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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).

Applause is can be so mandatory that doing it in between ever movement seems stilted and overdone. If it were an explosion of joy (like in jazz) I wouldn't have a problem.
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I would rather listen to the music than some yokel's idiotic clapping. If I had my way, such clappers would get a sharp sting to the temple with a metal rod.

Still, I guess if I were the puffball Alex Ross, I would enjoy all the inappropriate clapping and flatulence because I would be thinking that it must be secretly meant for me.
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As a composer who's had pieces recorded live, it can really suck to have a very quiet moment of the music stifled by somebody clapping their butt off because they think the piece is done. That said, if after a movement of my work, the hall busts out with applause, I'm not exactly upset by it. :-p
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Just put in "applaud now" lights, like every sitcom/talkshow studio has since the 70's.

That or a sign at the entrance that says "Please remove stick from butt before entering".
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As a symphony musician, I think I would enjoy applause when the listener feels it. If they enjoyed a particular solo passage, they should hoot and holler. I'm being serious, it would relieve some of the enormous pressure I feel.
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I was taught at a very young age that one should never applaud until the conductor lowers his arms. These days people are so rude that they talk, laugh, chat on the phone while the symphony is still playing.
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the lancaster symphony did a mozart concert where they all dressed in period costumes...and at the start, the conductor explained that in mozart's time, it was common and pretty much expected that there would be applause between movements and even during the course of a movement so feel free to applaud whenever you want...sure enough there was some, kind of slightly embarrassed, clapping between movements that grew more relaxed as the concert went on...it was refreshing that the "clap scolds" had to hold their tongues for once
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People didn't wash much in those days either, and toilet paper was a rag on a stick or leaves. If we are going to go down the "this is the way it was and should be" road, let's go all the way.
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I agree with Alex Ross & Co. The rigidity of all the (made-up) rules about when to clap and when not to defeat the purpose. Of course one shouldn't clap in the MIDDLE of a movement, but as long as the performers aren't in middle of playing, one should clap when one feels moved to do so by the performance. It reminds me of all the (also made up) silly rules about when and how much to tip. One should tip because one got great service, and in an amount that reflects how great it was. Not because one feels compelled to by some "rule" made up by god knows which self-appointed horse's a$$.
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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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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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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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