Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No applause, please, we're posh

Now that we're in the height of summer, a great English tradition is getting underway. Friday sees the start of the BBC Proms season. This is a series of classical music concerts held around the country which has been running for 115 years, now. The prices are low, and include standing room tickets. There is no dress code and, while children under the age of 5 are not permitted within the auditorium, parents of older children are encouraged to bring them along.

For the past 14 years, the programme has included Proms in the Park which takes place in the open air of London's Hyde Park, in which the programme is extended to include more contemporary pop music.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the idea is to widen the appeal of serious music. To take this music to John Commoner who might not otherwise get to hear it and, even if he does, can probably not afford to attend performances very often.

I think it's a lovely idea.

This morning I discovered that there are those who object to it. One man in particular, whose name I (fortunately) missed, was being interviewed on the radio. He objects to the gaucheness of the inexperienced audience. He didn't quite put it like that, but that's what it amounts to. He finds it unacceptable that they applaud between movements and then don't allow a moment of silence before applauding at the end of a piece. To make things even more complicated for the earnest soul who would like to get it right so as not to offend the cognoscenti, it seems that it is in fact fine to burst into applause at the end of a spirited piece. It is only at the end of a more reflective piece that one should take time to allow the music to die away completely before applauding. The man was of the view that the silence at the end of such a piece is very much a part of the music. He's probably right.

I've never really paid conscious attention to my own applauding habits at a recital, but I'm pretty sure I break some of the rules.

The presenter had the courage to suggest to the man that he being was a bit of a snob. I'm with him.

Perhaps that moment of reverential silence at the end of a piece is the result of a deep appreciation for the beauty of the piece, the emotions it evokes, the skill of the musicians. But how can we learn that appreciation if we are never exposed to such works? And in the early stages of our exposure, our appreciation must still grow.

Perhaps our man has no appreciation for Chinese folk music, for example, because he has no insight into it. So, how would he respond the first few times he hears a performance? Will his behaviour meet with the approval of long-standing fans? If not, should he just stay away so as not to cause offence?

Let's pretend you and I are the cognoscenti of... oh, I don't know... learning, for argument's sake. Let's pretend some members of our audience simply have no regard for the 'proper' way to learn, the right way to use a learning resource, the deep, rich experience that is learning.


Are we to take a leaf out of this man's book and find fault with them? Are we to deride their lack of sophistication? Or are we to delight in the fact that they are making an effort to broaden their experience, to recognise that we are in a very privileged position and to determine to do our very best work so as to awaken in them a passion they didn't even know they had?

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