From ‘Children need better guidance in arts appreciation’, 15 April 2013, Voices, Today
(Liu Yiru): I watched a wonderful performance at the Esplanade last Friday evening by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Orchestra and Chorus, in celebration of NAFA’s 75th anniversary. Among the audience were distinguished composers, NAFA alumni, as well as guest performers from London’s Royal College of Music.
Also in the audience was a class of Primary 3 or 4 students accompanied by two teachers. I must commend the school and teachers for exposing their students to classical music and cultivating their interest at such a young age.
However, I believe many in the audience were, like me, shocked when the students clapped between rests that marked an end to significant sections in the fourth movement. It is recognised and accepted that the audience applauds only at the end of a piece and not at the end of every movement or worse, whenever they supposed the piece “seemed to end”.
What does this say about the’ teachers? Do the teachers have an understanding of concert etiquette? Do teachers have musical background or basic musical knowledge to guide their students’ appreciation for music in the right direction? Were there enough teachers to handle the number of students? This incident shows that our teachers’ competence in developing and educating Singapore’s future in the arts has much room for improvement.
If in doubt, always take the cue from others when you’re a concert novice. Untimely clapping can earn you dirty looks as much as sitting cross-legged with your shoes off. These kids were just being polite even though they’re likely to be bored stiff, and you’d be sending conflicting instructions if you told them that there are only certain points in a performance when they’re ‘allowed’ to clap, a mentally strenuous task that gets in the way of one’s enjoyment of the classics. It’s like I’m not allowed to use my hands to tuck into the pincer of chilli crab, and can only do so for the purpose of dipping the buns into the gravy.
I doubt the teachers themselves were aware of such a custom, and most people, myself included, would shift nervously in their seat if any performance appears to end and there would be this nagging, awkward pause or the nervous, muffled cough before hesitant applause. As a consolation, even President Obama himself once joked about the No Applause rule, which itself deserves a topic in musicology and seems to have its origins in cranky maestros and composers who abhorred over-clappers and didn’t care about the fact that their salaries were paid for by their audience. Such restrictions were in place even in the 70′s, when intrusive applause ‘disrupts the pattern’ of the programme and found to be ‘very irritating and distracting’, making otherwise harmless applause sound as disruptive as blowing a trumpet into a surgeon’s face while he’s performing emergency heart bypass surgery.
I’ve never attended an SSO concert, but only because I have no idea where to get a monocle, a shiny cane and can’t clap my hands in the dainty manner or timing befitting of concert etiquette. I’d have to restrain myself from expressing my joy if I were to find a piece so haunting it moves me to tears, that if I couldn’t bear it and had to give a standing ovation clapping my hands sore and weeping my grateful heart out, my outburst of spontaneity would be rewarded with the harsh shushing and tsk-ing from a couple of concert snobs like some menopausal librarians shutting a genius up when he’s having his ‘Eureka’ moment. If I’m really unlucky, the conductor, furious that my clapping cramped his style, would grab the nearest cymbal and try to decapitate me by throwing it in my direction like a frisbee.
According to the SCO website, it is ‘best not to clap’ between movements of a larger composition, but it’s perfectly acceptable, maybe even recommended, to blare ‘Bravo’ and ‘Encore’ as loud as a soccer hooligan when it’s finally completed. No, you can’t wolf-whistle or yell ‘Awesome!’ too. At least the kids didn’t break out into a spell of ‘annoying, distracting’ coughing for a full 80 mins of SSO concert, or play with their mobile phones, munch crackers or giggle among themselves. Clapping between movements has its supporters who deem it a necessary, reverent inconvenience as there are those who dismiss it as fatuous snobbery. If I were in a band I’d imagine playing to a bunch of disadvantaged orphans or handicapped kids to be a more fulfilling experience even if they clapped every 5 minutes, than to some snooty folks who know everything about my music and etiquette, but might as well be ‘enjoying’ themselves with a mp3 recording of my music in the privacy of a cemetery.