You Must Be This Tall To Clap

As I noted earlier, my involvement in Take A Friend to The Orchestra Month this year took little effort on my part since the Symphony came to me. For the first time in a long while, the Symphony came to perform a school outreach on my stage. Many of the musicians commented on that fact and hoped they would be returning for future events.

The program certainly had a greater reach than anyone anticipated as mothers showed up with infants in hand while accompanying the older siblings. We had ten strollers parked in the lobby during the first concert. Four people used our stage as a diaper changing area prior to the performance which left us concerned some of the babies would roll off.

I didn’t get to watch the whole thing, but the concert started with a short sample of John Williams’ “Theme from Superman and the ended with the full work.

What really stuck out from the whole experience was the audience’s reaction to the second piece they performed. Because they were trying to demonstrate varying tempo, they performed Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Before the piece was over the entire audience was clapping along in time with the music. I am guessing this isn’t a common response from the way the conductor commented on how the audience had really gotten into the piece. The symphony had sent CDs of the program to the schools in advance so they could prepare so the students could have been introduced to the idea of clapping along in the classroom. Though honestly, if you listen to the music, it doesn’t take much impetus to get you clapping.

Some of the volunteer ushers the symphony brought along commented how great it was that the kids enjoyed the music so much that they were getting involved with it.

I couldn’t help but wonder how old the kids would have to be before that sort of behavior was no longer tolerated from them. There is already a debate about aplause between movements, clapping during the performance would certainly be sacrilege. Certainly, social conventions require that you stifle such impulses to allow other people the opportunity to listen to the music.

On the other hand, symphonies often talk about how composers were the bad boy rock stars of their day so I suspect that people might have had a less restrained reaction to the music than they do these days. I came across a reference to children following Grieg around the streets of Bergen whistling tunes from his Peer Gynt Suites. If you followed the “In the Hall of the Mountain King”link earlier (or right here) you will see that the popular appeal of Grieg’s music lives on today. (Though in some cases, it seems to be a mutant life form.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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