Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hold your applause

So it's time once again for the Proms - the extended classical concert series held every year in London - something I've long wanted to attend but have not yet had the chance. I did, however, stumble across an article on the BBC website which speaks to a pet peeve of mine: inappropriate applause (and noise in general) during classical concerts.

Why do people insist on clapping so soon? I can guarantee that the piece you've just heard was not written to be one of those trite, commercial rock anthems wherein every major US city is named to the delight of the crowd (well, ok, unless it was one of Mozart's later works). I can hear Debussy's La Mer, or Elgar's Enigma Variations, or even Stravinsky or Shostakovich or Beethoven; I can picture in my head the moving, pained triumph of The Firebird or the sweet lyricism of the Pastoral Symphony; I can remember being on stage and throwing my heart and soul into the Russian Easter Overture and Carmina Burana. These are some of my happiest memories, but it is the music - and solely the music - which I perceive. I do not remember how people applauded at the end, whether there was a standing ovation, or if anyone shouted. In fact, the concert hall could have been empty.
But I also remember the few times I was unfortunate enough to hear inappropriate noise. These memories stick with me, and in them I do not hear the music, though I wish to. Instead of the Boston Pops performance, I hear incessantly rustling pants; I hear whispers about whether or not the theater staff intend to move the piano off the stage after the concert; and I hear those few, loud claps, that start out forceful and then grow hushed in embarrassment until the sound of them is overpowered by the uncomfortable creaking of the performers shifting in their chairs, the clapping that begins before the musicians had even lowered their instruments, between the first, rollicking movement and the second, sorrowful one. I hate those memories. The entire performance was ruined by someone who didn't know any better. Even being aware of this naivete does not improve my mood on the subject.
Perhaps I am too selfish. I could stand to be more gracious, I'm certain of that. But, both as a performer and as an observer, noise at an inappropriate time during a concert is not only jarring, it is completely disrupting, and not just for those who are trying to enjoy the music, but for my memory formation as well. I will forever be left with one memory of the performance, and it is either a beautiful memory of the music itself, or an ugly memory of noise.
Personally, I prefer the music.


  1. Kelly, I know how you feel about this. But at the same time, people who are new to this will get to know when. I have to be paitent.

  2. I realize that often one learns by observing; you discover that you shouldn't clap between movements when you're at a concert and no one around you is applauding. However, that doesn't change my experience of it, and that's part of the problem. I know that I shouldn't be upset at someone who didn't know better, but I am nonetheless. Shame on me.


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