Colin Roshak

Clapback by Colin Roshak

I love bringing my friends and family to concerts, introducing them to new music, new experiences and giving them a chance to step into my classical music world for a few hours. Seeing as I drag along mostly non-musicians, there’s an invariable flurry of questions throughout the night — “what should I wear? What’s the difference between an oboe and a clarinet? Why is that violin so much bigger?” And of course, the age old question, “Is it OK to clap between movements?”

This came up at the recent ASO concert “A French Connection,” during piano soloist Daniel Hsu’s performance of Chopin’s first concerto. Hsu’s performance was superb and, after the monolithic first movement, the audience was quick to applaud. Hsu handled this with the poise of a seasoned veteran, turning to the audience with a smile and nodding his head in thanks before turning his attention back to the keyboard.

Not everyone in the orchestra was so grateful for the audience’s enthusiasm. One violinist quickly turned to the audience with a scowl, literally threw his hand into the air and started to vigorously shake his head before turning away in frustration.

I may be in the minority here but that sort of body language and attitude are far more disruptive of a performance than applause ever will be.

Some musicians will say clapping between movements destroys “tradition,” but what is this tradition? At the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, the Allegretto movement was so well received that the audience burst into applause and immediately demanded an encore of the entire movement. With Beethoven himself conducting, the orchestra gladly obliged. If Beethoven is OK with it, that’s more than good enough for me.

Others will say it interrupts the flow of the performance, but live performance is inherently unpredictable. There is no prescribed method, no predetermined path for any given concert. Live performance is vulnerable to the unexpected, to the improvisatory and reactionary. This is what makes it so exciting. The audience clapping between movements doesn’t take away from anything, it only adds to the individuality of a performance. Plus, I like to think that the audience is clapping, not because they’re being ignorant or rude but because they were genuinely excited by the music.

Now let’s talk about accessibility. This is an important conversation that many arts organizations around the country are starting to really dig into. Accessibility is a huge conversation — it includes ADA compliance, affordable ticket programs, outreach and so much more. Getting people into the concert hall is hard work. The much maligned “dying” classical music audiences are a result of the unstoppable force of a changing market and the often immovable object of “tradition.” Classical music simply is not what it used to be. It doesn’t sound the same, it doesn’t look the same, and it certainly isn’t important for the same reasons.

Accessibility is about making the arts approachable, easily consumable and welcoming. I get excited about performing because I get to play a part in giving someone an incredible musical experience every time I step on stage. There are three kinds of audience members: those who will love the music no matter what, those who will have a miserable time despite my very best efforts, and those who aren’t quite sure. I work, and I practice, and I play every note to the best of my ability for that third person. Who would want to come back after being reprimanded for enjoying their experience and showing it through applause? There simply is no utility for this attitude in the arts. As a performer, I want every part of the audience’s experience to be comfortable and welcoming, and this includes allowing them to clap whenever they damn well please.

I implore my fellow musicians — be thankful each and every time the audience claps, even if it’s between movements. When you finish playing, and the audience erupts into cheers and you look out and see people smiling, excited to be there, happy and grateful for the incredible music you just played, don’t frown and get mad. Instead, smile and be thankful that you have such an enthusiastic audience. One that appreciates both your talents and the phenomenal music we’re lucky enough to play.

Consequently, I bet you’ll have more fun performing too.

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