When I play the piano during lunch in a senior living community, I don’t really expect people to clap. My music is the backdrop to their meal and social time. Still, I occasionally receive a smattering of applause following an especially popular number.
There are some music lovers in my audiences who want to applaud but can’t, often due to arthritic hands. Extreme swelling in Harriet’s arms made it impossible for her to put her hands together. She explained all this to me because, she said, she didn’t want me to think she didn’t appreciate the music.
Margie, a lively, with-it nonagenarian, is part of a handful of music groupies who always fill the yellow couches and chairs when I show up to play on alternate Fridays in her retirement complex. Unfortunately, the seating is behind me, so she and the others stare at my back for an hour. I think they enjoy watching my hands on the keyboard though. Margie claps occasionally, “Just so you know we’re awake back here.”
When jazz and pop musicians perform, bursts of applause occur throughout, especially following solos. In the classical music world, traditional rules usually apply: no clapping until the end of a piece, and never between movements of a large work.
Just once did I venture to play a classical piece for my elderly listeners, one that someone had requested. It was the “Finlandia” theme, part of a patriotic composition for orchestra written in 1899 by Jean Sibelius. The silence of my audience when I finished “Finlandia” was deafening. Not a peep. I haven’t tried performing classical music for them since.
The conventions surrounding applause at classical concerts vary from country to country. According to American conductor Andrew Litton, speaking in a 2013 BBC Music Magazine podcast:
“In Bergen [Norway] if they like you they will launch into rhythmic applause quite soon after you get the orchestra up, and they’ll keep that going, but they don’t cheer or scream. In America standing ovations are quite common and they’re usually instant, along with a lot of vocals, shouting, bravos. In Germany you can actually count to five slowly after the cut-off of the final note of the piece before the applause starts—it’s almost like they want to have the aura of silence—and then they clap for much longer than anybody else on the planet.”
I don’t necessarily need applause, but I do like to know that people are listening. Usually somebody is. Like Bernice. From her spot on the sofa, her hands occupied with crocheting, she once told me, “Just imagine thunderous applause after every song. I love them all.”
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.