To Stand or Not to Stand
By Patty Schlafer, WMEA South Central District Vice President
I have a good friend and colleague who is also a parent of three musicians. All three have been extremely active in the music department of Mount Horeb where I teach. We will call her “Anita.” She and I are good-enough friends that she tells me what she really thinks. I hope everyone reading this has one of those trusted confidants. She gives me great perspective from the parent side and in turn, I help her understand and appreciate the music we hear when we attend a concert together. She is a valued friend.
Anita knows her way around the concert scene. All three of her kids, besides being very active in their own school ensembles, have sought out additional opportunities to perform in area youth orchestras, youth bands, honor ensembles, private lessons and recitals. In any given year, Anita attends at least 40 performances. So last school year when Anita announced to me that she wouldn’t be giving standing ovations anymore at her kids’ concerts, I took note. Two of her children are now in college, one actively studying and performing at his college, and the high school son is planning to major in music. Anita knows she has many more concerts in her future. Knowing that these standing ovations are happening at so many of the performances she attends, I am sure she did not make this decision unthinkingly.
Her new rule is that if the concert doesn’t give her that special feeling that prompts her to jump to her feet with applause, she wouldn’t be a part of the standing ovation that frequently occurs at the concerts she attends. She reported that she felt the need to explain to her youngest son that she is not critical of his performance, even if she is the sole person sitting at the end of the concert. I also think she told me so she could cover her tracks and not offend. I am often the teacher responsible for these performances she would no longer be standing for.
This whole thing made me wonder why someone should have to apologize for not standing. When I asked Anita to tell me more, she sent me this clip from an online article by James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson:
Traditionally, applause for an actor when he or she first takes the stage and standing ovations at the end of a Broadway show were the signs of an audience so full of appreciation and respect that they couldn’t help themselves. Lately, these reactions seem to have become obligatory, and unfortunately when standing ovations and entrance applause are done out of mere habit, they essentially become meaningless. Ultimately, how you react is up to you, but let your true feelings guide you.
It got me thinking. How often does the audience stand following a concert simply because that is what an audience does? How often does the audience stand following a concert because that’s what happened last year? How often does the audience stand following a concert because they love their children and think they should stand? How often does an audience stand regardless of the quality but cognizant of the quantity? And most importantly, are we as music educators responsible for the attitudes created by this habitual behavior? Is this a passing trend? As music educators, should we do something?
I don’t have answers, but I feel the need to ask the questions. There have been plenty of articles on this topic, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but I am thinking of this as a music educator. Perhaps you don’t see the phenomena in your part of the state and feel no interest or concern for the topic.
My take away as a teacher is to teach my students to clap and to clap well. Not to hoot, shout, whistle, or stand, but to clap with gusto and energy when they like something. Many of them have little experience with live music, so appreciating the effort of the performing artist is a sign of respect they need to learn. The standing ovation is a sign of awe.
As for my own practice, I am joining Anita. If a performance moves me to jump to my feet, then by all means I will do so. Until then, I will keep to my seat clapping with appreciative gusto!