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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Does a standing ovation mean anything any more?

September 19, 2008 at 7:02 PM

Does a standing ovation mean anything any more? member Anne Horvath suggested this would make for an interesting vote and discussion, and I agree.

Many would argue that the practice means nothing any more, that anyone with a pulse that performs passably in front of an audience will likely receive a standing ovation in this day and age.

Indeed, the Internet offers us self-help-type advice on how to get a standing ovation, from motivational-speaker types. You know, the people who try to tell you how much money you can make with their latest pyramid scheme...

How cynical!

At a classical concert, sometimes I wonder if people are simply standing up to leave or stretch their limbs when they give a standing ovation. If someone is yawning, while giving a standing ovation, does it count?

But if the performance is rather mediocre, and you don't feel like rising to your feet, do you feel like a Scrooge when everyone around you is standing and you remain seated?

And yet for all the bogus standing ovations I've seen during a lifetime of orchestra playing, I'm not ready to completely discount the practice or call for its cessation. I've seen brilliant performances that certainly merited a standing ovation, when the collective enthusiasm simply overflowed, and that wave brought people to their feet. THAT means something.

Not only that, but a standing ovation can mean different things in different contexts. How about the student recital, where someone gives a clearly stand-out performance? Is it okay for the parents to rise to their feet? Or when a beloved artist returns to the stage after a hardship? Those kinds of standing ovations seem to mean something as well.

Does a standing ovation always need to be reserved for superhuman feats?

What are your thoughts on the matter?

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 19, 2008 at 9:17 PM
Standing is easy. Standing and yelling is the new standing :) There's a live rec. with Josh Bell playing with the Berlin Phil. and people go nuts yelling 5-10 sec. before he ends.
From Bill Busen
Posted on September 19, 2008 at 10:41 PM
Tonight, my friend who is playing the Rachmaninoff First Concerto might get one. It might even be started by me. :-)
From Ben Clapton
Posted on September 19, 2008 at 11:31 PM
I've been going to quite a few performances of ther years, and I can only remember one concert that received a full standing ovation, and that was by a group called The Song Company.
I do remember one occasion where there was one woman who insisted on standing up every time she clapped... which would be ok, except she started clapping after the first movement of a concerto - and not many people joined in!

I think the standing ovation is still valid, but only if everyone does it.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 19, 2008 at 11:58 PM
That's a good question. I guess that to be definite... how honest is ours'? Do we stand because evferyone else is and we do not want to apear in an ill light? Surely there are those who are sincer. And those because everyone else is and being a 'part' of a crowd is important too the human psyche.

Kindest Regards,

Royce Faina

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 12:54 AM
I think it depends on the country where the standing ovation takes place. Certainly I'd go as far as to say that most of the time, if you get a standing ovation on mainland Europe, then it is well deserved, especially in Germany and Austria - where it has to be something special to get an audience on its feet.

Britain, well, I still reckon we are quite picky about standing ovations though they are starting to spread to the less worthy recipients, so yes they are still worth something.

But unfortunately I do feel that in the USA standing ovations have been diminished in effect because they seem to happen at every symphony concert. I remember going to one very average orchestral concert and refusing to stand up at the end to clap (I'll clap sitting down, thanks) and all the people going crazy on their feet around me gave me dirty looks.

If it happens every time, then it isn't special any more is it? I'll be the first to stand if a performance is truely memorable or special, but it does have to be extra good, way beyond the norm, for a standing ovation.

From David Allen
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 1:54 AM
I agree standing should mean it was something special. The fact that it has become routine could indicate the need for a more sophisticated audience. But, then, I've been called a picky SOB.

re: "Or when a beloved artist returns to the stage after a hardship?"

In this case I believe the standing ovation should come when the performer first walks out on the stage, before performing. This clearly signals a very warm welcome regardless of the performance.

From Bethany Morris
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 10:50 AM
I think that the lack of a standing ovation says more than a standing ovation now, since they are so prolific. If I enjoy a performance, I feel guilty if I don't stand, even if it average, because it wasn't bad.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 12:55 PM
On the one hand, it is nice to see an audience appreciate what it just heard. Never bite the hand that feeds!

On the other hand, if EVERY concert has an Obligatory Standing O, then how can it mean anything anymore? Is every single concert performed so super-special that the audience needs to jump to their feet? I have a pet theory that the American Obligatory Standing O is directly related to this new American style of Self-Esteem Building: "I Am Special".

All performances have *merit*, but not all performances are *special*.

I never stand anymore, probably just to be grouchy. And I get some really nasty looks from the surrounding patrons. But those nasty looks are probably just revenge for the two hours worth of angry glares I gave them, for talking, whispering, rattling programs, possession of irritating cell phones, crackly cellophane cough drop wrappers, leg jitters, opening Velcro purses, air conducting, and coughing without covering the mouth. So there! (Insert smiley face here).

From Bob Annis
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 3:39 PM
I'm more inclined to give an SO to the likes of youth orchestras, especially when they exceed my expectations. The level of musicianship in these orgs is sometimes remarkably high.

Not being a regular concertgoer, I seem to recall about a 33% SO rate at those I do attend. Usually deserved, IMO. But then, I'm easily moved by good music.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 3:57 PM
I haven't been to many performances in Europe but I also feel that here in the USA, standing ovations are given too frequently and readily. I notice it more for musical theater and performance art than for the symphony.

I read in a newspaper etiquette column years ago that the polite thing to do if everyone else is standing and applauding but you don't feel the performance warranted a standing ovation, is to stand but not applaud (as opposed to applaud but not stand). I've done that a few times and it hasn't gotten me dirty looks and I've felt less self-conscious and rude than I would have if I'd remained seated.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 20, 2008 at 5:59 PM
Also, what if the entire peice was on average yet the there were some very clever moments? I mean someone or group pulled off a really cool at'a-boy manuver/moment? i.e., "Man! Did you see/hear that?!!! Good God, they did it again!!!"

Kind Regards,

From Marty Dalton
Posted on September 21, 2008 at 4:38 AM
I'm not sure if this has been mentioned, but I've been to many performances where world-renowned soloists had a rather mediocre performance and received a roaring standing ovation lasting upwards of 10 minutes! It seems like they're applauding the person for just being there and not for their performance.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 21, 2008 at 7:57 AM
Yep, it's a momentum thing. They have momentum going. Yay for the famous guy or being famous! :)

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