There have been some great discussions at our Lean Music meetings on the topic of clapping during classical music concerts, and it has always been strange to me that it is not a larger topic in the classical music world. Now with a string of articles being posted, the best of which coming from John Terauds on his stellar Musical Toronto blog, the topic has gained mainstream exposure.
One of the points I always come back to, and that Mr. Terauds alludes to, is that the need to withhold applause is simply a construct of the 19th century. It was also at this time that music began to take on a feel of religiosity (which incidentally has led to the disconnect we have today). Before this, audiences were quite open about how they felt about new compositions.
I’m not sure where I stand on the issue of ‘to clap or not to clap’. It was exhilarating when I attended ‘Beethoven and your Brain’ at Koerner Hall two years ago, to have Edwin Outwater encourage the audience to clap when Beethoven’s 5th Symphony famously moves to a glorious C Major – it felt fresh and exciting. But we were still being told to do it, it wasn’t spontaneous. And there are times when you really do need to be quiet for the music to have the right effect.
More importantly I find is the need to be open about how we feel towards new pieces. What happened to the boos and the riots when audiences were horrified by what they heard? Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is famous for having caused a riot in Paris, though this was also part of a larger social structure conflict. People would walk out in hordes if a piece was really not to their liking.
Our society is a polite one, perhaps overtly so. I’m not saying we should riot, pillage and plunder, look what happened after the Canucks did not take the Stanley Cup. But what was telling in that situation was how passionate fans can be about hockey, whereas classical music fans are stuck in this culture of needing to be always polite, supportive, and to save what we really thought of pieces for snide remarks behind the backs of those we just congratulated.
It’s not just music, our society seems to do this for everything, and to me it’s a telltale sign of a lack of passion. Clap, boo – let’s at least try and get out of our shells a little bit.