A couple of weeks ago, I attended a sold-out production of “The Music Man” at the Durango Arts Center. I was amazed at how few people in the audience were applauding some really stellar singing performances. Or are you supposed to hold your applause to the very end, which is what most people did? I request anonymity, so sign me – Prof. Harold Hill
Well, ya got trouble, my friend, right here. Trouble right here in River City. Trouble with a capital “T” that rhymes with “V” and that stands for “venue.”
Allow Action Line to expound upon performing arts etiquette, because venue makes all the difference. Sort of.
Suppose you are sitting on folding chairs under the leaky tent at Purgatory or basking in the glow of Carnegie Hall.
If classical music is being played, you do not – repeat, do not – clap between movements.
Breaking out in applause shows everyone in the audience that you are a newbie.
A well-meaning newbie, of course. But still. The bourgeoisie and intelligentsia eschew such antics as a Philistine faux pas.
Yah. Classical music can be uptight.
So if you’re not sure of how to behave at a symphony performance, just do what everyone else does between movements:
You will have a brief period in which to dislodge any accumulated phlegm. Do so loudly.
Then, squirm in your chair.
For some reason, everyone coughs and squirms. Symphonies must have some mysterious effect on the bronchial and nervous systems.
But now here comes the hitch. If you are attending musical theater (such as “The Music Man”) or an opera (which is classical music plus people in fancy costumes prancing and bellowing on stage), you are supposed to clap after a great solo or aria.
“In musical theater, the conductor will anticipate applause and take a pause after a big number in the show,” said Ginny Davis, associate professor of theatre at Fort Lewis College. “Applause is an expected part of the musical theatre,” she added.
“The performers appreciate applause, too. So please, clap all you want! And whenever you are so moved. We love it.”
Applauding during the middle of a piece is also encouraged in jazz, rock, bluegrass and just about every other musical form.
And the thing is, people used to cheer between symphonic movements and even raise a ruckus during the music itself.
Musical historians say this started changing in the mid-19th century. That’s when conductors and composers, particularly Germans, wanted a symphonic piece presented as a unified, uninterrupted work.
Nevertheless, many are calling for classical music to lighten up. But it will take years for audiences to drop the Silent Treatment.
Right here in River City, only in the past couple of seasons have patrons of Music in the Mountains adopted the classical convention of not applauding between movements.
Thirty years of training isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
And while MITM-goers have shucked one bad habit, they have picked up another: There’s a standing ovation after every single performance.
A couple of years ago, one concert-goer leaned over to Action Line to joke about how eagerly the MITM audience leaps to its feet.
“You’d think they were playing Bingo,” whispered the snarky patron whose identity Action Line will carry to the grave.
But have you been to Music in the Mountain lately? The quality of music is impressive. Of course, there are standing-O’s.
Take last season, when Mrs. Action Line wanted to see a favorite chestnut, Gershwin’s “American in Paris.”
But what thrilled Mrs. Action Line (and the crowd) was an astonishing performance of Khachaturian’s “Violin Concerto in D minor,” an exotic, lush piece that virtuoso soloist Philippe Quint set ablaze with a 1708 Stradivarius violin.
Naturally, Action Line and Mrs. Action Line leapt to their feet, and clapped until their hands ached.
Action Line was tempted to hold a lit cigarette lighter overhead and yell “Free Bird!”
But there are some things one just doesn’t do at the symphony.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity if you please note that any recording of this performance, either through video or photograph, is strictly prohibited, and that mobile phones and electronic devices should be turned off, and not just to silent.