It’s universal, that instinct for putting your hands together to make noise in appreciation of a performer. But nevertheless each culture has its own take on applauding and this can sometimes be confusing for the itinerant musician….
At the end of a concert in Norway I was alarmed when the audience began a rhythmic slow hand clapping all together. In the UK this sort of behaviour would not have boded well; slow rhythmic hand clapping to a Brit means ͞what a load of rubbish, when is the real action starting? However to a Norwegian, I later found out to my relief, it is a perfectly polite way of expressing approval.
Again in Northern climes, I was worried when I walked out to play a concerto in Finland because of the deathly hush in the hall. Eight hundred people and you could have heard a pin drop. Such a silence amongst a large body of people in London would normally be reserved for a grave occasion such as a funeral or a murder trial. Luckily the Fins did actually clap enthusiastically when I finished playing and on enquiring afterwards I was told that the Finnish are in general quite an introvert people who don’t tend to make much noise unless necessary .(Very sensible tactics when it can be so cold that if you open your mouth you risk freezing your internal organs).
The Japanese preference seems to be not for noisy clapping either but rather for lining up patiently to speak to you personally after the concert in the most charming way. Bowing is such an everyday part of Japanese culture that the audience in Japan often bow back to you from their seats when you take your curtain call. A French audience on the other hand might easily shout out encouraging remarks to you from their seats, not an everyday occurrence in classical music circles, but actually it’s very refreshing and at least you know where you stand!
Then there is the debate about whether it’s acceptable to clap between the movements of a classical piece. Personally I find a bit of applause as you play is quite encouraging; during my first foray into Jewish Klezmer clarinet playing at the Jazz Cafe in London, it gave me a real boost when the audience clapped as I hit a particularly high note, spurring me on to try other pyrotechnics.
Scariest can be the first rehearsal with a professional symphony orchestra. Playing with a large group of hard-bitten pros behind you isn’t always less than nerve-racking but if they greet your playing with tapping their bows on the music stands then you know you will be alright.
Nicest are the countries where they tend to jump to their feet and give you a standing ovation after you’ve played – I’ve found this most likely to happen in Holland and parts of America. Perhaps, though, the audience are just in a hurry to get to the exit and catch their train home…?