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The Changing Etiquette of Applauding During Concerts

American music critic Alex Ross recently presented a Royal Philharmonic Society lecture in which he addressed the etiquette of applauding (or not) during symphony concerts.
“In the eighteenth century listeners often burst into applause while the music was playing, much as patrons in jazz clubs do today.  The practice seems to have died out in the course of the nineteenth century, although audiences almost always applauded after movements of large-scale works.  Then, in the early years of the twentieth century, the idea took root that one should remain resolutely silent throughout a multi-movement piece. By imposing such a code, we may inadvertently be confining the enormous and diverse expressive energies that are contained within the classics of the repertory. The work itself should dictate our behaviour, not some hard-and-fast code of etiquette.”

He notes that many classical composers actually expected applause during the course of a concert, and he is supportive of patrons (especially "newbies" at symphonies) who applaud at "incorrect" times, directing his criticism instead at those who "shush" the newcomers.
People who applaud in the “wrong place”— usually the right place, in terms of the composer’s intentions— are presumably not in the habit of attending concerts regularly. They may well be attending for the first time. Having been hissed at, they may never attend again. And let’s remember that shushing is itself noise. I often hear “Shhhh!” from another part of the hall without having heard whatever minor disturbance elicited it. In an ironic twist, these self-appointed prefects of the parterre — or gods of the gods — have made themselves more of a nuisance than those whom they are righteously reprimanding. There is something dismaying about this narrow-eyed watchfulness on the part of connoisseurs and this fearfulness on the part of neophytes.

Link, via (whence the photo credit).

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It's that insular arguments felixthecat and others make, some of the ones I hear from my university with professors so self-sanctimonious one what THEIR always narrowing interpretation of the status quo should be with audience and music, that drives people to think "elitism" and also drives smaller and smaller attendance while drying up people wanting to attend and support classical music. It's an odd, very lemming-to-the-cliff mentality because the eventual outcome of not embracing changes will result in a died out music form nobody will get to enjoy, simply because some people's conservative cluelessness of "in my day..." got in the way of the fact the world is always changing, change or die in fact, so die it will.

Had a chance to attend some very contemporary, if not avant garde, pieces by the Elements Quartet, a string group. The audience, partly purists and partly people who hadn't really been to such a performance, and some of the pieces were bordering on acrobatic, and the audience responded very accordingly. The first time they did the group shot glances into the audience, not ones of horror or disgust, but astonishment and surprise. Soon, movement by movement, piece by piece, the audience excepting the purists would be moved more, and the quartet would, like at perhaps a rock or jazz concert, eat it up and play more to the crowd, it was energizing them, it became more interactive. Soon some of the purists in the audience included ones I was acquainted with, gave in to the music and the vibe in the room and too would burst into applause at the right moments where a piece would rocket to a virtuosic crescendo then break off maybe leaving one not hanging, the group now smiling in appreciation at their power from the stage and the power of the music. It was pure magic that night.

At a reception after the concert I talked to a couple of the, VERY classically trained and engrained in the usual tight stuffy uppity etiquette and they said they were thrilled by it. They didn't mind at all and only made them raise the bar of their performance because they were engaged.

Engaged... what music should be about, in fact, the birthplaces of music in Africa it was all about being moved TO music and letting oneself go free. How weird that some western society has dictated that music now should mean locking one's emotions in a cage, talk about puritanical.

Shame some purists clearly don't get what music is in fact truly about and need to pull that log out of their ass. It's like linguists trying to stop languages from evolving, which they all do, if they don't, they die out.
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Applause helps to create a relationship between musician and listener. However, music performed acoustically (lacking artificial amplification, as with chamber music) requires some restriction of audience participation in order to remain audible. For that purpose, it is a matter of common courtesy.
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And what about the inappropriate standing ovation?

A standing O should be reserved for the very best performances; the kind that make you want to leap to your feet.

Just because someone is giving me a dirty look for not standing, doesn't mean that I should feel obliged to give a standing ovation for a mediocre performance.
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