February 2, 2003 10:37 PM   Subscribe

History of Applause: What compels us to clap in appreciation? Theories abound. The earliest clapping is found in percussive instruments of ancient Egypt (jpg), while the Bible has us clap in joy, as well as derision. Emperor Nero so craved it he would pay freelancers to applaud his atrocious singing. Applause has even influenced classical compositions.

But, in the age of the pre-planned encore, do we still mean it?
posted by apostasy (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Standing ovations seem to be usually meant; there requires some critical mass of well distributed enthusiasts to support one. Lengthy ones too, as people lose the sense that others will continue clapping.
posted by effugas at 10:41 PM on February 2, 2003

The thing that irritates me (which happens more and more as a person gets old and inflexible) is when the performers on stage applaud the audience because it's applauding them. Which happens, it seems, about 100% of the time these days. I don't know why it irks me so; I think I somehow identify it with enforced political correctness. "Oh thank you for your applause. Here, why don't we applaud you, because we are all equal."

This totally cheapens any value of applause. Because what's the audience done except sit there (and probably talk and drop things and answer their cell phones during the performance)?
posted by LeLiLo at 10:50 PM on February 2, 2003

excellent fpp!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:07 PM on February 2, 2003

(yeah, great post!)

In contrast, effugas, I feel audiences give standing o's for every freakin' thing, these days. even ignoring concerts - where 95% of the time there's the push for an encore [which at one time implied standing ovation] - i have the same experience at the theatre, the opera, and, heck, cirque du soleil.

as a sometime performer, myself, i find it to be an enormous cheapening of the act - I've given maybe two ovations in my life. it should be reserved for the very, very finest things you see.
posted by Marquis at 11:14 PM on February 2, 2003

Applause can be a rather confusing thing.

Saw the Orlando Consort Friday night. They had a fine show, went off stage, came back for a bow, went back off, came back for an encore, one more song, and went off. At this point the audience's applause begins to die down - certainly not for dislike, the show was marvelous, but we'd been sitting in Church pews for a goodly time - and back they come for one last bow. Caught us by surprise, and while we applauded once more, it was a tad awkward.

Conversely, at a Dismemberment Plan (RIP, snarky bastards) show, they eschewed the traditional encore and had to be goaded back on stage by constant applause and screaming and all. So it does still happen, if not too often.

Simple clapping, and even standing ovations these days, are social rituals without an extraordinary amount of meaning to them. Applauding a performer conveys little, but not applauding one speaks volumes (at least in the U.S.; Italy seems rather more fickle about their applause). But it's still possible to express real appreciation and adoration with other body language; shouts, whistles, length of applause, etc. So, while it'd be nice for a standing ovation to still be meaningful, it seems a pretty common phenomenon for a social ritual like this to be institutionalized and expected, in this case by the performer. It's unfortunate, but it's par for the course, and the best we can do is endeavor to express ourselves in other ways when something more is warranted.
posted by apostasy at 2:04 AM on February 3, 2003

I'm still reeling from trying to listen to last week's State of the Union address on the radio. It was unbearable due to the constant applause. Just let the man speak and get it over with! Sheesh.

While I appreciate when (good) bands do encores at shows, most of the time there's no real spontaneity there for the first one, or even second. It's expected. I was at an Archers of Loaf concert a few years back and we made them come out for I think four or five encores through the power of sustained, stubborn applause. They had to beg us to let them go. This was one of those times where the appreciation was obviously very sincere, and the band knowing that gave us their all.
posted by picea at 6:49 AM on February 3, 2003

Angie Aparo (fab songwriter - who wrote the Faith Hill song, Cry - along with many other fantastic ones) handles encores during his live shows in a refreshing way. Toward the end of his show, he explains his approach to any show-newcomers. It goes something like this: He tells everyone that instead of leaving the stage and pretending that he was all the way back in the bus ready to leave and being shocked that the stage guys are running after him begging him to return to please the demanding audience, he's going to save everyone the time and effort of the sham. When he gets to the end of the last 'planned' song, that he'll thank the audience (though using the wrong city name, "thank you Detroit" if it's Atlanta) and turn to face the curtain. After some fever pitch applause, he turns back around, looking surprised and pleased, and launch into the 'encore' songs. {I may have left some details out, this is just how I remember it, but it's refreshing and fun}
posted by clukasik at 7:22 AM on February 3, 2003

How about the ways other cultures show appreciation? I gave a presentation many years ago to a large group of college-age students from West Germany (yes, that long ago). After I finished they started rapping the tables. Surprised the hell out of me.
posted by ?! at 7:53 AM on February 3, 2003

What I have long wondered about is the origin of the sarcastic slow clap, you know when you clap once-and wait a little longer than usual between claps. I love that.
posted by quercus at 8:09 AM on February 3, 2003

I mostly attend smaller club shows (100-500 people). I've found that while first encores are pretty much a given for any non-opening act, there are instances in which genuine audience reaction will induce some extra, unplanned encores. When I saw They Might Be Giants, they got dragged back for three encores. There may have been more after that third but it was late and I was exhausted.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 AM on February 3, 2003

I've been told that the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Mariss Jansons, who's leaving after next year, was partly influenced to move on by the unimpressive behavior of Pittsburgh audiences. Coughing during the performance, getting tricked by perceived early endings in pieces, etc.
posted by gsteff at 9:52 AM on February 3, 2003

There are crowds that think you want a standing ovation or something, because they see that on other shows, and they think that's what you're supposed to do. The ladies of The View get a standing ovation every day on their show, and I think, "How much have we devalued the standing ovation? That's just ridiculous." Johnny Carson got one standing ovation, the last night he did his show, and it was really cool. It was like, "Wow, he did 30 years and then ended it on a classy note, and he got a standing ovation." And then you realize that Maury Povich is getting a standing ovation every day on his show. I don't like that. I don't like that stuff. Sometimes I think audiences are too... They've picked up bad habits from watching these things on shows. - Conan O'Brien
posted by skryche at 10:10 AM on February 3, 2003

When I saw They Might Be Giants, they got dragged back for three encores. There may have been more after that third but it was late and I was exhausted.

that's funny, I was going to mention tmbg for a technique they used to end a show i saw - they said at the beginning that they'd do a full set but include encores in it, & not do the whole encore ritual. It was a long, wonderful show, and after the last song, John F broke a couple guitar strings to clarify, yes we're really not coming back out. I thought it worked pretty well.
posted by mdn at 10:55 AM on February 3, 2003

Clapping for live performers I can understand, but what is the deal with applauding at movies?
posted by kirkaracha at 1:41 PM on February 3, 2003

Yes, kirkaracha, jesus, I saw Bowling for Columbine yesterday and the audience (after laughing uproariously at the grimmest humor during the film) gave a standing ovation. I think it's a self-congratulatory thing -- "I really agree with the point of this film!" Which is especially stupid in this case because Moore wasn't giving any clear-cut answers. Rather alienating to feel that nearly everyone else in the theater didn't understand what they'd just seen.
posted by shabrem at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2003

The standing ovation has been cheapened beyond belief, and has been that way for some time, at least in America.

I remember a performance by Leon Fleischer in about 1986. It was absolutely positively execrable: dropped notes, memory loss, don't give a damn attitude, sloppy phrasing, monotone dynamics, leadfoot pedaling. Of course the audience was on its feet, myself excepted. A sorry crone gave me a dirty look and admonished me for not showing proper respect. I told her I thought a standing ovation should be reserved for someone who puts their heart into the music, not just for showing up. "But he's such a famous pianist!" Yeah, that's it. Famous for being famous.

Resistance is futile.
posted by Wet Spot at 5:56 PM on February 3, 2003

One of my favorite hobbies is being the first to clap after a talk or performance.

When I was in my high school French class, we "applauded" by snapping our fingers. I thought, at the time, this was the French way of showing approval (silly me). It really was to keep the noise down in the school building.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:05 AM on February 4, 2003

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