Going to a swanky classical concert might be considered to be reserved for the most metropolitan of cities, like New York City. But all states still have classical concerts that allow people to get a little culture and a chance to dress like they would if watching the New York Philharmonic. While dress codes are another story in how they vary from city to city, do you really know the protocol on applauding at a classical concert? This has been in debate for a long time, and it’s one that might have to be blamed slightly on the musicians themselves.
The Tradition of Applause
The concept of applause has changed over the years to a point where most people aren’t afraid to applaud anything that moves them. At any other concert, we applaud when someone starts singing a familiar song, after an instrumental solo, or right in the middle of an intimate song. All of those are acceptable in other venues. But perhaps why some people jeer the classical musical scene is because protocol still exists there in waiting to applaud until the piece is actually over.
Is this really acceptable, or is it just a basic guideline that most people are starting to break today? To see where it might be wrong, you should look back to the earliest days of music when the word “snob” didn’t mean much yet.
Applauding in the Time of Mozart
Naxos.com points out in their own applause guide that 18th century audience members applauded in the middle of Mozart’s symphonies if they liked certain passages. Even Mozart himself loved this practice when he conducted his symphonies in various cities. If that’s true, how did it get lost along the way?
It seemed to happen in the traditions of other European and perhaps Russian artistic culture during the 19th century. With the expectation during the Victorian Era toward conservatism and keeping a stiff upper lip (among other things), this seemed to hold once classical concerts became dominant in America. New York City was a potpourri of every culture when Carnegie Hall was first built in the 1890s. Every great European and Russian composer living at the time ended up conducting there during a very conservative time.
All those applause rules likely stem from there and have been passed on in each ensuing generation. That protocol is still expected, even if the musicians are supposed to help guide the audience to when they can applaud and when not to. Then again, waiting to applaud only works with logic in not disturbing the entirety of a classical work with multiple parts that includes silence between each segment.
Breaking the Applause Mold
If you’ve ever attended a classical concert live or watched one on TV, you know that people still applaud after a movement in a symphony or concerto ends. While it’s not effusive applause, it’s fairly common to hear light applause as recognition of a segment brilliantly played (or danced). In fact, in ballet, it’s customary to hear people applaud effusively after solo dance numbers.
Why should it not be the same way during a symphony or piano concert? It seems that some musicians are taking the blame for not guiding audience members on when they should applaud or not. Because of that, audience members are just using their instincts and applauding when someone else does.
In that regard, if you’re going to a classical concert for the first time, your best guide is just doing what others do. Eventually, the stuffy applause guidelines may be permanently lifted, and you’ll be able to applaud whenever you want to without getting rude stares.
The only thing that will probably never be allowed is standing up and dancing around in front of people sitting behind you. As strange as it sounds, there may be some who’d dance to Tchaikovsky if the protocol made it allowable.