Applause Happens

We’ve all been in that concert with a multi-movement work and after the exciting first movement ends, the audience erupts into applause… for a second. Then they realize that was wrong and stop doing that.

There are 2 ways that performers typically handle this situation. Most often, the performers sit there quietly, ignoring the applause, until they stop. If they don’t stop quick enough, one or two of them turn to the audience, give a half smile and a quick nod, then turn back to the music/instrument. Maybe they do a little eye roll, too. 

The second way, is that one person (usually the conductor) makes some sort of shooshing gesture that looks something like a police person stopping traffic while chewing rocks.

Both options are terrible. The second response, is obviously terrible. If you respond to the audience in that manner, it is telling them to shut up which is simply rude and obnoxious. You’re telling them that they’re experiencing music wrong, which is elitist and stupid. The audience has spontaneously combusted into a display of appreciation and your response is to tell them they’re stupid and they should shut up? This reaction also makes the audience extremely nervous to applaud for the rest of the performance. The audience is now worried about when to applaud rather than listening to and appreciating your show.

The first reaction is just so pompous. Ignoring the applause until you absolutely have to condescend to acknowledge them is awkward and fake. We can do better.

Here’s what I suggest: Acknowledge their enthusiasm. They’re saying “Thank You!” for performing! So… say you’re welcome. Smile! Maybe even mouth “thank you” and bow your head! Most importantly, do this once the audience starts clapping, don’t wait until you have to. It doesn’t need to be rushed nor have any grandiose movements. It just needs to be a simple, genuine acknowledgement of their accolades. 


Look, I get it. The composer wrote the multi-movement work to form a full piece. The single movement is only a portion. I can understand that viewpoint, but then again wouldn’t you want to know, as a composer, that a particular movement was so spectacular that the audience couldn’t help themselves? This is where I expect my composer brother, Brett Abigaña, to chime in with some choice composer words. I’ll leave that argument for another time. Or for the comments section.

Suffice to say that if the audience applauds between movements, we performers should acknowledge it and graciously accept it. Not ignore it or make a rude attempt to shut it up. After all, don’t we want more people to attend our shows? We aren’t going to do that by telling them they’re stupid and need to shut up. We do that by creating an atmosphere that is welcoming without having to give them a guidebook on how to react. I want you to attend my shows no matter what your experience level is! 

Personally, I feel a great amount of success when the audience erupts into applause during the piece while the music is still going. Then I know I’m really doing my job well! But that’s a subject for another time.