Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When audiences applaud – or not

This is an updated version of a post which first appeared as Thank you, thank you – you’re too, too kind! in September 2007

There are times when it’s not been appropriate for an audience to clap. Funerals and weddings are the obvious ones.

audience clapping

Audience by Linda Thomas

But not getting applause can throw singers. Maybe it means they don’t like us!

silence is not always golden

Once we did a concert in a church and the first song was met with silence. I guess people thought that since they were in church it wasn’t appropriate to clap. After all, we don’t applaud the church choir every Sunday.

I subtly mentioned to the audience that they were allowed to clap if they chose to, and from then on it was just like a normal concert.

Funerals and weddings tend not to involve clapping. However, at one wedding there was applause after we had finished our little set when the vicar thanked us for singing. Of course, at the funeral, it simply wasn’t fitting.

I was singing myself at the funeral in a trio. It was then that I realised how much I had become used to applause after each song. It was very, very strange to perform a song to complete silence and have no feedback whatsoever. It’s similar to performing outdoors in a public space when people just pass by and ignore you.

I’ve written before about how audiences’ reactions can affect us in How audiences behave and how we respond.

what are they clapping for any way?

Why do we need the applause? After all, it’s pretty much a convention. It’s quite rare that people don’t applaud at all. Sometimes it may be more enthusiastic or longer, but usually there’s some smattering. So it’s not as if we need approval since the audience will probably clap under most circumstances. Maybe it’s just for us to know that they’ve actually heard us, whether they’ve enjoyed it or not.

In many cultures the idea of a separation between audience and performers is an alien one. Everybody is a performer, and everyone is an audience at the same time. The ‘performers’ are not special in any way, they haven’t spent time rehearsing and polishing, they just perform – singing, dancing, whatever – because that’s what everybody does in that culture. So the notion of applause and appreciation is not relevant.

some times we don’t want the applause

Sometimes applause can be a little embarrassing. Many of our songs are very, very short so we can get through up to 30 songs in any one concert. On those occasions it feels like we’re expecting the audience to clap every few minutes (which they do), but it does feel a little like overkill.

Also, with a big choir (Woven Chords has around 80 members), it can be a little awkward when we make our first entrance. As the first few singers enter onto the stage there is enthusiastic applause which slowly but surely begins to die out as the audience realise that there are many, many more choir members to appear yet!

Another embarrassment is when an audience don’t realise a song has finished or think it’s all over when there’s another verse still to come.


Chris Rowbury's website:


Chris Rowbury


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