Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of premiering Daniela DeMatos' Psalm 51 with the Longy Conservatory Orchestra. It was a wonderful experience working closely with the composer during rehearsals, and then later seeing the audience at Sanders Hall get up on their feet to applaud DeMatos following the premier.
Friday Night's LCO concert was not, however, the only standing ovation I witnessed from the stage during the past week. On Tuesday, I performed with a trombone choir in West Bridgewater, and yesterday afternoon, I performed with the Brckton Symphony Orchestra in Easton. The audiences at each of these events stood up to applaud the performers following the show, despite what I would consider to be a great disparity in performance quality. When I think back on the various concerts in which I have performed in the last few years, the audience has given a standing ovation to nearly every one.
It seems that the standing ovation has become an expectation of audiences, almost as if remaining seated following a performance were a sign of disrespect. As Amy Stumpfl writes in "The Tenneseean" earlier this year, "...to me, the standing ovation should be spontaneous — a genuinely
emotional response that practically lifts you out of your seat. It is
something to be earned, not automatically expected." In her interview with Belmont University's Bill Feehely, Feehely states "I think audiences are beginning to lose their sense of what’s really special."
Friday night's premier of DeMatos' Psalm 51 was clearly a special moment. The audience was so affected by the piece that, following the last note, they sat in stunned silence for a number of seconds before the applause began. It was as though the room held its breath waiting for more. While I do not mean to suggest that yesterdays BrSO performance did not warrant the audience's appreciation, I believe that overuse of the standing ovation deprives audiences of the tools necessary to commemorate what they feel is exceptional.