Music Teacher's Helper Blog

To Applaud or not To Applaud, that is the question.

Originally posted on my solo performance website blog, I ran across more information on this today (see UPDATE at the bottom of the page) & thought I’d pass my posting on to my MTH colleagues.  What do YOU think about applause at concerts?

Over the past several weeks I have asked my colleagues in person and via Facebook and Twitter: “During the Symphony for the Schools concert this morning at the beginning the kids applauded at 4-5 places during “Ride of the Valkyries” (1st piece). They were naturally applauding high points in the music. It made me start wondering. But, by the end, they weren’t applauding but were sitting restlessly. SHOULD we be so sure of ourselves & the importance of our presentation that we don’t allow the audience to participate in one of the only acceptable ways they have – applause? I’d LOVE to continue this conversation. I know I hate not being able to hear all the nuances of the music, but are we helping put the elitist label on classical music by proscribing when audiences can submit their input on the performance?”

Here is my Facebook Summary of responses:

“It’s always been weird but like with a cycle or set applause between each song would be tedious and also be distracting to the performer. So we hold off.”

“What if they want to applaud while you’re singing, like on American Idol or Sabado Gigante?”

“Yeah that’s annoying. I hate when you can’t hear them singing.”

“Amen!”

My Twitter responses:

“Mixed feelings — don’t want to impose rules/restrictions that will turn off new audiences. Sometimes that silence is golden.  I guess they need to know it’s okay to be stunned to shout (Bravo) and stunned to silence.  Yes?”

“Just wanted to totally agree with you!”

“It’s a silly custom isn’t it? Last Sat after huge standing ova I said to audience, “hope someone does that for u someday”  This custom seems to have been promoted by the non-musician. Don’t you agree.”

“Good question! I read that it was a 19thC trend relating to “Kunstreligion” – not applauding = adoration/respect. it sure doesn’t help. in Mozart’s time people applauded indiv. mvmts and asked for encores!!  absolutely. we need a balance between spontaneity and actually interrupting the performance …”

“But in pop music, people just sing, no problems. Abt. singing anthem in tune, etc., was it any different in past generations?”

My voice teacher‘s gut reaction is that if there is too much applause then the integrity of the performance will be lost – a lot of the musical contrasts (loud®soft) will be lost, as well as the rhythmic integrity of the music.  Possibly, the crowd could get unruly as at a football game – during speeches hecklers are thrown out because they are disturbing the ability of fellow audience members to hear.  There is no difference, to her, with “extraneous” (my words) applause.  She concedes my point that it IS a bit of a stifling of immediate reaction, but that is NOW the tradition and should be upheld.

Emanuel Ax has 2 blog postings on the subject “When to Applaud” and “A Few More Thoughts on Applause.”

Stephen Hough also has a recent article that he wrote, entitled “Clap between movements?  PLEASE!

I don’t know.  I’m of two minds – as a performer I want the immediate feedback, but I also want to be able to know that my performing subtleties will be heard.  What do you think?  What is YOUR opinion?  Let me know.

Thanks!

UPDATE 6/29/09: Zack Hayhurst, in his blog “Artistic Discourse” tackled this subject today in his posting “Please hold your applause…until you feel compelled to do so.” His posting includes several other links to sites where you can find useful information.  Enjoy!

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

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6 Comments

  1. Leah Couts

    Wow, what a great blog! There have been times when even at the end of a piece, the atmosphere created meant that no-one wanted to break that moment, and no applause was given at all – that showed great respect to what the performers had created.

    I honestly think it depends on the music – if at the end of a movement, a great climax was reached and it ended with gusto, then the natural reaction is to applaud. I don’t think it is okay to clap during a movement or piece like they do in Idol, for example, because I feel it is like interrupting a conversation, or talking over someone, and yes, the music will be lost.

    In opera, after an aria, there is applause, and the action just waits until it dies down – the characters are not broken, and the plot isn’t disturbed for too long, and I think this could be the same for between movements. Part of being a performer is not allowing such moments to break concentration, and it is surely a great feeling to know your music is being appreciated.

  2. Leah Couts

    oh, one more thing, that is sort of relevant, does anyone know where the silly tradition of walking off and back on two or three times to receive more applause at the end of a performance came from? It seems pompous to me, and I just laugh at them inside every time.

  3. Ian

    Leah, surely the tradition arose when audiences demanded that the performers return. Sometimes, it’s true, performers give mock extra curtain calls simply for their own sake, but I have been part of audiences that simply demanded more time to show their appreciation…and perhaps get another tune or two from the performer.

  4. Rachel Velarde

    I am leaning more and more to the ALLOW the applause whenever and wherever it happens. Greg Sandow just wrote in his blog (www.artsjournal.com/sandow) about a project of the National Orchestra Institute concert where the young students took full control of the audience experience and innovated new ways to interact with the audience. The result was an engaged and participating audience – so EVERYONE was actively involved in the music experience. His full posting is here: http://www.artsjournal.com/sandow/2009/06/noi_liftoff.html.
    I think that this is the kind of thing we need to do to energize the classical community, especially. If we proscribe when to applaud, etc, then we are almost making the concert experience like that of television – we just view passively, instead of being actively engaged in music. What’s SO exciting about music is that it CAN and DOES cause a physical reaction within the body (see Evelyn Glennie you YouTube – she’s a profoundly deaf percussionist who FEELS the sound waves with her whole body, since her ears don’t work). Shouldn’t music move us to take action, even if just applause??
    Keep the comments coming – I LOVE an active discussion.

  5. […] Ax’s Official Blog I found this blog while looking into my question on how applause is seen in current performance practice.He posts very infrequently, but has brought […]

  6. Weekly Gathering | Ian Sidden

    […] Rachel Velarde’s article at Music Teacher’s Helper on Applauding Guidelines: “To Applaud or Not to Applaud, that is the Question” […]

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