09 July 2005

Applausible Case for Clapping

Maybe I should've been more kind to the "heavy breather" behind me in the concert on Wednesday night. Maybe he was moved by the music and was trying to express his feelings by loudly exhaling between movements...Maybe he was clapping on the inside.

One of the glaring qualms I have with classical concerts is that the audience, governed by some unspoken rule, is only supposed to applaud only at the end of an entire work. If someone dare clap between movements, he/she gets stared at and ridiculed mostly by people who are too pretentious for their own good or would never start clapping on their own, but only after they've heard a good few people already start, dare they be "the lone clapper". I, on the other hand, enjoy being the "clap-starter".

I personally think that we should clap when we want. In jazz, after a soloist shows what she's made of, the audience shows some love. Likewise, at a U2 concert, when "With or Without You" emerges from a sea of sonority, the crowd goes wild at the first hearing of that sexy bassline.

Why not in classical music? After a groovy cadenza in a Beethoven concerto, why not clap? It wouldn't really bother the soloist because the orchestra comes in afterwards anyway. Although this is rad idea, let's be honest, I might even be too intimidated to do this. But, maybe I'll still try to bring back applause between movements. Even in (Clara) Schumann's day, an intelligent audience would recognize the creative genius of the composer by clapping when the music really spoke to them instead of drawing their claws in preparation for the unsuspecting clapper who is merely following his/her heart.

I say bring it back. Clap on, clap off. Eric Clapton. Wear your baseball clap. Total eclapse of the heart.

Here's what New Yorker music critic Alex Ross says about the situation:

Concert-hall managements often insert little etiquette codes in their programs. As Richard Taruskin sardonically notes in his new history of music, the most familiar of these litanies takes the form of Biblical commandments on the order of "Thou shalt not...," accentuating the fake churchiness of the ritual. Some organizations, thankfully, are starting to send a different message. Here's what the Houston Symphony says in response to the question "Is it proper to applaud between movements?":

As music in the schools wanes and technology and popular culture become ever more engulfing, symphony orchestras are trying to attract the widest possible audiences to classical music to ensure we have music-lovers for the future. Therefore, today's audiences consist of young and old, novice and experienced listeners, first-time visitors to Jones Hall and subscribers who have been with us for decades. While we believe in presenting the best possible musical experience, we also want to encourage spontaneity and comfort. Applause between movements can be seen as an encouraging sign of new and enthusiastic additions to the classical music fold.

Notice that the Houston Symphony stops short of endorsing applause between movements. Instead, it gently implies that experienced listeners might want to think twice before going ballistic on the issue. Wouldn't it make more sense to be happy that new people are in the hall? Perhaps be friendly to them if they're sitting next to you, instead of scowling?


At 2:16 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I think if a movement has a loud ending, it would be cool for everybody to clap. And yeah, it'd also be cool to clap after really kickin' solos. Problem is, somehow everybody'd need to find out the clapping rules had changed at the same time, because as long as there's anyone who thinks it's taboo, I'll have to sneer at the offending applauders over my shoulder, cuz that's what I do.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Sophia said...

Hey Sarah,

I think if we change the clapping rules, it again brings another unnecessary formality to the classical music arena, even in an attempt to make it more accepting...I liked the Houston Symphony's encouragement of "spontaniety and comfort". They neither shunned clapping nor discouraged it between movements.

I will admit, the biggest problem with the few lone clappers is that when they function in small numbers, they always gets shafted. It's gotta be at least 25% of the audience, or else the few are embarrassed and get stared at (by people like you! - stop sneering at them! :)). But, if the lone clappers want to applaud, I say, "go for it". It's sort of like people laughing when they want in the middle of a movie at the theater...


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