Even if you haven’t thought much about clapping before, when you walk into a symphony hall, you instinctively know it’s probably not appropriate to clap and cheer the same way you would at a football game.
Instead of feeling self-conscious (When do I clap? How do I clap?), follow these simple etiquette guidelines to clap like an (elegant) lady.
According to etiquette expert, Joy Weaver, savvy women who wish to politely express appreciation will hold their hands slightly to the left at chest-height and make small, brisk claps. For a standing ovation, “stand, lift your elbows high and slightly to the left, then clap small and briskly.”
To avoid an applause faux pas, Weaver cautions, “You never want to clap in front of your own face, and you sure don’t want to clap in front of someone else’s.”
Before the show begins, some welcome claps are appreciated by the performers. Weaver says, “Always clap at the entrance of the Concert master, any soloists and the Conductor/Concert Maestro.” These claps function as a sign of appreciation for all the musicians.
As for timing during the remainder of the show, take your cues from the conductor. According to David Pogue and Scott Speck’s “Clapping Etiquette at Classical Music Concerts” article, “If [the conductor] doesn’t want you to clap, [he or she] sometimes signals this fact by keeping his hands up and waiting patiently or by turning around and looking directly into the eyes of the clappers.” Typically, the conductor will lower his or her arms before turning around to acknowledge the audience and invite applause.
Similarly, while you may hear brief pauses in between movements of a concerto, you should generally wait until the end of the entire piece before crying, “Bravo!”
Why not? Clapping during these brief pauses between movements can interrupt a special moment for concert-goers who feel transfixed by the music. Music critic Susan Nickolls tells the BBC, “The thing I do hate is when it’s a really quiet piece and you are transported somewhere else entirely and when the piece ends you just want to stay there until the very last beat echoes, or the last string pulses, and there’s always someone somewhere who just needs to be the first to clap.”
Not only that, but silence, as CSO bassoonist William Buchman tells Chicago Tribune, plays an important role in classical music. “The silence is as profound as some of the music, and when that silence is not allowed its space, you lose a lot o the emotional impact that the silence can otherwise generate,” Buchman says.
To clap with confidence, check your playbill program to confirm how many movements (or pauses) you can expect before a piece concludes. And, if all else fails, you can also wait until the players on stage put down their instruments or until everyone around you starts clapping. In this case, elegant #womenthatdo can follow others’ lead!
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