For classical music newbies and those who've been put off of classical music by classical music snobs, the convention of clapping at a classical music concert is a bit of a mystery. However it's easier than you think! Here are a few rules of thumb for when to clap. And when not to clap.
1. When it's a welcome: clap when the featured musicians come on stage. (If you're not sure who they are, don't clap.)
If you're at an orchestra concert, the orchestra is usually already on stage when the concert begins. Thus the conductor will be the featured musican and almost everyone will start clapping. Go ahead and join in!
If it's a concert with featured soloists, like the Mozart Clarinet Concerto, the clarinettist and the conductor will come in together; go ahead and clap for them! If it's Beethoven's 9th, the vocal soloists and the conductor will enter together. Welcome them with clapping. Everyone has been practicing and rehearsing pretty hard, so your welcome is a boost for them.
2. In between pieces of a set or movements of a larger piece: do not clap. I repeat: do not clap. Look for the conductor to keep holding one or both hands suspended in the air--that's a sign that it's not time to clap. It may be tempting, it may be so utterly moving, it may be so awesome, but it's the musicians' gift to you and there's plenty of time to clap when it's all done.
To give you a better idea, here is something you might see in your program:
|Old American Songs Vol. I
||Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990)
- The Boatmen’s Dance
- The Dodger
- Long Time Ago
- Simple Gifts
- I Bought Me A Cat
Clap when "I Bought Me a Cat" is over.
It's better for your experience as an audience member to hear the whole set as one "chunk" of music, the singer and pianist can concentrate better, and it lends a certain flow to the performance of that set. So sit back, relax, and take it all in. It's there for you.
3. When the set is over or when the performance is over: Go for it! Clap 'till your hands fall off. Let the performers know how much you enjoyed it, how much you appreciate their work and their creativity. Unless of course, you didn't like it, then don't clap.
4. At certain concerts, such as memorials and remembrance concerts: it's considered inappropriate to clap, as there is a certain kind of respect and reverence at such events. You will feel the weight of the meaning settle upon you, and that is the entire purpose of the event. Let it rest with you.
5. When in doubt: don't clap. If you're unsure if it's actually the final movement of a symphony, you can't see the conductor's hands or whatever it is--if you're unsure, don't clap. Wait until a fair amount of people have begun clapping and it feels like a trend; this is one case in which it's totally acceptable to be a follower. ;)