1. If you ain't curious, you ain't a music lover. You may be a music consumer, or enjoy music, but unless you feel a thrill of interest at the prospect of hearing a piece of music for the first time—whether it was composed in 2001 or 1801 or 1301—you cannot call yourself a music "lover." This has nothing to do with your level of knowledge or experience. Curiosity is common ground for the novice and expert alike: You may be excited about discovering the symphonies of Beethoven, the lieder of Othmar Schoeck, or the improvisations of Wally Shoup, but it's the excitement that makes a music lover. Together with working musicians, it is the foundation of a city's musical life.
2. Keep quiet. This is vital. No whispering, please. Dozing off, as long as you don't snore, is OK—and vastly preferable to nodding off and jerking awake. Open those cough drop wrappers ahead of time. Watch out that loose change doesn't fall out of your pockets. And be extra careful in hyper-resonant Benaroya Hall—a program dropped on that wooden floor sounds like a gunshot.
3. Don't sweat your dress. By and large, nobody cares, or shouldn't, how you look. People don't attend concerts to pay attention to you (or to listen to you—see above). The standard, garden-variety attire is what we back home used to call "church clothes," but really anything clean is OK, including T-shirts and jeans. You'll generally see a lot of people in coming-straight-from-work business garb. Opening nights at the Opera tend to be dressy; go ahead and indulge in those tuxes and tiaras if you like, but if you don't, you won't be the only one in fleece and Birkenstocks.
4. Know your audience. The ones to watch out for are Meany Hall audiences, especially for UW Music Department events, which tend to be filled with restless music-appreciation ("Clap for Credit") students. If you're irritated by anything less than a perfectly silent, attentive audience, be warned. On the upside, it is heartening to see a full house at some of those contemporary music concerts.
5. Know your venue. Neither Benaroya Recital Hall nor Meany Hall have center aisles, which, for you, ticket holder, means lots of awkward squeezing past knees. The upshot? Time your arrivals and departures accordingly. It might help to know, too, that the bathrooms on the west (Second Ave.) side of the Benaroya Hall are considerably less busy than the ones on the east side.
6. Know your orchestra. Since they can't compete with the Seattle Symphony's money, talent, or prestige, each local community orchestra creates its own distinctive niche in our music scene. They depend on word-of-mouth and ticket sales for survival, so take a little break from the SSO and help keep Seattle's musical life as rich and varied as it is. The rundown:
Auburn Symphony: Top-rate musicians. Excellent performances. Couldn't-be-more-conservative repertory.
Bellevue Philharmonic: A hot group on the way up. Conductor Fusao Kajima has a soft spot for contemporary Asian music.
Northwest Symphony: A work by a local composer on every program, plus major symphonic works.
Orchestra Seattle: Lots of nice 18th- century music, and then something surprising like Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony, just to keep you guessing.
Philharmonia Northwest: Uniquely medium-sized, with about 30 players. Comparatively offbeat programming, informed performances.
Puget Sound Symphony: Scrappy, young, wildly enthusiastic. Ambitious repertory.
Seattle Philharmonic: Large group; can be oddly balanced. Socially conscious, they play lots of concerts in schools.
7. Know your choir. Basically, there are two kinds: those who do Messiah, and the Esoterics (who only sing contemporary a cappella music). The Seattle Choral Company goes for blockbusters, whether it's Haydn's Creation or Carmina Burana or a John Williams medley. The madly popular Seattle Men's Chorus is big on '70s camp, while the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Chorus is smaller and a little more earnest.
8. Don't be intimidated. Opera audiences love shop talk (almost always about performers and performances, rarely about works or composers). Bootleg recordings, dead sopranos, and how they did it at the Met in 1957 are all favorite topics. Early music audiences tend to be knowledgeable about musical arcana: If terms like "krummhorn," "Gasparo da Salo," or "Werckmeister III" pop up in conversation, just smile and nod. New music concerts, which might seem scary, are really pretty low-key. Composers are perfectly happy to hear "I really liked your piece a lot," and you don't have to get any more in-depth or detailed than that.
9. The divas have left the building. Don't forget the big change of the opera season—Seattle Opera's relocation to Mercer Arena from January 2002 to July 2003. You may want to catch up on the remodeling plans so you can talk about it during intermission. Suggested topics for discussion: They're moving the walls in 16 feet, creating more of a traditional "shoebox" shape; they're adding standing room in the back (tr鳼/I> continental!); how shabby current backstage areas are ("My dear, I was appalled! They looked like Alcatraz!").
10. Don't be too quick with those standing ovations. The performers won't respect you in the morning.