Confessions of a first-time classical concert goer: before the performance

Monday, September 23, 2019 - 09:02

Ramatoulie Bobb, a member of staff here at Southbank Centre, loves the arts, but has never been to a classical concert before. That’s about to change. In this blog she discusses what’s kept her away, and her expectations ahead of her first visit to a classical concert, this autumn.

The arts have long been a steady fixture in my life, starting with fiction before eventually branching out into theatre, film, poetry and music. Each new encounter has left me changed in some way, whether it’s refining my tastes in a specific artform, or connecting with a piece of work so much it felt as though it was speaking directly to me. However, for all my exploring and endless curiosity I’ve never been to a classical music concert before; a fact which surprises even me

Of all my artistic interests music has probably had the most presence. It’s been there throughout highs and lows, ever present in the background as if scoring each new phase of my life. I grew up, like many people my age, taking in anything and everything that MTV and Top of the Pops had to offer, as well as the dramatic love ballads my mum would play around the house. As I got older and began to explore new types of music I fumbled through different genres, a sprinkling of rock, pop, R&B, rap; even French rap and K-Pop! 

It took me a while to attend my first gig, largely because my favourite songs and artists had become very precious to me, and I couldn't imagine feeling the rush of excitement and emotion in a room full of strangers. I was wrong. There was something even more precious about music when shared with friends and strangers alike. I loved the electric atmosphere that came from everyone bringing something to the show, whether it was their own personal stories that they poured into singing along; my own questionable dance moves, or the talented artists that had brought us all together. 

Chineke! Orchestra

Why have I never been to a concert?

Writing this blog, I realise this is the first time I’ve ever asked myself this question. And the answer is more complex than I expected.

There is a small concern that I won’t ‘fit in’ (I am curious to see the range of ages in the audience – it would be good to see some other young concertgoers). But for me, it’s really about the music, and how I might, or might not, relate to it.

I listen to different kinds of music, but it never crossed my mind that I could have a similar kind of emotional connection to ‘classical’ music. There is a part of me that wonders, what even is ‘classical’ music? I listen to film scores, and enjoy music by composers and performers such as Karim Kamar and Yirihama; do they find a home under the classical umbrella? These questions make me feel on an unsure footing before I have even stepped foot into the concert hall. Play me any other piece of music and I could probably tell you the genre and subgenre; classical music on the other hand is still very much a mystery.


When I go to the theatre, I feel confident that I have the language to discuss what I’ve seen and heard, but what will I say when I come to talking about what I’ve heard at a concert?

It is, of course, daunting to move outside your comfort zone. Whilst I love the communal joy that I experience at a gig – listening to music I know and love alongside other people who feel the same – I am worried that I won’t know how to react to classical music, and that I will be shown up alongside more knowledgeable audience members. When I go to the theatre, I feel confident that I have the language to discuss what I’ve seen and heard, but what will I say - and how will I say it - when I come to talking about what I’ve heard at a concert?

A big part of why I’ve never been to a concert is simply because no one has ever asked me to come along. Classical music has been quite invisible to me; none of my friends, teachers and family have recommended it to me, or ever mentioned that it was a ‘thing’. At school, I had an inspirational drama teacher (this is a big part of why I’m now an avid theatregoer), but my music education was less dynamic. Classical music just wasn’t on the radar. 


What I’m expecting 

I’m approaching my first concert with a sense of curiosity. There’s a fear that I might not like it, that I won’t feel that shared emotional energy in the room but equally I’m hoping that I’ll discover yet another art form to explore, and I’m more than willing to give it a few tries.

I expect there will be a sense of grandeur to it, and some unspoken rules that might not come to me naturally; when do I clap? Can I give a standing ovation? Do I need to dress a bit fancy? There may be etiquette that I struggle to get to grips with, and  no one wants to be the odd one out - certainly not me. However I’m hoping that it will be a learning experience, and yet another space I can mould into my own. 


Ramatoulie attended not one, but three classical concerts within our 2019/20 classical season. Did she enjoy it? Did she clap in the right place?

read about Ramatoulie's concert experience



There are 50,000 seats available for £15 or under to hear classical music at Southbank Centre this season, including many free events. Under 30? Sign up now to our under-30s scheme to get one free ticket and regular £10 tickets to Southbank Centre events

find out more