Huffpost Culture

Classical Music: To Clap or Not to Clap (CHANGE MY MIND)

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Flickr: zeljkojoksimovic
Flickr: zeljkojoksimovic

Last week, Richard Dare wrote about why he thinks classical music today is falling out of favor. The problem, he says, is that we live in a "musical North Korea," with a stringent set of rules built into the experience that can put off even the most eager newbie. One of the biggest offenders is the unwritten rule that says you clap only when the entire piece is over—not between movements, and certainly not during the music.

Dare says this constrains the musical experience, which is rife with "clap here, not there, cloak-and-dagger protocols." He cites audiences in the 1890s, who were documented as screaming and standing on chairs during concerts, a far cry from what typical classical music concerts look or sound like today.

"I don't think classical music was intended to be listened to in this way. And I don't think it honors the art form for us to maintain such a cadaverous body of rules," Dare writes.

The response to his post was impressive, with classical music neophytes, experts and everyone between turning out to weigh in. Those in Dare's camp agreed that music wasn't meant to be experienced in silence; relaxing the rules on when to react to the music would make newbies feel more comfortable attending and allow everyone to truly interact with the music the way it was intended. In the opposite camp, commenters argued that allowing people to react whenever they wanted would ruin the experience for other attendees who were trying to hear the performance. Classical music is generally not amplified the way it is at rock concerts, camp two said, and silence between movements is just as much a part of the music as the movements themselves.

On Twitter, the Calgary Philharmonic opened up the debate to its followers:

And others from the musical sphere added nuance to the discussion:

Some Huffington Post readers felt the rules came from the fact that people who are already in the classical music world can forget what it's like to be outside of it:

"These comments make me a little sad. They are (almost) all from people who already are a part of the classical music culture and view it as an elite club you should have to work to be good enough for. Classical music is not an elite honors fraternity. It is art, meant to be connected with and enjoyed by the masses on an emotional level. You are not better than other people because you can sit in silence for a few hours only moving on cue. The american public does that for hours in front of their TV sets every night. What the author is calling for is a relaxation of standards not so that people will be talking and dancing in the aisles. Classical music will never inspire that kind of response. A relaxation of standards might result in casual listeners (like myself) being able to attend a concert and connect with the music instead of being afraid to attend and sit there feeling judged for several hours!" —Alyssa Maxey

So now we turn it back over to you. Would loosening the rules and allowing people to clap or react whenever the music moves them ruin a concert for you? Or is complaining about these kinds of interruptions just begging for the world's smallest violin?


Pre-debate poll:

Tell us your opinion before the debate starts to set the starting line

The classical music experience needs 'to quit being so blasted reverential.'

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Who makes the better argument?

Lose the rules:

"Perhaps applauding at all should be banned in the concert hall. The great classical composers would have become suicidal if confronted by these stiff, "elitist" protocols that prohibit the audience's catharsis to the material being presented. I DO NOT favor the concert hall becoming a free-for-all, but people should not be expected to suppress the emotions that were written into the music. The musical purpose of dynamics, key signature, orchestration, rhythm, etc. is to enhance the emotional aspects of the notes the way people cadence their voices in speech to express emotion. Why is the audience there if not to connect with the emotion of not only the composer, but each individual musician and the conductor as if they were an actor reciting Shakespeare?" —flydeltajets1020

"Being a music ed major and aspiring band director, reading these comments shows me exactly why people think the classical world is dying. I'm 23 years old, and I don't want to be seen as pretentious, so high up on my self-acclaimed pedestal that I can't reach those willing and able fans of the art that I love. Why does our "culture" have to remain so noses-up-in-the-air reserved? That's exactly what's driving people away. Yes, classical music takes a level of intelligence to understand: The layers, harmony, form, orchestrations, rhythms, all of which are at a very high level. But instead we're saying, "Oh well, if you don't get it, you don't get it." Allowing people to cheer in the middle of a performance doesn't take away from the performance itself. Just ask Liszt." —AdamBTFI
Keep the rules:

"Honestly, what are these forbidding rituals you're talking about? The only thing a first timer needs to know to do is to keep silent, enjoy the music (indeed, get lost in it) and if in doubt, clap when others clap. Even as a frequent concertgoer I'm not sure if I could tell Mahler from Dvorak but I know I love getting swept away by the sounds made by 100 instruments; I'll get whatever I can from the programme booklet, and if I have questions about a particular piece or instrument I'll go home and Google it to understand more. It needn't be so complicated, and dumbing something down just so someone isn't intimidated to walk in and have a new experience is unnecessary." —UKNY

"How do you listen to classical music in private? Personally, I rock out to it. But then again, I am in control of the volume and surroundings. If I miss something, I can rewind and hear it again. When I go to the concert hall, I want to hear every nuance. The experience is different than at home because it is unique, every time. The idea of feeling uncomfortable because you don't "know the rules" of attending a concert is no different than going to any other event that you might be new to. Go to a hockey game and try to get to your seat while the puck is in play, trés gauche." —Richard Hotchkiss



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The classical music experience needs 'to quit being so blasted reverential.'


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