Are you new to a York Symphony concert? Here are some basic questions, tips and general information to make your visit to the concert more enjoyable!

First, so you don’t feel uncomfortable and know what to expect…


Attending a Symphony Concert is always a special occasion, so some concert-goers will “dress up” somewhat. At our concerts, business dress or business casual dress are both acceptable . You’ll see everything from khakis to suits, formal dresses to pants. We recommend that our guests refrain from using strong perfumes and colognes so as not to distract the guest sitting near you or in case anyone has allergies.

Concert Etiquette

Symphony concerts will vary from concert to concert. The YSO provides a variety of programming to establish certain moods and feelings. The music can be loud or soft, exciting or dramatic, quiet or somber. There are some common considerations that we ask you to respectfully follow:

  • plan to arrive 15-30 minutes early;
  • late seating is only permitted between pieces/movements;
  • if you must leave during the music, please exit as quietly as possible and understand you will be re-seated only between pieces/movements;
  • please turn off all cell phones, pagers, and alarms on watches;
  • no texting please
  • please don’t unwrap candy, mints or cough drops during the music;
  • photography, audio or video recording is not permitted;
  • please refrain from using strong perfume or cologne;
  • the only animals permitted in the theater are guide dogs; and,
  • respectfully, please do not bring small children who might be disruptive to the audience.

General Questions

What should I expect?
Expect to have a great time. Forget whatever you have heard about a classical music concert. Watch the stage, watch the movements, listen to the music and sense the rhythm and moods. If you just sit back and go with the flow, you’ll experience something brand new!

What is a symphony?
A symphony orchestra is a group of musicians who play four basic families of instruments:

  • Strings – violins (smallest, and highest in pitch), violas, cellos, and double basses (largest and lowest in pitch). These players sit in a semicircle directly in front of the conductor, and make up more than half the orchestra.
  • Woodwinds – flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and related instruments. These players sit a few rows back from the conductor, in the center of the orchestra.
  • Brass – trumpets, horns, trombones, tubas, and similar instruments. These instruments are the loudest, so you’ll see them in the rear of the orchestra.
  • Percussion – drums, bells, and other fascinating paraphernalia that are struck, plucked, rubbed, etc. This includes the tympani, the harp, and, on occasion, the piano. Some works use lots of different percussion; others may have a single musician playing the tympani, or no percussion at all. The percussion section is also found at the rear of the orchestra, on the left or right side.

How do I show respect for the Concertmaster and the Conductor?
The Concertmaster’s responsibility is to be the lead orchestral musician. Applause as the Concertmaster enters the stage shows the audience’s respect for the Concertmaster. As the Conductor walks on the stage, the orchestra stands and the audience applauds.

Why does the orchestra tune to the oboe?
The oboe holds the pitch the most consistently. Why is the tuning pitch an A? The A is an “open” string for the violins, violas and cello, and is a middle, comfortable register for all of the instruments.

Why do all of the bows move in the same direction in the string section?
The Concertmaster and the principal players of each string section work on arranging the bowings so that everyone in a section is playing the same phrasing of the music. It’s much more visually appealing for the audience than having every player bow differently!

What role do the principals (first chairs) in each section have in a performance?
Principals are responsible for the players in their section and simultaneously follow the conductor and lead their section.

Why are there so many more violins than other instruments?
Violins are generally the ‘melody’ instrument and the other strings play a supporting role. As the melody, more are needed to achieve the right volume, since the violin is much softer than the percussion or brass.

Can I applaud between movements?
Generally applause is held until the entire piece ends. However, after a very large large concerto movement, applause is sometimes heard. If the mood is very quiet, it is better to hold the mood. Watch the conductor for a hint. If his/her hands are raised, hold the applause, the next movement is about to begin.

How long is the concert?
It varies, but generally our concerts are about two hours long, with a 20 minute intermission at the halfway point.