Strings Music Festival: Classical music isn’t stuffy, especially in Steamboat |

Strings Music Festival: Classical music isn’t stuffy, especially in Steamboat

Ali Mignone/For Steamboat Today

The Strings Music Festival Orchestra will have its first performance at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Strings Music Pavilion.

It's always casual Friday at Strings

If you've never attended a classical concert before, it might seem intimidating. What do I wear? When do I clap? What if I don't get it? Relax. It's Steamboat Springs. And even in other, more formal towns, classical music isn't nearly as stuffy and uptight as it's rumored to be.

But, in case you're concerned, here's a cheat sheet to attending a classical music concert at Strings, with apologies to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Arapahoe Philharmonic, from whose websites I stole the questions, but not the answers, below.

What should I wear?

Strings musicians are usually dressed formally, and there are a lot of rules for what they can and cannot wear. Individuality is not encouraged in an ensemble. But there's no dress code for audience members, and Strings welcomes all comers, from best-blue-jeans-and-cowboy-boots to going-out-to-dinner outfits to flip-flops and sundresses. We even occasionally see a coat and tie but not very often. It's Steamboat, after all.

If you're sassy and think you might just test Strings' casual classical vibe and show up barefoot in your bathing suit straight from tubing, please don't. Rule of thumb: dress like you might run into someone whose respect you'd like to keep. It's a small town.

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If you do arrive in your cowboy hat, please be sure to remove it before the performance so that the people sitting behind you can see the stage.

Where do I sit?

The pavilion is a small hall with excellent acoustics, so every seat has a good aural experience. But, when you buy your ticket, you could choose your seats based on what you'd like to see.

The conductor stands in the center, with his or her back to the audience. If you want to see his or her facial expressions — and trust me, some conductors are wonderful to watch — then sit in either of the side sections, as close to the stage as possible. If you like the timpani (also known as the kettle drums), sit in Section A toward the rear of the hall to see them best. If you like percussion — that's all the other tinkly bits — sit in Section C, closer to the windows. Violin lovers can sit anywhere in Section C or the house left side of B. Cello and bass aficionados should sit in Section A or the house right side of B.

Brass and reed lovers get the best choice of all: Sections A, B or C will afford views of your favorite section. But you should sit higher up in the hall, since those sections sometimes end up at the rear wall of the stage.

Non-solo piano is best viewed from Section C; non-solo harp is best viewed from a few rows back, in Section A. Specialty instruments, like harpsichord and cimbalom, will end up where they best fit when I set up the orchestra, but Sections A or C will be most likely to give you a decent view.

Is it time to clap yet?

Classical music audiences usually hold their applause until the end of an entire piece, even though there are pauses in the music between movements. Sometimes, audience members feel inspired to applaud between movements. If no one else is clapping, that might feel awkward or out of place, and that's just not fun. Though applauding between movements is not proper etiquette at concert halls in large cities, Strings Music Director Michael Sachs says feeling comfortable to express yourself in the pavilion is more important than stuffy old traditional etiquette.

If you feel moved to applaud between movements, then please know that Strings musicians are delighted to hear your enthusiasm. If you prefer to wait until the end, that's OK, too.

If you decide to wait until the piece is finished to applaud, but you're not sure when that is, watch the conductor. During an internal pause, he or she will keep the baton raised and hands in front, waiting for the orchestra to be ready for the next movement. When the whole piece is finished, the conductor will lower his or her hands and turn around to face the audience.

Then, let the applause begin!

Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she's not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at

Upcoming events:

  • June 24: 9 a.m. – Yoga and Classical Music (in Strings Park)
  • June 24:  7 p.m. – Opening Night Orchestra (classical)
  • June 27: 11 a.m. – Princess Fearless Trio (youth)
  •  June 28: 9 a.m. – Yoga and Classical Music (in Strings Park)
  • June 28: 7 p.m. – A Night in Prague (Czech chamber music)
  • June 29: 12:15 p.m. – Music on the Green: Kamila Quartet (free at the Yampa River Botanic Park)
  • June 29: 7 p.m. – Musical Talk: Mark Gould (free at Bud Werner Memorial Library)
  • June 30: 5 p.m. – Kamila Quartet at Butcherknife Brewing Company (free)
  • July 1: 5:30 p.m. – Celebrate America Barbeque (in Strings Park)
  • July 1:  7pm – Celebrate America! (classical)
  • July 2:  8pm – Brent Rowan & Tanya Tucker (country)

Tickets available at 970-879-5056 and