A full orchestra plays on the stage of Hill Auditorium.
File Photo/Daily

I like classical music. I really like it. In fact, I like it so much that I decided to major in it, even though I’m paying music school tuition just to have the chance to make below the U.S. median income. Despite my future career prospects being somewhat questionable, I chose to go down this path partly because of the absolutely amazing experience of going to the symphony. But I understand why others who don’t share my passion for classical music may not go to performances — concerts can be lengthy, the music isn’t really relevant and it just seems like a boring pastime for old white Hollywood elites. Classical music’s stuffiness and perceived flatness drive most younger people away from concerts, except for the occasional classy date. But I want to convince you that going to the right orchestral concert can not only be an exhilarating experience but a life-changing one. Most of my friends have never been to an orchestra concert, but their reasons for not going surprised me: most of their perceptions of going to the symphony were false stereotypes. Let me dispel a few myths you might believe about classical music concerts that could prevent you from going.

Orchestra concerts are expensive.

This is simply not true. Concert tickets usually start at around $20 generally, and unless you want the full V.I.P. treatment I doubt you’ll have to spend more than $50 on a ticket for a concert ever — even at some of the best professional orchestras in the nation. In addition, most symphonies have student discounts, decreasing the price even more, and if you’re smart you can be paying as little as $10 or even get in for free. For a great local deal, consider getting a SoundCard pass for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra: it’s $25 for an entire season of concerts (for students). University Musical Society, or UMS, also has great concerts for cheap prices here in Ann Arbor. Smaller local orchestras usually have moderately priced tickets, and it’s a great way to support your community. And here’s another little secret: usually concerts don’t sell out, so there are a lot of open seats. If there’s a better seat that’s vacant, you can take it — the only thing you risk is the possibility of a very awkward encounter if the person sitting in that seat does arrive. 

Finally, consider going to student ensemble concerts. The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD) is one of the best music schools in the country, and its bands and orchestras are certainly close to, if not at, a professional level. These concerts are completely free to the public, and you have the added benefit of supporting the music program at the University. Who knows, maybe the person that sits next to you in your lecture is also an insanely good cellist.

There is a dress code.

You do not have to dress up to go to an orchestra concert. Granted, many people do, and it wouldn’t be strange to, but I’ve shown up to concerts before in a T-shirt, khaki shorts and Crocs. But remember — most concert halls can get a bit chilly at times, so you should bring a layer.

Classical music is for snobs, and I’m not the intended audience.

Yes, there are classical music snobs, but there are also gatekeepers for every single genre of music, and they are always the minority. Most concert attendees and performers are just normal people and would love for more people to be part of their community. Classical music has a reputation for being a part of upper-class culture and catering to aristocracy, but in modern times musicians and institutions are trying to shift away from that stereotype. Yes, classical music has a history of being a white-male-dominated field, made by rich white people, for rich white people, but that’s changing. An art form can never survive long-term without diversity and changing with the times. Change is happening here within the University’s very own SMTD: The Michigan Orchestra Repertoire for Equity, or MORE, is a 10-year project aimed at diversifying orchestral music by commissioning compositions from diverse contemporary composers. And change follows demand — the more that you and people like you go to concerts, the more that concerts will have programs you like.

I would prefer a regular concert.

But what is so good about an orchestra concert? What can you get out of this that you can’t get out of anything else? I mean, sitting silently for an hour listening to one piece of music surely can’t be as fun as listening to a band play through their set of a dozen songs while you’re able to drink, talk and dance, right? I love going to “normal” concerts too, but the orchestra is a completely different experience — it’s like watching episodes of a TV show versus reading a novel. There’s a sense of grandeur, epicness and satisfaction that only listening to a symphony or a longer piece of classical music can give. I’m not going to lie; I get bored listening to classical music and the entire program or piece is almost never completely engaging to me, but that’s okay. Because I know there are those few magical moments — when the orchestra crescendos to that monumental peak, or when the musical is so light and transparent that it almost disappears, or that one solo that makes me hold my breath — that will give me goosebumps nothing else does. And it’s those moments that stick with you, that lodge themselves deeply into your consciousness and become new core memories. 

Orchestral concerts have dull visuals.

Orchestra concerts are not only an incredible auditory experience — the acoustics in concert halls are otherworldly — but they’re also a feast for the eyes. There might not be flashing lights and pyrotechnics (sometimes there are, actually), but it’s surprisingly fun to let your eyes dart around and follow the musicians and conductor. Being able to see the players makes it a much more human experience. Like all live music, it’s a performance, and sometimes they mess up — but the risk is what makes it exciting.

I don’t have time.

Usually, concerts are around 90 minutes of music with a 20-minute intermission. The intermission is a great time to grab a drink, stretch your legs and debrief a little. And if you go to a concert and you really don’t like it, or if you need to be somewhere else? You can leave during intermission. Sure, it would be better if you stayed for the whole thing, but people usually wander around during intermission anyways and it’s not like they’re keeping count of attendance before and after the show. Bottom line is that orchestra concerts are not as tense or serious as people make them out to be. Make sure you silence your phone, but if you need to go on it to check something quietly, that’s fine. If your chair squeaks or you sneeze, it’s not the end of the world.

You can make the most out of this experience, and make any concert what you want it to be. Find a program that seems interesting to you. Go with friends. Maybe even try meeting the musicians. But I urge you to give it a shot; you might just discover something extraordinary.

Daily Arts Writer Jason Zhang can be reached at zhangjt@umich.edu