Applause & Pretentiousness Survey: Detailed Results

Although the survey is still open, I created a cutoff point at 3:30p.m. CT in order to tabulate the responses…

As mentioned in yesterday’s article, I think the results are fairly interesting along the lines of how respondents identified themselves as managers, musicians, board members, or listeners.

One of the most notable results was that not a single respondent identified themselves as a board member and there was a noticeable prevalence of respondents that identified themselves as musicians. However, this isn’t a large surprise since the survey link was published on a few discussion boards and websites that are popular with mostly musicians. The chart below illustrates the overall breakdown between how respondents identified themselves.

Cumulative Results
In general, respondents favored a more liberal point of view in favor of applause between movements, especially when indicated by the conductor. Almost 2/3 of respondents think the current atmosphere at most orchestra concerts is too pretentious, as illustrated in the chart below.

How Managers Responded
Among all of the respondent groups, managers were the most liberal, although not always by a large percentage. Although a clear majority of managers prefer to place the burden of indicating when it is and is not acceptable to applaud on the shoulders of the conductor, a sizeable percentage still feel that proactive measures are justified when it comes to letting patrons know that it is acceptable to applaud between movements.

With more than four out of five managerial respondents feeling that most concerts are too pretentious, I’m surprised there isn’t more of an overall effort to change the atmosphere among many organizations. Although I was expecting more managers than not to respond this way, I didn’t think there would be such a large disparity, as illustrated in the chart below.

How Musicians Responded
Nearly the same percentage of musicians sided with managers on the issue of finding it acceptable to applaud between movements if the conductor takes responsibility for guiding the audience. However, musicians were nearly spilt 50/50 when it came to the issue of whether or not orchestras should expend some effort to let patrons know it is acceptable to applaud between movements.

With regard to pretentiousness, nearly 2/3 of musicians feel the atmosphere for most concerts could lighten up. Although this wasn’t as large of a majority as managers, it is still just enough to say it is a mainstream opinion, as illustrated in the chart below.

How Listeners Responded
By far, the most conservative respondents were listeners. Only 16% were in favor of applauding between movements if indicated by the conductor. Conversely, more than half feel that orchestras should not encourage listeners to applaud between movements. After reading Christopher Guerin’s comment from last Friday, that attitude hasn’t changed much in the past decade.

Unquestionably, the most conservative of all responses resulted from the final question; listeners don’t think the concert atmosphere is too pretentious. Although I’m not terribly surprised by this fact (after all, core listeners are always eager to complain when organizations experiment with changes) I am intrigued by the large difference between how listeners and managers/musicians feel about the issue, as illustrated in the chart below.

Clearly, those who present and create classical music feel things need to change, yet those who consume it feel otherwise. I would be interested to know even more about the respondents who identified themselves listeners. Are these people mostly veteran concert-goers or are they also infrequent listeners?

Knowing whether or not that distinction would result in contrary results would be quite useful. At the same time, I think a number of orchestras know that there’s a distinct difference between how veteran and new listeners interpret the concert atmosphere. Nevertheless, I think it would be intriguing if some managers out there shared their research and personal experience on the issue.

Regardless Of What You Decide, Stick With It
Long time Adaptistration reader, Janet Shapiro of Brandenburg Productions, Inc. sent in a truly entertaining story about how one conductor decided to deal with the issue of rampant applause between movements. If nothing else, it is a good reminder that practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.

Background: [my company] produced a TV broadcast of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s celebration of its 50th anniversary. We interviewed a number of players who’d been with the symphony for most or all of its years. One of the players told the following story (alas, my transcripts are somewhere in file purgatory, so I’m not sure who the player was):

Henry Sopkin, the original conductor of the ASO, got very annoyed at audiences during performance’s of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony, because they (like many other audiences) would spontaneously burst into applause after the rousing third movement, and but applause would be much more tepid at the end of the entire piece. When he took the orchestra on tour to the smaller cities of Georgia he actually REVERSED the playing order of the third and fourth movements, so that the performance would end with the rousing third movement, and the orchestra would get the accolades he felt it deserved.

At the end of a tour, when he and the ASO performed the piece in Atlanta in front of what he felt was a more sophisticated audience, he realized that such rearranging would not be acceptable, and the orchestra played the piece in the correct order. As always, after the third movement, the audience burst into applause. At that point, forgetting where he was and thinking the piece was over, Sopkin turned around, took a major bow, and left the stage.

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.

Related Posts

6 thoughts on “Applause & Pretentiousness Survey: Detailed Results”

  1. It’s all Tchaikovsky’s fault. And Beethoven’s, too, in some of his piano sonatas, where a dramatic break occurs and, suddenly, the people are jumping out of their seats: trained seals, just programmed to leap when the sound “stops.”
    Heigh ho, just add me into the conservative group of music lovers who wants to savour the experience for just a few seconds after the piece ends. The alternative to all the clappiness is to stay at home and listen in the peace and quiet of your living room, where you are free to contemplate the meaning of what you have just heard.

    (Oh, by the way, I confess that I am one of those enthusiastic folk who has jumped up and yelled with joy at the climatic ending of a well-played masterpiece. But, I do, always, wait for the piece to end at its real ending!)

  2. “With more than four out of five managerial respondents feeling that most concerts are too pretentious, I’m surprised there isn’t more of an overall effort to change the atmosphere among many organizations.”

    I think the numbers for Listeners pretty much answer this question. Managers are under pressure to keep the audience happy, and the current audience wants pretentiousness. Retaining the people you have is easier than acquiring new ones, and de-pretentifying the concert experience risks alienating established patrons and might not bring in new blood, or enough new blood. Management has its hands tied by its constituents, or at least believes it does.

  3. It was great both to do the survey and see the survey results. I would hope it is the start of something though, only because the survey essentially served one audience, this web site’s. I don’t believe we are in a national or global business, as each community is in a sense it’s own arts world. Where for one city it’s the art gallery that is the focal point and for another it’s the opera company or the orchestra, the audience in one city might be completely different to another, so this survey would be best served by being repeated in different communities, and even in different kinds of performances. I believe that there should always be a thought of who we are actually performing rather than looking to another orchestra or performer to emulate. Ideas are always welcome, but an audience survey will give you a way forward which is better than, “why don’t we try this, it worked in Topeka”, unless you are in Topeka! It is about finding who your audience is, not what another orchestra does. Since applause on the whole is something spontaneous, I let them go for it and don’t encourage or discourage it, because a genuine response is the most fulfilling one anyway. By the way not to toot our horn here in Springfield, but since doing an audience survey on repertoire 2 years ago, I have been programming one work that was popular in the survey at each concert. We are up 55% on season ticket sales (with a nearly 90% renewal rate) and 60% on attendance. We did the survey because there was a disagreement over the way forward…there isn’t now! Next time I will include something on applause also.

  4. “…the current audience wants pretentiousness. Retaining the people you have is easier than acquiring new ones, and de-pretentifying the concert experience risks alienating established patrons…” I’m not really a patron; more of an occasional attendee. I’m also a (non-orchestral) musician…but, I don’t think anyone WANTS pretentiousness. I certainly don’t. But I’m also in the group that likes things the way they are. If current listeners don’t see the need for change, it’s more likely because they don’t feel that the experience in and of itself is pretentious at all. If I did think it was pretentious, I would want to change it. Some people’s ideas about radically relaxing concert etiquette actually seem more pretentious to me than the current situation, but I’m surely in the minority.

  5. It’s only natural that people who regularly attend orchestra concerts would not find them pretentious; if they did, they wouldn’t be attending. It would be interesting though to ask a similar survery at a jazz club or even at an art museum or other non-musical cultural event. Or ask people under 30. I suspect the numbers would be quite different

Leave a Comment