General questions about going to an orchestra concert:
What is an orchestra? An orchestra is a very large ensemble consisting of many performers playing all different types of instruments. There are usually over 60 players in an orchestra, and sometimes as many as a 100!
What are the instruments in the orchestra? The instruments of an orchestra are divided into four main families: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
Woodwinds: flute (and its smaller sibling, the piccolo), oboe, clarinet, bassoon. These are instruments that need air blown into them to produce a sound. Some require a single reed (clarinet). Some require two reeds (oboe, bassoon). Some don’t require a reed (flute, piccolo). All woodwind instruments have a number of keys on the instruments for the performer to press down to produce different notes.
Brass: horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba. These are all instruments made of metal called brass. All brass instruments produce sound by the performer buzzing their lips into the mouthpiece. They are usually very loud!
Percussion: each percussionist has to be able to play many different instruments. Some common percussion instruments include: timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, woodblock, xylophone, and many, many more. They are usually played by striking a stick, mallet, beater, or even your hands.
Strings: violin, viola, cello, double bass. These are instruments you see in the front of the orchestra. Each string instrument has four strings that are played with a bow that slides across the strings to create the sound.
You will also see a harp at the concert, which is very different from the others in the strings section, but is still a stringed instrument.
What do we do at the beginning of the concert? Who are all the people we're supposed to clap for?
The violinist in the front who sits closest to the conductor and the audience is called the “Concertmaster.” For the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, the Concertmaster’s name is Ignace Jang. He walks in when the orchestra is ready to play and asks the orchestra to tune. The audience will clap when he enters the stage.
Then the orchestra usually Tunes their instruments, usually to a note played by the oboist. This means that everyone will adjust his or her instruments so that everyone’s pitch matches the one played by the oboist. When an orchestra is “in tune,” the sound that they produce will be clean and vibrant. If they are “out of tune,” they can sound messy and harsh (or “discordant” or “dissonant”).
An orchestra is led by a Conductor who helps the large number of musicians of the orchestra play together. The conductor is usually the last person to walk onto the stage. The audience will clap when he or she walks onto the stage, and the musicians on stage will stand up to greet the conductor. People will often call the conductor “Maestro.” For the concert that you will see, the conductor’s name is Jeff Boeckman.
When does the music actually start? What should we do before the music starts?
When it looks like the conductor and orchestra are ready to play, everyone in the audience should quiet down. You never know what the first note is going to sound like! It could be a loud bang or a very quiet whisper. Either way, you don’t want to miss it, so pay attention!
What should you watch for when the orchestra is performing? It’s up to you! You can focus on your favorite instrument. You can focus on an instrument you’ve never seen before. You can try to listen to all of the sounds coming at you at once. There is just so much to pay attention to and everybody’s experience listening to an orchestra concert is going to be different. Just make sure to pay attention closely - once the music goes by, you won’t get to hear it again!
What is a "Symphony" by the way? The word “symphony” can actually mean the same thing as “orchestra.” However, the word “symphony” can also mean the piece of music written by a composer that the orchestra plays. A symphony (the music, that is) can be quite long – many are longer than 20 minutes. Some are even longer than 1 hour! But theses symphonies are usually broken up into smaller sections called “movements.” The orchestra will pause in between movements. Audiences usually don’t applaud in between movements - but don’t be scared! We encourage you to clap in between movements if the music moves you.
Who are composers? A composer is someone who writes music. Some famous composers of the past include Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. At an orchestra concert, you can hear music written by composers from over a hundred years ago, or brand new works written today. At the concert you will attend, you will hear six brand new compositions written by composers who live in Hawaii. You might even be lucky to meet one of them after the concert!
Where else can we hear an orchestra? You can hear orchestras in many places. If you go to a concert hall, you can hear them playing at a classical music concert, a “Pops” concert in which they will play popular music ranging from Disney songs to Michael Jackson songs to much more. You can hear them from underneath the stage in the “pit” when you go see a musical, a ballet, or an opera. When you watch movies, TV, or play videogames, you can hear often hear orchestras play in the background as the soundtrack. In Hawaii, you can usually see the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra plays at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.