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Topic: The Silent Tradition  (Read 2828 times)

Offline StoreBrand

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The Silent Tradition
on: May 24, 2004, 02:45:51 AM
A couple of years ago, I went to see a piano performance.  I wasn't seriously practicing the piano at the time and attended out of a slight interest only.  But during the performance, I was absolutely stunned by the pure silence of the audience.  Really!  I couldn't help but think that the people in attendance were full-blown zombies that somehow navigated their way to the show.  It was so quiet during the performance that I had no trouble hearing the inside's of some of the viewer's stomaches who sat many yards away from me.  Let alone the sound of half of the audience coughing, sneezing, etc.  Anyway...  

After the performer finished playing his first piece, I witnessed something that was even more scary as it caught me completely off guard--the audience did not applaud!  This was very shocking and I felt bad for the pianist.  Honestly, the impression that I got from this was that I was stuck in the midst of the lamest, dullest, most boring group of people on the planet.  I wondered why on earth did this audience even bother coming to the performance if all they were going to do was just sit there?  They could have easily done just that in the comfort of their own home in front of a television screen or the radio.  So why waste their time showing up at the live performance?  This was my honest first impression of this scary event (I almost clapped)!

Fortunately, I learned later that day that it's actually a real tradition for the audience to be deaf silent and not to applaud until the end of a piano performance.  In other words, the audience, expecting 40 minutes of monotonous silence, would have been looking at me thinking "Why did he even bother coming here if he is not going to listen?" had I clapped, cheered, or something while the performer played.  I can't help but wonder where on earth did this odd twist of piano culture originate and how many of you agree or disagree with it?

Also, since this silence was excruciating for me as a member of the audience I can't help but wonder how it bears on the performer?  Has this absolute silence ever affected you during a performance?  What is your view of it? I can only imagine the potential stress on the performer from this sort of silence as it is impossible to feed any real musical energy from such an audience.  

Somewhere in my mind I still to this day have a sort of feeling that music is much much more than just how it is played. Seeing how that audience sat so comfortably numb during a live performance, I would (as I said even to this day) probably dismiss some of their opinions of certain styles of music (say dance music for example) as completely incompetent.  Am I wrong for having this sort of thinking? I'm sure it also works vice versa against me but, if I am wrong, the people here will probably set me straight.


Jonathan

Offline Pianist03

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Re: áThe Silent Tradition
Reply #1 on: May 24, 2004, 04:14:37 AM
Hello!

 Well, one thing I'd like to know is that did he perform a program of say, sonatas (which have multiple movements?) or groups of pieces (like 3 in a row by the same composer) ? Since, it is the tradition to not clap in between movements, or wait to applaud until the groupings are finished.  A program usually consists of sonatas and a groupings.  From what I read, it sounded like he played for 40 minutes straight, (a long piece?!) and then no one appluaded...?

 Anyway, as for the silence, it's great for the performer while he's performing.  Although I find it irritating with the elderly that cough.  It can get annoying if nothing is done about it, yet with their 'cough drops', the wrinkling of the plastic wrapper can also be annyoing too.  But what can you do? (it likens to the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rhapsody rabbit, lol)  

And possibly, the audience was so silent due the fact that they were enraptured with his performance, as they could listen as intently as they could, or he 'took their breath away'..but again, you said they didn't appluad..so I'm not sure...

Interesting experience...
Pianist03
"The good man is the only excellent musician, because he gives forth a perfect harmony not with a lyre or other instrument but with the whole of his life." --Plato

Offline donjuan

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #2 on: May 24, 2004, 04:26:54 AM
IMO, I believe it is a great idea for the audience not to clap after each individual piece in a performance.  You see, when people are clapping, the performer is expected to bow- to show appreciation for the audience that came (probably payed) to see them.  If the audience applauds at the end of every piece, the emotional effect of the music will not be as dramatic.  Example:  If you just finished performing a sad piece, lets say...Schumanns 'Traumerai'....and the audience claps afterward, the sadness- the wistfulness- everything the music was made to communicate would be ruined.

However, if there is a huge standing ovation at the end of the evening, It will be a memorable moment- for the music, the audience, and the performer.
donjuan

Offline amanfang

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #3 on: May 24, 2004, 06:45:34 AM
I think there's a sort of "expected" behavior at concerts.  As for clapping, I think it should it depend on the piece.  Yes, perhaps clapping after a slower, reflective piece may ruin the moment, but there are also times when even in a group of pieces by the same composer, one of the pieces almost calls for applause at the end, yet the audience cannot, does not, clap because of the unspoken rules.  I think it makes sometimes for "stuffy" listening.  Sometimes when there is "humor" in music, no one will smile, because this is a "serious piano concert" attended by serious patrons....
When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do.

Offline donjuan

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #4 on: May 24, 2004, 07:23:38 AM
Yes, I absolutely agree!! I should have said something about that.  For exaple, in Horowitz's Moscow concert, the effect would be lessened without the same guy shouting "bravo" at the end of every piece.  The people cried out for Horowitz- to show the world, (and the society) Horowitz is back home, and we still love him.  You see, when Horowitz left Russia, he was sort of made a traitor by individuals.

I am grateful we had the guy who shouted "Bravo" because it makes the whole situation much more emotional.
donjuan  

Offline Saturn

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #5 on: May 25, 2004, 07:51:18 AM
I think the silent tradition, the whole code of expected behavior, is a large part of the reason why many people don't like to attend classical concerts.

Sometimes at piano recitals, I look around, and I see in the audience a bunch of people, sitting up straight, eyes open, unmoving.  Almost as if you could wave your hand in front of their face and they wouldn't even notice.  It makes you wonder if they're that way because they're in awe of the music, or because  it's the polite thing to do.

I agree with amanfang, it makes for stuffy listening.  It puts up a sort of glass wall between the performer and the audience.  They can see each other, but there is very little personal interaction.  It makes the audience feel distant, and the performer feel more nervous, and gives the general public the feeling that the classical world is full of old snooty boring rich people who never laugh or smile except when drunk.

Offline jr11

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #6 on: May 25, 2004, 05:44:40 PM
I like performances to be as light as possible, preferably in casual dress, in casual settings. I appreciate an artist that can smile, say a few candid words about his repetoire, and maybe tell a joke or two to break the ice. The audience is there to be entertained, not to live in fear of letting a cough or sniffle slip out during a pianissimo passage.

If there is a passage that thrills you, I see no fault in expressing your joy during the performance, whether you choose to clap or cheer. For the performer, I can see this as nothing less than encouraging.

As an amatuer performer of many genres, I find the absolute worst thing is to be stared at in silence, never quite sure if the people like it or not.

Offline donjuan

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Re: áThe Silent Tradition
Reply #7 on: May 26, 2004, 12:53:03 AM
Quote
If there is a passage that thrills you, I see no fault in expressing your joy during the performance, whether you choose to clap or cheer. For the performer, I can see this as nothing less than encouraging.

distracting as hell...

Offline nerd

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #8 on: May 26, 2004, 01:28:39 AM
I hate when some small children start yelling in the middle of a (my or someone else's) performance. I hate someone whispering during a pianissimo passage. I hate couches, sneezes and such. It's away from the performer's concentration and thus makes the performance worse (in most cases).

Well... those couches are not so bad if they aren't too loud. But if someone started to whistle after an octave run... AARGH! >:(

You know, one of my teachers once said something like:
Quote
Rests are important; they give you a chance to digest the music just played and prepare for what's coming
. He also made a nice analogy: Suppose you spoke without a single pause between the sentences. He demonstrated it. No-one could actually figure out what he said. So, if you start screaming during a rest or start applauding immediately after each piece you'll miss something important (and the other's in the audience will miss it, too).

And there might be those who like to listen to the pieces very carefully; the moods, how they change, the melodies... Have you ever performed yourself? If you're trying to listen to your own playing and keep the piece consistent... a sudden scream can ruin everything.
DDN 8)

Offline willcowskitz

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Re: áThe Silent Tradition
Reply #9 on: May 26, 2004, 03:09:42 AM
Quote
The audience is there to be entertained, not to live in fear of letting a cough or sniffle slip out during a pianissimo passage.


I think there's a huge difference between being entertained and listening to music. "Entertainment" sound to me like something you do only to kill time so you can finally end your miserable life without much friction.

Anyway, I am not comfortable with the dead serious "correctly dressed" people either, I don't think we need codes/protocols for music culture that only affect our superficial appearance. But I understand how important traditions are, so I can live with that.

Offline sharon_f

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #10 on: May 26, 2004, 05:32:50 AM
I've never been at a performance where no one has applauded till the intermission or end of the recital. (Unless one large work, like the Liszt Sonata comprises the entire half of a program.)  Usually it is after a completed sonata, or suite or group of pieces that are meant to be played together. For instance, a recital that features the Chopin Preludes: you wouldn't expect applause after each and every prelude. Jeez, No. 7 is like 20 seconds long.

I believe a quiet and attentive audience shows respect both to the other audience members as well as the performer. I know, I appreciate it both as an audience member and as a performer.

I remember a recital I attended quite a few years ago where a "casual" setting resulted in the most spectacularly jaw-dropping audience behavior I have ever witnessed in my life.

Cape May is a small, quaint seashore town at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Every year it hosts a music festival that runs from the week before Memorial Day through the third week in June. Audiences have a tendency to consist of half local, year-round residents who are starved for culture (Philadelphia is almost 2 hours away, NYC is 3-1/2 hours away). The other half are tourists who are looking for something to do after dinner. (We don't have a boardwalk, so there isn't a whole lot to do at night.)

Quite a few years ago, Christopher O'Reilly performed as part of the festival in the ballroom of an old historic hotel, a fairly casual setting with folding metal chairs. Some people brought their own pillows to soften their seats. People were in shorts, tank tops, summertime attire, it's usual for this festival.

The second half of his program consisted of the Diabelli Variations. (50 minutes of arguably the greatest set of variations ever written for the piano.) Now this might not have been the best programming choice for this setting, however, I was completely thrilled. I had never heard the variations performed live and I didn't even leave my chair at intermission. I couldn't wait for the second half of the recital to begin.

Now picture the setting:  a small ballroom, no stage, folding chairs with the front row less than five feet away from the piano, old creaky wooden floors, large heav, loud doors and very nice old lady volunteers as ushers.

Somewhere around variation number 10, people (mostly the tourists), started realizing it was getting pretty late. The very young children they had brought with them were getting restless and fidgety. And besides, as far as they were concerned, they had enough entertainment for the evening. So they just started getting up and walking out...and not very quietly either. They would just get up say good-bye to their friends and walk right down the main aisle and out the front door, letting it slam behind them. I heard one lady quite clearly asking another as she left, "What time are you going to the beach tomorrow?" Another one leaned out into the aisle and grapped a friends arm and exclaimed, "I had the best dinner tonight. I'll tell you about it tomorrow."

By the time the variations finally came to end, three quarters of the audience had walked out. And it wasn't because there was anything wrong with the performance. Quite the contrary, it was probably one of the best recitals I've ever heard in my life and his performance of the Diabelli was stupendous.

Now some may argue about the programming choice, especially for this type of audience, but you know something, I was a member of that audience and I appreciated the fact that Mr. O'Reilly hadn't "dumbed down" his program with a bunch of old warhouses like the Mephisto. (Not that I have anything against  Mephisto!)

But here is a good example where a "casual setting" resulted in way too casual behavior. I can just imagine what Mr. O'Reilly felt like.
There are two means of refuge from the misery of life - music and cats.
Albert Schweitzer

Offline donjuan

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #11 on: May 26, 2004, 06:48:17 AM
Yeah, that is pretty outrageous!  However, I heard of one time, where a concert was held in Halifax, Canada.  NOw, I dont want to say anything too bad about the Nova Scotians..but the concert was held in a hockey rink (the city didn't have a concert hall), and the audience would clap, whistle and make lots of noise whenever there was a rest in a giving piece.  If the music stopped for 1.5 seconds, the audience thought it was over...What a group of stupid rednecky Sports Jocks!!!
donjuan

Offline Saturn

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #12 on: May 26, 2004, 07:05:00 AM
Oh man, i could easily see this thread turning into concert horror stories.

I like to attend the recitals at the local university, because they're cheap (and the student ones are free).

And once, at a faculty recital, I heard a cell phone ring during the performance no less than THREE times.

At a student recital once, one of the guys in the audience fell asleep, and started snoring.  Loudly.  You could hear his snoring throughout the auditorium.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #13 on: May 26, 2004, 12:49:46 PM
Sorry.  I once had a hand phone ring in my pocket.  I was so embarassed...  :-[  I'm still embarassed and this was many years ago during a recital.

I really like the "no camera" rule.  I hate it when someone is taking a picture, against the house rules, and the flash blinds the audience from what's going on on stage.  This happened during the performance of Sylvia by the San Francisco Ballet.  Also, I had this happen to me during a recital.  Damn family members! >:(  I would look over at them and every time I did, at least 3 times, I would make noticeable mistakes while playing, mainly moving my hands to the right as that was the direction of the audience. ;D

I guess this would fall under the category of Unacceptable Audience Behavior.

Offline faulty_damper

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #14 on: May 26, 2004, 12:53:16 PM
"Beethoven" would do this if someone starts taking pictures:

Stop what he is playing.  Slam the fallboard shut.  Turn his head to where the flash came from and just glare his stern eyes at him.

Yeah, I'd like to do this! ;D  No pictures! >:(

Offline StoreBrand

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Re: áThe Silent Tradition
Reply #15 on: May 26, 2004, 12:54:58 PM
Thank God... I was hesitant to even check this thread thinking I may have been fired at for bashing piano tradition.  At least I didn't mention my view of the black tuxedo tradition!  

As for the silence, I don't think it is possible for a performer to draw a single drop of musical energy from an unsconcious, potentially dead audience.  It's as if the performer spends years of his or her life, hours practicing, alone, etc. only to perform in what amounts to an execution chamber.  





Offline jr11

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #16 on: May 26, 2004, 05:44:13 PM
From what I have read here, I get the impression that we pianists are a little too sensitive and vulnerable. I stand by my theory that music is entertainment, and musicians are show biz performers. One needs to respect their audience, to realize that you are working for them, and they are not captive or hostage. If you have the nerve to show hostility towards your audience, you'd better be a world class performer if you want to retain their respect.  If an audience rattles a performer, to me it only shows the performer's lack of professionalism. Keep smiling, and never let 'em see you sweat.

A jazz-type setting is nice to play in. People sit at tables, drink, chat quietly, and smile. I have attended a number of classical performances outdoors in some beautiful settings, and the musicians seem have a gleam in their eye like kids on holiday.

Lighten up, eh?

Offline amanfang

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #17 on: May 26, 2004, 07:15:34 PM
I disagree that musicians are mere entertainers.  However, I do think there are times when the performer should certainly take into account the audience he is performing in front of.  For example, I attend a college where there are certain Fine Arts events required for the students to attend.  These come maybe 3 times per semester.  We had duo pianists come.   It was a WONDERFUL program.  They played in room with horrible accoustics for an audience of about 6,000 people.  Possibly 7,000.  They were very warm to the audience who consists mostly of non-music people who don't really want to be there, and the audience responded well to that.   One or other of them spoke between each piece and explained what they would be playing.  The audience responded very well to them and displayed a curteous disposition for the most part.  However, we also had a soprano come one time who did not make any attempt to connect with the audience, and it was VERY clear that the students did not appreciate her, or the music.  Yet another time, we had a fairly new pianist come who was just beginning to tour after graduate school, and she gave a recital for the piano majors.  She actually gave a less professional appearance by talking between pieces and explaning things, and even leaving one of the pieces off the program.  A lot depends on the audience and performing situation.  I do still believe, that while the audience should be curteous, there's not reason to stay stone-stiff silent if it is an obviously enjoyable performance.
When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there's no end to what you can't do.

Offline Bob

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Re:  The Silent Tradition
Reply #18 on: May 27, 2004, 05:42:54 PM
Aren't there different expectations in different countries, too?

I've heard in Japan they don't applaud until the very end of the concert.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline trunks

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Re: áThe Silent Tradition
Reply #19 on: May 27, 2004, 06:18:07 PM
Even I, as a performing pianist myself, find it hard not to applaud at the end of the Second Movement of Schumann's Fantasia in C, Op.17. I have always been wondering why Schumann had placed the 2nd and 3rd movements in that order rather than the reverse.

Liszt also placed some of his climaxes in the middle of a piece (or group of pieces). The Sonata in B minor and the Concert Etude Il Lamento, for example. And the Annees de Pelerinage I - Suisse. It's hard not to applaud after the Orage and the Vallee d'Obermann.

With Annees II - Italie and Annees III, however, everything seems to be in the "right order".

Just wondering if any friends here clap after Ravel's Ondine from a full performance of Gaspard de la Nuit . . .
Peter (Hong Kong)
part-time piano tutor
amateur classical concert pianist
 

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