Alone Yet Together: The Shared Experience of Live Performance

I’ve been going to live classical music concerts since I was a little girl – and not just professional concerts, but also amateur performances when my dad (a clarinettist) played in a local amateur orchestra. As keen music-lovers, my parents took me to all sorts of performances – big orchestral performances at Birmingham Old Town Hall (the former home of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), chamber music, opera and choral concerts in churches. I quickly grew to love the “special occasion” nature of going to a live concert and enjoyed the rituals and etiquette (even if I found some of the music over-long or boring on occasion!).

Audience attending a classical music concert

Going to concerts with other people can be a very special shared experience. There is the pleasure of meeting beforehand, perhaps for a drink in the venue’s bar, purchasing a programme, easing oneself into plush seats and enjoying the hum of anticipation before the performers come on stage. Then there is the interval when one can chat about the first half and enthuse with friends before the music begins again.

When I started reviewing concerts in 2011, I tended to go alone, unless a friend or two happened to be at the same performance. At first I felt slightly awkward, sitting alone in the bar beforehand, a glass of wine in hand, reading the programme… but gradually I came to enjoy the experience of attending on my own, and now I actively relish it.

Attending a concert can be a powerful, shared experience that transcends the boundaries of individuality, regardless of the genre of music being performed. While the idea of going to a concert alone might seem daunting to some, there is undoubtedly positivity in the shared atmosphere of live music. Whether you’re surrounded by a sea of familiar faces or standing alone in a crowd, the concert space creates a special sense of community, connecting individuals through the universal language of music.

George Frideric Handel: Jephtha, HWV 70 – Act III: Waft her, Angels, through the skies (Ian Bostridge, tenor; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Harry Bicket, cond.)

Perhaps one of the most tangible aspects of this shared experience is the palpable sense of communal energy. The collective anticipation, excitement, and emotions create a shared atmosphere that unites the audience. As the house lights dim, an expectant hush pervades the concert space as the audience anticipate the arrival of the artist or artists. In such an environment, it becomes less about being alone and more about being part of a larger, unified whole.

Regardless of whether you attend a concert alone or with friends, the music itself becomes the common thread that binds everyone together. In a crowd of strangers, the shared appreciation for the artist’s craft creates an unspoken connection, fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among concert goers. I love those moments when it seems that the entire audience is listening intently, as if with one, collective ear. Or the sense that the audience is holding its collective breath, so engaged are they with the performance. And then, at the end, a joint exhalation as the audience relaxes, anticipating the applause.

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 – II. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile (Igor Levit, piano)
concert hall with musicians on stage

Attending a concert on your own offers an opportunity for personal freedom and self-discovery. Free from the expectations of others – the obligation, perhaps, to express your opinion of the performance during an interval chat – when attending a concert alone, you can fully immerse yourself in the music, allowing it to resonate with you personally. You can choose to listen intently or allow your mind to wander. The solitude within the crowd provides a space for self-reflection, and an opportunity to experience the music in a way that is entirely your own.

Thus, attending a concert alone is not an act of isolation; rather, it is an opportunity to experience the communal tapestry of music. Even if you never speak to a fellow audience member, there is something very special about experiencing music together. This is because the unifying power of live performance goes beyond individuality, creating an environment where strangers become companions in a collective journey of musical expression and a celebration of shared experiences.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), K. 492 – Overture (Philharmonia Orchestra; Carlo Maria Giulini, cond.)

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