Clapping in Times of War

Posted: April 25, 2014 in Uncategorized

Last night I attended the premier of a new oratorio by Stefan Freund, The War Amongst Families and Neighbors. The work is a historical sketch of the civil war in Missouri and the way that a divided state endured tumultuous times. As the story was based on actual records, correspondence and documents, the audience was escorted through unthinkable brutality by the soloists, chorus, orchestra and multi-media.

Some moments – direct quotes from first person witnesses to atrocities – were literally breath-taking. And having the events and quotes delivered in a stunning musical medium left the audience in a quandary: Do I clap?

The clap question was expressed in the frequent moments of half-committed applause. It’s courteous to express appreciation, isn’t it? But when is it not appropriate to clap, no matter how beautifully executed the performance?

Since the audience didn’t figure it out and no one from the production helped us I had to answer that question for myself. I simply stopped clapping, except at the end, of course. Clapping is the knee-jerk gesture of appreciation in our culture. But it is often misplaced, a kind of genial, mindless spell-breaker, like clapping after a beautiful musical setting of a prayer.

The truest and best tribute is often that of thoughtful silence. Some performances and some topics deserve nothing less than that. And though I didn’t have either the clarity or courage cued up and ready to go at that event, maybe next time I find myself in a similar position I will simply turn to those around me and say, “This is too important to clap.”

  1. Larry Bernard says:

    Such as in worship, when the experience is too important to clap. A quiet spoken “Amen” seems to work there. There are moments that are far beyond even religious entertainment. They are being transported into the presence of the Divine, and applause just doesn’t serve the purpose and moment well. Awed silence might even be better.

  2. NMiller says:

    Good thoughts–and realizing that I dwell among the ancients, I notice this disconnect especially in worship. We often offer choral pieces in the service that are moving, but “amen”–or even better–a word after the service saying how much it meant is enough. Applause is something I associate with performance, not worship; we sing and play music and read scripture as an offering, not as a performance. It isn’t that applause offends, because I know what the person clapping intends to show; it just seems out of place to an old geezer like me in those moments that border on the sacred, whether in church or elsewhere.

  3. John Smith says:

    Reblogged this on THE STRATEGIC LEARNER and commented:
    As always, a thoughtful reflection on something we tend to automatically do … After reading this, I sat in respectful silence for a bit …

  4. Mia says:

    There are those gifts given as offering, as expression from one’s soul….and there is performance for the joy of performing. When we, the audience, pay enough attention to tell the difference – let’s hope we know when to salute and when to bow our brow.

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