Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Inevitable Applause-Between-Movements Post

How come the topic of concert-going etiquette — and applause, in particular — is always framed as a zero sum game?  It's as if our choice is either black ties and perfect decorum and funereal silence between and during movements or it's dress-down with cheering, beer, and popcorn like at a hockey game.  Doesn't that leave out the greater part of the field of both real and possible listening environments?  Even sporting events offer such a real range, with expected and tolerated behavior gauged to the particular features of the individual sport.  Just consider the contrast in dynamics and decorum between a snooker match and a pro football game, with golf, tennis, cricket, baseball, basketball, hockey and European or Latin American soccer lined-up, more or less, on the continuum in-between.   If a maximum of control over ambient and audience noise is what you or the music requires, there is always the privacy of your own home, whether making the music yourself or listening via loudspeakers or headphones (BTW: the explosion in individual headphone audition since the advent of the Walkman is a seriously under-explored topic of both musical and anthropological significance: dissertation, anyone?) and, in more social concert environments, it should always be possible for performers to simply signal to an audience — in the manner of golfers — that quiet is now required* and, otherwise, it ought to be standard procedure that performers and audiences come to an informal contract about the nature of their interaction, with all the direct and indirect signs and instructions that civil assemblies can use. Yes, I maintain — hope against hope, perhaps, but you've got to have your utopias, friends — that there has to be time and place for the quiet of Webern or Morton Feldman, with minimal noise from audiences or air-conditioning, but that doesn't mean discounting everything from there up to the stadium-sized monster truck show.  


*One of the points continually thrown into these arguments about concert behavior is historical audience behavior.  The evidence, however, is far from uniform and thus gets used to justify both churchly quiet and rousing ribaldry.   Like all other aspects of historically-informed performance practice, the real topic underlying the discourse is contemporary performance practice.  Above and beyond the fact that historical audiences were probably located on ranges from lousy to wonderful very much like our own, why should we be settled with only one or two possibilities? 


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