Secrets to a Night Out With the Alabama Symphony: A Beginner's Guide

"I'm not an uncultured OGRE, you know," said The Captain, on our way home from a lovely evening out listening to the great Alabama Symphony. In our run-down of the evening's events, I had merely commented that I was...surprised...he was interested in accompanying me to the symphony at all. You guys know I love me some Captain de la Wilson, but he is more a watch-a-movie kind of guy than a patron of the arts. Which, by the way, is totally fine, considering his 10 on the Scale of General Husband Awesomeness.

So as it turns out that guy totally reads my blog, and apparently he is taking on my little 2015 Birmingham wish-list as his personal goals for the year as well. Yes, please! Before we were two weeks into the new year, he had already done his research and made arrangements for us to have an evening out for some musical enjoyment at the Alys Stephens Center.

alys stephens center birmingham

It was, in fact, totally rad as far as quality of music and the entire listening experience, but we kinda maybe sorta botched it a little bit. There are THINGS, you know, about this whole symphonic culture, and just because you may not hear those things anywhere else, rest assured, friends...I am here to help. 

  1.  Respect the fashion spectrum. Honey, I saw everything from jeans and dressier tops to full on formalwear-with-fur from the ladies and gents alike. Leave your yoga pants and tennis shoes at home, but apart from that, really anything is okay. Don't sweat this part, just wear whatever you feel nice in and get on with it.    
  2. Arrive early. Those of you who know me well, try to get yourselves off the floor. Yes, I know this is a hysterically ironic suggestion coming from me, but it's totally true. Get there 30 minutes or so before take-off and you have time to get a great, street-side parking spot, explore the gorgeous venue (complete with some muy interesante copper sculptures down on the lower level), grab a drink, and settle in to your seats. And while we're talking seat-space...
  3. Seating is...not everything, but kind of a big deal. When The Captain got our tickets, he wasn't familiar with the concert hall setup and was kind of in a hurry, so he just went with "best available." Anybody else would have done that same thing, right? Only when we were escorted to our seats, we discovered we were right smack dab on the front row! Sounds like an awesome score, right?! Untillll, everybody comes out and the music starts and you realize all you are going to see for the next few hours are crotches and knees and the bottom tips of some instruments, depending on the song. So whilst our ears derived much enjoyment, our eyes were like, ummmm where else is there to look?! Let it be a lesson to ya: don't go front row, man. 
  4. Avoid the misclap. The musical selections for our evening included Ravel's Piano Concerto in GDances in the Canebrakes, and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A Minor. Each section had at least three parts, and it was difficult at times (with the dramatic pauses and such) to tell when a section had ended. What we QUICKLY picked up on was that hey, no clapping until the end of a section. Don't do it, people. You want to, I mean you really want to reward their feverish and impassioned playing with a little pop or two of the palms, but...just don't. It is not okay. As a matter of fact, just do what I do at sporting events: wait for other people to clap and then join in. It's safer this way. 
  5. Wait for intermission. As mentioned before, the tough part of navigating the symphony is knowing the rules about timing. Because the lengths of each piece varies, understanding when and if there will even be an intermission can be a tricky bit, my friends. The answer is simple: yes. Yes, at some point everybody will take a break and you can go walk around, chat with your fabulous not-an-ogre husband, grab a drink, whatever. But until then, unless you are absolutely about to leave a puddle on the floor up under you, do not get up during a performance to go potty. They call that "rude."
  6. Commit to those fabulous finales. Now, remember, you can't just clap any old time you feel like it at the symphony, but man oh man, at the ends of each section the crowd lets loose of all that clap-reserve and nearly wears out your hands on letting those folks know what a good, no, excellent, no, terrific, no, outstanding, no, SPECTACULAR, no...and on we go....job they have done with their swell playing. I behoove you, dear ones, to not give up on all that clap, clap, clapping. Don't be the first one to sit down. Lame. Don't be the first one to stop clapping. Rude. Just keep on going, man, no matter how many times that sweet little conductor goes to her/his side room and back out and bows and points to their orchestra and bows again and goes back to their side room and back out and bows and back get the picture. 

And there you have it, friends. All the secrets to a grand night out with the Alabama Symphony. Although I think The Captain tolerated it (he blasted classic rock all the way home, almost like a purge or something), I totally had a blast...ready for Round 2. And this time, I'm picking the seats.  

ravel concerto in G
crotches and knees