music is EMOTION. There are times when the emotion that music stirs in us makes us want to jump up and clap our hands, almost as if we want a piece of the action and join in on the joyous sound we just heard. Sometimes we are so blown away by (and appreciative of) what we have experienced that we need to express that emotion. And sometimes the emotion we feel is one of peace, calm, relaxation, or even a somber and consoling feeling, and we want to quietly let that soak in. So our two cents on the strange but true story of applause in classical music is that you should do what your emotions tell you to do, including not clapping at the end of a slow movement if you want to sustain a peaceful, calm, or somber feeling, or if in doubt you can just wait to see what other people are doing.  And sometimes Yaniv may ask you to hold your applause until the end of all the movements if he and the orchestra are trying to create a specific atmosphere in the concert. The bottom line is that we love the sound of silence if that is what you are feeling, and we love the sound of applause if that is what you are feeling.

Q: Do you offer any extras or is the music the only thing we get with our ticket?
A: Okay, people usually don’t phrase it that way, but we want you to know that while the music is obviously the main draw at our concerts, we like to offer you much more than that. Beverages and snacks are available for sale before the concert and during intermission so you can mingle and socialize with friends (or strangers, if that’s your thing). We also usually have some pre-concert activities like a talk by Yaniv, meet and greet opportunities, or an art show or other activities. We love to partner with other artists and organizations in our community to make symphony night interesting, entertaining, and fun – oh, and there’s the music too! We’ll let you know what’s going on before each concert through our emails and newsletter. And you can always call us or email us to find out too.
Q: Why is it called classical music anyway?
A: That’s another long story but we’ll give you the short version. Please be advised that having some knowledge of Kleenex and tissues will help. When classical music began (i.e., before it was “classical music”), it was just called music, or going to a concert, or hearing music by X, Y, or Z. Due to social, cultural, and political developments that are beyond the scope of this FAQ (Thank God!), this music was gradually composed by, played by, and played for more and more people. New composers came along and the role of music critic appeared in society. And then, around 1836, this was this situation: past composers like Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven ruled the music world. People loved their music and wanted to go to concerts to hear their performed. However, new composers wanted to be heard too and they were in the process of changing the style of the music from the old masters, so the idea came along to distinguish their new music from past music. The term “classical” was therefore first coined to describe the older music, and the term “romantic” started to be used for the newer music. But then the Kleenex thing happened. At some point this kind of music with symphonies, concertos, chamber music, etc. – whether it was in the older style or the new one – simply was lumped together and called “classical music.” And then when the romantic style gradually evolved into new styles, it was still called classical music in the generic sense. Just like one brand – Kleenex – is now used to describe any kind of tissue, regardless of who made it.

Why I Love Long Pieces of Music (and Short Ones Too) by Dave Prentiss

When people ask me what type of music I like best, I say whichever type I’m listening to right now. When people ask me who my favorite songwriter, band, or composer is, I say the one I’m listening to right now (assuming I’m listening to one of my playlists.) So, if you ask me which do I like more, long pieces of music or short ones, I will say … okay, you get the point.

All types of music have songs or pieces of music that have various lengths. Rock songs tend to be 3 to 5 minutes long, but for those of you old enough to remember, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick (one of my favorites, especially when I’m listening to it) is 43 minutes and 46 seconds long. Keith Jarret’s solo jazz piano improvisations are legendary and lengthy. (For several months in high school I was obsessed with The Koln Concert.)

But I think it is fair to say that classical music pushes the envelope when it comes to short and long pieces of music. The shortest piece of classical music is likely Anton Weber’s Opus 11 for cello and piano, the second movement of which clocks in at 24 seconds (some people say it’s a good thing it’s so short). J.S. Bach wrote many pieces that have movements that range from 50 seconds to under two minutes in length like The Goldberg Variations, Two and Three Part Inventions, and The Well-Tempered Clavier. And there are a host of other composers who have mastered putting an incredible amount of creativity and emotion into very short pieces of music. (This is giving me the idea to create a playlist of the best short pieces in classical music – sign up on our Musical Connections page to be the first to know when it is released.)

But enough with the short stuff. I really want to talk about the longer pieces. I will be the first to admit that, at first, long pieces of classical music can be a challenge for us listeners. To begin with, we’re not used to it. When you listen to songs that are mostly three to four minutes long, that is what you (and your brain) comes to expect. When listening to a longish piece of music, after a while you can’t help wondering, when exactly is this song going to be over? Well, one answer is – when the composer wants it to be over! But let’s give the composer the benefit of the doubt and assume he or she knows what they’re doing. They obviously felt that they needed a certain amount of time to express in their music what they wanted to express. They purposely chose how long the piece is because that is the experience they wanted to give us. (Lennon and McCartney, Van Morrison, and Mark Knopfler, to name just a few great songwriters, always have to decide how many verses and choruses are going to be in their songs.)

Now maybe what they wanted to give us ends up not being we wanted to get – that can happen with all songwriters, bands, and composers – it’s not like anyone expects to like everything they have ever listened to. But for now let’s keep an open mind to the possibility that once the music wraps around us and gets in us, we are going to like it and maybe even fall in love with it. How might that happen?

First, we should consider what is going on with us and in us during this longish piece of music. According to brain science, the answer is a lot. Even though I fancy myself an amateur neuroscientist, for now I will simply reference a couple of books that I found fascinating. In Your Brain on Art and This is Your Brain on Music, scientists tell us about how the human mind works when it comes to music and art. We now know how the brain processes music (and actually a lot of what we know through science makes common sense too).

When the brain encounters something new, it needs to get to know it. Quite unconsciously to us, the brain starts to learn what patterns are being offered to it and how they tend to repeat or cycle through and therefore what the brain should more or less expect. It’s important to note that I said “unconsciously.” We are not talking here about studying music or memorizing stuff. We can just relax and let our brain do what it does. That’s why listening to music in the background is something a lot of people like. “We” might notice the music on and off, but our brain is on the job taking it in and getting to know it and in the process giving us a sense of pleasure and comfort that at one level we are not even aware of.

Now when you go from background music to music front and center like at a concert, our brain at first might feel the pressure of getting this music all sorted out right away and it’s likely that’s just not going to happen (because of brain science – this whole thing takes some time)! In fact, in this situation the brain might instead give us the experience of being confused, or of the music not making any sense, or even boredom. (But don’t worry, I’ve been assured that has NEVER happened at a New Bedford Symphony Orchestra concert.)

But seriously, when you are new to classical music concerts, my advice is to just relax, let the music wash over you, and listen in the moment: catch a flight of notes launching from the strings, soak in a gorgeous harmony of the woodwinds, get revved up by the brass, feel the beat of the percussion section or the pulse of the whole orchestra. In other word, just let the music happen to you, and the rest will take care of itself. (Along these lines, feel free to close you eyes during the concert. I find that really helps let the music wash over me. And I don’t care if people think I’ve fallen asleep.)

With this approach, listening to a longish piece of music is like taking a journey where you kind of know where you are going, but not exactly. If the music is fast, hold onto your seats and enjoy the ride. If the music is slow, let it embrace you and know you are in good hands. And if it is like a lot of classical music where the mood of the music will change several times during the piece, or go though transitions from one feeling to another, just stick with it. You’ve bought your ticket so you might as well use it. There’s a good chance that over time you’ll come to enjoy this particular type of music more than you ever thought possible. And for the record, what I have just described is why I like long pieces of music so much.

I would like to mention one last thing that I do that I like to call dual-focused listening. That’s my hopefully impressive sounding term for when you are listening to music while driving, walking, running, knitting, or doing any other familiar and somewhat rote or repetitive activity. Some of my most enjoyable and even intense experiences of listening to music (all types of music) have happened in these situations. I’m sure a real neuroscientist could tell us why, but in my unlearned opinion it’s because our brain is in a kind of auto-mode with the activity we are so used to doing (the driving, walking or running) and that frees up the part of the brain that processes music to go all in. Of course, always pay attention and be careful where you’re going (especially if you are knitting)!

If you made it this far (reading this longish article) then I hope you will continue your journey with classical music and the NBSO. A great next stop is Musical Connections, where you will find more adventures waiting for you.

See you at the Symphony!

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