More On Applause

My Arts Journal blog neighbor, Doug Ramsey, posted a fascinating entry yesterday about a jazz musician, Bill Kirchner, who is experimenting with attempts to get his audience to cease-and-desist from applauding after solos. It’s all quite fascinating when you compare it to orchestra concerts; consequently, the topic would have made good fodder for an episode of “The Twilight Zone”…

Nevertheless, some of the discussion will ultimately come down to how artists relate with their audience. It’s akin to having a new dance partner but not being able to figure out who gets to lead. Should the audience behave how they wish or should the artists create an environment, complete with rules and regulations, which instructs patrons on how to experience the event?

For orchestra managers, the latter is a web which becomes tangled all too often, with results leading to an antiseptic, artificial concert environment. Just visit the website for your local orchestra and see if they have a first-timers guide, “how to prepare” or a FAQ section which “suggests” how you should experience the concert.

For example, the New York Philharmonic goes so far as to tell you how to dress,

Most people consider a concert by the New York Philharmonic to be a special event, and tend to dress for the occasion – in suits and ties, or “nice” dresses or pantsuits. Many people come to the concerts from work, and are dressed in professional business attire. Formal dress – evening gowns and tuxedos – are generally worn only to gala New York Philharmonic events, such as Opening Night or New Year’s Eve concerts.

Isn’t that nice? I guess I have to wear my Oxxford suit even I feel like wearing Levis. If you’re a real counter culture kind of person, you could opt for wearing an officially sanctioned “Kyle Gann” T-shirt (they make wonderful gifts and at only $19.99, they’re a bargain!). However, you should be fully prepared to answer for your transgressions if you walk into Lincoln Center dressed that way (maybe they could install confessionals in the lobby).

In Detroit, their website provides instructions on when to clap,

Please hold applause until the conductor faces the audience. Traditionally, applause is held until the end of a piece of music. Composers create a work as a whole, which is often made up of several movements. It is best not to disrupt the continuity of the music by applauding between movements.

Traditionally? How far back are we going in tradition? I believe my other AJ blog neighbor, Greg Sandow, had something to say about that several months ago.

Thankfully, the folks in Minneapolis have a little more lee way in how they can attend concerts. The Minnesota Orchestra website mentions nothing about when to applaud and only has the following snippet about attire,

Dress code is a personal preference. Many patrons feel comfortable in “business casual” attire.

As for me, I tend to wear whatever I like and applaud only if the performance is worth it. Since openly booing still awards me with a personal usher to watch my every move at intermission I’ve taken to another form of “civil disobedience”. If the performance was particularly poor, I’ll turn on my cell phone while everyone else is applauding and call someone to tell them just how bad the performance was (using my “outdoor” voice).

Hey, Craig, it’s Drew…I’m at the [orchestra name goes here] concert and I just heard [soloists name goes here] play the [composer’s name goes here] concerto… Nah, pure rubbish. The soloist was a half step sharp for most of the last movement and they clammed almost all of the opening arpeggios…No, the cadenza was rubbish too. But the clarinets were great, so were the trombones, and the conductor deserves a medal for keeping the ensemble with the soloists epileptic sense of time…Well, maybe the orchestra can cancel the soloists check before they cash it…

Although this doesn’t really make an impact on any of the performers, I am waiting for the time when a fellow patron will turn to me and sincerely ask some follow up questions (after all, I eavesdrop on other people’s cell phone conversations so I image they eavesdrop on mine).

What do you think? Post a comment and share your observations and/or experiences.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “More On Applause

  1. On 11/29 I attended a wonderful concert of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Maxim Venergov was the soloist and Kent Nagano the conductor. The crowd loves Venergov; there is an ability that he has — it used to be called “showmanship” in the 50’s and now is called “electric”. 2 things ticked me off. One, is the guy could not get through a whole piece — he played Concerto No. 4 in D Major — without a small group enthusiastically clapping between movememnts. Two, there is almost a competition for some exhuberent nut to yell bravo as close to the end of a piece as possible, many times cutting into the music.
    This, together with the time of the year, where during the andante cantabile, it sounds that we are in the sick ward of the Montreal General Hospital rather than the Place d’Art.

    Take care,

    Joe Nichols

  2. Folks, look – there are probably some old school performers out there who are shocked!!! shocked!! when someone applauds between movements. Me, I look forward to it. It shows me that my audience is engaged. It shows me that people are interested. It’s not something that has to happen, but when it does I don’t get all Midieval on people and turn around like some godforsaken school marm and give them a dirty look. Get over your bad selves – if people applaud they’re enjoying it.

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