Daily Bow: The Clapping Debate Strikes Back

Daily Bow LogoHuffington Post blogger Richard Dare made quite a splash when he published a piece about the “awfulness” of classical music–an awfulness he attributed to what he perceived as outdated and straight-jacketing traditions of silence and reverence in the concert hall. His article generated some 400 comments on the HuffPost site, and it seemed to have unleashed a firestorm of pent-up controversy regarding the clap/don’t clap debate. The article even caught the eye of the New York Times, which ran a piece about the hullaballoo that Mr. Dare’s article created: “Responders said they would resent the intrusion of noisy reactions and suggested that if Mr. Dare wanted to act that way, he could do it at home to recordings. Some compared making noise during concerts to splattering paint on a masterpiece canvas. Some denounced him personally. Others praised his tilt at what they called stifling ritualism and alienating elitism in the concert hall.”

Clearly, Dare’s original article touched a nerve with classical music neophytes and veterans alike. Comments posted on the HuffPost site, the New York Times site, and all over the web took Dare’s original point and ran with it, often generating a slew of slippery-slope arguments (clapping will lead to cell phones ringing!) and elitist remarks (classical music isn’t just for anyone!). In fact, the response became heated enough for Mr. Dare to issue a response piece to his first article in an attempt to clarify his viewpoint. The piece is aptly titled “The Danger of Writing About Music,” and in it Dare makes it clear that his idea was not to unleash sport-arena, rock-concert bedlam on the classical concert scene. As Dare told the New York Times in a telephone interview, “I’m not at all suggesting I want people to yell and scream and clap” while music is played. “I’m keenly interested in not dismantling the experience we have now. I’m interested in making it relevant to more people. I’m a pretty introverted guy. I would probably be the last guy to stand up and clap or scream at something.”

Mr. Dare goes on to explain his original point. His follow-up article is somewhat less concise than his original article, most likely owing to the pressure of responding to the onslaught of differing opinions laid at his door. Says Dare,

In case it settles down the more jumpy music lovers in our midst, by the way, I will disclose that I personally enjoy sitting in meditative silence during the many concerts I attend, and I probably always will. I’m introverted when it comes to listening to music. But that’s mostly because I have been trained to behave in that manner. I have nothing against my own traditions, nor have I arrived on the scene to spoil anyone else’s quietude, you may rest assured. But I believe we must consider our situation from outside our mere personal needs if we are to give music the hearing it actually deserves.

While many newcomers to classical music agreed with his original point, a number of people from inside the classical music were unafraid to speak out about the importance of preserving tradition. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Music Director Robert Spano says, “Everybody’s experience depends on a willingness to [listen quietly]. That’s the precious thing about classical music. If we do anything to violate that, we’re not nurturing the art form in the way that we cherish it. For people for whom it’s difficult to sit still and be quiet, I don’t think classical music is for them.” Similarly, Gail Kruvand, a bassist in Mr. Dare’s own Brooklyn Philharmonic, says, “I think he really missed the mark…[a good concert] takes you to another place…It’s magical. To have people in the audience yelling out, after a solo, it breaks that spell. I don’t think that’s what concert music is about.”

The Huffington Post has set Mr. Dare’s article as part of its “Change My Mind” feature, asking readers to take an initial stance on whether or not they think “the classical music experience should ‘quit being so blasted reverential.'” The feature then asks site visitors to read a few excerpts from comments both for Mr. Dare’s relaxation of concert atmosphere and against it, after which the reader is asked to vote again to reflect any change (or not) of mind. As it stands now, 10% of readers have been persuaded against Mr. Dare’s viewpoint after reading the arguments selected for and against the clapping conundrum. Where opinion will go from here, though, is anybody’s guess.

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