13. June 2008 · 6 comments · Categories: Links, Ramble

I’ve been at concerts where one audience member applauds before that wonderful silence that follows an incredibly moving performance. It’s distressing, but of course not all that surprising. Some people are so uncomfortable with silence they can’t allow it to happen. Others want to be sure they let the rest of the audience know the work is over. Or at least that’s how it feels. And others, perhaps, want the limelight.

Read this and tell me what you think.

Does a conductor have the right or responsibility to reprimand? Should the person be ignored? Are we ruining the rest of the audience’s experience if we on stage react negatively to something like this?

Recently orchestras are getting reprimanded by their bosses and audiences about their on stage behavior. Does it only go one way? I’ve recently read comments from audience members that say we shouldn’t have water on stage with us (Have they played oboe? I wonder.), nor should we have our bags with us (Have they ever had an instrument or reed go bonkers on them? I wonder.) We are supposed to look like we are having fun (Have they ever had an incredibly difficult solo that scares the pants off of them? I wonder.). I realize our appearance is important. I realize we can lose an audience if we don’t look like we care. I love what I do, and I smile when I can, but we are working. Some people forget that. I’m not sure I can get some people to comprehend what kind of concentration is involved in a concert. But whatever. That’s not my job, and if they don’t get it, they don’t get it.

Okay, maybe I’m too defensive. I do know we sometimes need reminders about how we look on stage. We are busy with the music. We forget how much the audience sees (and hears). Or … okay … at least I forget. I can’t speak for others, can I?

But the audience … sigh … we love our audiences … but some people can be so clueless. And yet we rely on them. Without an audience we’re pretty much sunk.

And I’m not sure about reprimanding a person … what good does it do? Did the guy even get it? I dunno.

Ramble, ramble ….


  1. As a high school student, the majority of my audiences are composed nearly entirely of parents and the few others are friends. The audiences tend not to be incredibly well educated and there are generally many people there who have little to no interest or understanding for the music at all; they’re just their to see their Johnny or Suzy play. These are people who aren’t at all comfortable where they are but feel a need to show off their support and love for their child and well… the timing isn’t always quite perfect. And as far as people being obsessed about how you look on stage, the thing about band moms is that they actually have the power to forbid the bringing of a bag on stage, to make sure everyone is wearing black stockings and one string of pearls and two inch heels (!!!) But I’m not actually contributing anything useful to what should be expected for a real orchestra. The thing about a school band is that the one stupid audience member has a much better chance of being one of the most important volunteers the program has or something like that. And I can’t immagine what would happen to us if we (the students) were to react angrilly to an audiences reaction. It is, of course, a different world.

  2. Well, this was an interesting post which raises several distinct issues.

    When I first read your post, I was a bit surprised, b/c I seem to recall you saying earlier that you don’t mind people applauding between movements and such b/c they are showing their enthusiasm and probably don’t know better. But after reading, the post of the other blogger (Sam), I understand the distinction he is making (which I presume you share) that the difference is between knowing better and not knowing better, and Sam felt pretty strongly that the rogue enthusiast was blatantly making an attempt to draw attention to himself.

    Well, I know I’m getting the facts as told through the eyes of Sam, and even so it’s not *quite* as clear to me as it was to him. I find it entirely believable that Sam’s interpretation is correct, but I also allow for the possibility that the audience member was A) very enthusiastic, and B) socially oblivious to the disapproval of those around him. Maybe he was trying to show off. Maybe he wasn’t.

    Furthermore, Sam seems to be quite confident about what was going through the mind of the conductor (Osmo). Now, Sam was there, and I was not. Maybe Sam is good friends with the conductor and spoke to him afterwards. Was Osmo upset simply because of the early applause? Was he upset because it was early applause *and* the audience member knew better *and* was trying to show up the performance?

    Okay, let’s assume that Sam’s reading of the situation is correct. Shame on the audience member. Not cool, indeed. (I, too, would like to savor the silence which follows such an ending.) What do I think of Osmo’s behavior? I don’t think he did anything “wrong”, but I think he could have handled himself better. Right or wrong, he has a job to hold himself to a higher standard than the man in the audience. A disapproving glare might have been better. It might not have been as strong of a statement, but if you are Osmo, you should not let the audience member have a greater influence than necessary. Don’t let him be the show. (Just as when the audience applauds between movements, you let it subside, and then you proceed as if nothing happened.) So while I sympathize with Osmo, I don’t think he handled himself as well as he could have.

    Now, back to the questions *you* raise. Water on the stage? Bags on the stage? I’ve never really noticed except in a few cases. (e.g., the soloist takes a swig of water and everyone waits until he’s ready.)

    Should it be a concern of the performers? Well, I mean, you don’t want to call attention to those things of course. As an audience member, I’ve never had a problem with performers having water or bags on stage. Everyone should really chill out. But for those who are unable or unwilling to chill out? Well, it’s the same as any other social situation. You try to make do. Give and take. Compromise. And in extreme cases, intervention. But in most cases (even for the audience member mentioned in Sam’s post), I don’t think there is anything to be done.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to address the student who said, “That was a really long song.”

    I think perhaps Sam oversimplifies that as well. Clearly this student was trying to draw attention to himself. Sam says the student knew better, and I think he’s right about that. But I don’t think the student necessarily understood what others experienced with the music. And as people often do, he denigrated that which he didn’t understand. And as kids often do, he felt like he would appear cooler for doing so. I don’t think he necessarily understood just how offensive his timing was, but I do think he knew better than to do what he did.

  4. Yes, SongMonk, I was only referring to a situation such as Sam describes. Applause between movements just happens sometimes. Whatever. (Although if people applaud after those quiet, gut wrenching, ending in silence movements I’m not exactly thrilled.)

    As distressed as I get by cell phones going off, I would never stand up and say something. I would never even shake my head on stage — or at least I sure wouldn’t want to! (Involuntarily reactions sometimes happen.) It’s just not what we do … at least so far. And I don’t think we should punish audience members, whether or not they “punish” us. It doesn’t work that way. But I dunno. I’m not a “biggie” in the music world. I’ve played for some, and I’ve been shocked at what they will say to an audience. (One told the audience he wasn’t playing well because they were a bad and distracting audience. Another told the audience his performance wasn’t as good as it should have been because the arena was a horrible place. Another instructed the orchestra — out loud and in front of the audience — not to look at her while she sang.)

    What to do, what to do?

    Just pondering. There’s really no easy answer.

    And yes, sometimes people just don’t GET something. I watched a movie once that hit me in the gut so powerfully … and I loaned it to someone else who, when handing it back said, “I don’t understand why this moved you so much. Would you please explain?” I couldn’t. If she didn’t get it, she didn’t get it.

    Miriam … it IS different in a school band. I remember (vaguely) those days, and of course I attended concerts when my own kids were in band. I was still rather surprised at the audience … talking in full voice while a concert is going on baffles me. I think that it’s okay for a conductor to educate an audience a bit; if he/she says, “This piece has a few movements and because of the nature of it we really hope you can hold your applause until the very end, and that’s not until you hear all three movements!” … or some such thing … that’s okay. Audiences at schools aren’t offended by that, from all I’ve seen.

    Of course I’ve also been at concerts where people are so SCARED to applaud at the wrong time they don’t applaud at the end of the work until a conductor says something like, ‘That’s all, folks!” That’s pretty funny ….

  5. See, I can forgive the annoying applauder (malpplauder?) more readily than the cell-phone miscreant, personally. The possible motives of the malpplauder (other than self-aggrandizement) have already been noted, but there’s just no valid excuse for leaving a cell phone (or pager or whatever) on or not in silent mode when attending any sort of performance.

    Another reason I like doing shows: even when the pit area is visible to the audience, their attention (excepting overture and entr’acte, hopefully) will be on the stage. I mean, there are certainly limits to what one should bring on stage and how one should behave, but as long as things are reasonably subtle and not distracting I don’t see what the big deal is.

  6. In general, I’m of the opinion that it’s fine to show a little reckless enthusiasm after an especially rousing movement. In the symphonic literature, though, there are some points where it really does feel boorish.

    Think of that pause (“kurz”) after the 3rd movement of the Mahler 4th. A suspended moment that uses silence in exactly the right way to make the beginning of the 4th movement work. I’d hate to think of a “Bravo!” in that moment. And, of course, a really good conductor can use body language and gesture to indicate that the music is still in progress.

    In many other symphonies, we see the conductor step off the podium, perhaps some quick tuning is done, and some quiet murmering of the audience. So, an audience that’s had “rules” drummed into it might well be confused.

    One “applause trap” that I’d find near-impossible to fix if I was a conductor would be the next-to-last movement of the Tchaikovsky 6th. That march seems to cry out for applause and bravos. And yet the real drama is when that exuberance turns immediately to pathos in the last movement. Has anybody seen a good “conductor solution” to that one?

    A good friend of mine who’d been principle clarinet in a certain regional orchestra used to laugh about the conductor who actually encouraged lengthy applause between movements. On one concert, he got a lot of applause after one movement (I believe it was the Brahms 4th, 3rd movement). He stepped off the podium, took bows, smiled, took a couple more bows, then WALKED OFF THE STAGE. Apparently, he’d forgot there was still a 4th movement to play!