Sunday, 25 July 2010

Applause or otherwise?

At the Proms, some people clap between movements. Oddly that's a sign of success, proof that the Proms are reaching people who might not normally attend classical music concerts. Most people are used to pop, where almost nothing lasts more than 3 minutes, so the idea of a long recitative is alien. At any pause, they clap. I'm not going to shush or complain. Better that people should come, listen and experience. If they make a "mistake" it's not the end of the earth.

The real mistake is assuming that applause means any one thing. There's a lot more to applause than appreciation.  Sometimes it's sheer bewilderment. People need something to do when they're bored, which is why they smoke or check their phones constantly (as if the world will collapse because you've missed a call). So they clap when there's a gap. But applause interrupts the flow of a performance. The more interruptions, the more disjointed the performance. So more applause to combat ennui. A vicious cycle.

Because classical music carries connotations of class, it's a status symbol. If you can afford fancy seats, ergo, you're "cultured". Music becomes a consumer item you "own" because you've paid for it.  Some applause (and booing) has more to do with the patron having something to prove to the world. For some people, they themselves are the only show in town, so they think the world cares whether they show approval or not. It doesn't.

 "Let us remember that we exist for the music, not the other way round"

Reverse snobs are even worse. It's one thing for people to clap spontaneously, and innocently. But to actually advocate random clapping?  That's boorish.  It encourages people "not" to listen. It encourages instant conclusions instead of mature reflection. And it's intrusive and disrespectful to others.

Reverse snobs set out to destroy.  What is so wrong about music that it has to be brought down ? Why is wrong to simply listen and enjoy ? Why introduce TV Game Show values ? Although music is heard in public, each person is listening in a private way, processing what they hear into their souls.  Perhaps it's the Eternal Troll thing, "what I can't do, no-one else should".

Beware Pretty Plastic Pundits. Since they don't care about music or listen, they need to push the random applause idea in order to have something to say. Filling space, without substance.

But performance exists on its own terms. Performers have put thought into what they do, and they deserve respect, whether or not Seat 22 Row H likes it or not. Performers enjoy applause - everyone does - but when applause happens willy-nilly it's not appreciation but mechanical reaction. Better sincere clapping than ritual clapping and worst of all show-off clapping for its own sake.

Unthinking applause isn't a sin. It's wonderful when people respond to things sincerely. But inappropriate clapping is not a good idea. Bad habits turn into false "traditions" and become harder to eradicate.

It's pointless to suggest rules because these get in the way, adding unnecessary extra stress. The real purpose of performance is to listen. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But lots goes on in the mind while you're listening. So maybe the only "rule" is to listen, to engage fully with the performance even if it's a new experience. Respect for the music, and respect for others in the audience, who might be trying to listen without distraction. Applause becomes irrelevant when you're really listening. So think before clapping and listen instead. It's not that difficult.

Incidentally it's a fallacy that applause was acceptable in the past. Western music springs from two main cources : religious music and popular entertainment. Did people applaud and carry on with Schutz or Bach ? Of course not.

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