Sunday, September 21, 2008

Waves of applause...

Seemed to have carried public silence away.  As a choirmaster, I have always struggled with applause after an anthem, but fellow church members think me a stuffy old curmudgeon, I suspect.  At least it was good to see I'm not alone in missing the silence of an assembly.
I suppose politicians are suspicious of silence because it allows people to think for themselves. It has power. And nowhere is it more powerful than in a church. That is why religions talk of "inner silence", and "a silent mind freed from the onslaught of thoughts". Not an empty mind, note.

Besides, silence can fill a room in a way that applause never can. It can also provide us with a sense of communion with those around us and a feeling of harmony with ourselves. Perhaps it is reflection we are afraid of, then. Perhaps this is why we surround ourselves with sound - in our kitchens, in our cars, even as we are walking from the station with our earphones attaching us to our iPods.

Theatres always ask audiences to switch off mobile phones before a performance begins. I don't see why concert halls can't do the same, gently reminding people that it might be considerate to others not to applaud until the work is over. The same could apply to churches. But perhaps it's just me. I'd also ban that excruciating moment in a service where you are supposed to turn to your neighbour and shake hands. [More]
While I don't mind being the last of a species sliding into extinction,  after a while applause may lose its power to acclaim. Consider the infamous SOTU (State of the Union) address, where applause-scoring forms the modern substitute for actual analysis by commentators and the cadence of great oratory has been sacrificed for political preening.

As a speaker I think I've reached a point where if I had to choose between applause and silence, I would choose silence.  A dead hush means they definitely heard what you said.

Barbara Ehrenreich's suggestion we are lamenting the loss of public means of expressing joy could be valid.  Perhaps all the clapping is an attempt to replace communal celebrations we are all too busy or tuned out to participate in anymore.

1 comment:

Ol James said...

......(moment of silence while comteplating thoughts)...
Perhaps people cannot abide with silence. In this loud, fast talking society that multi-tasks like an ant hill, we have lost the ability?
Some of the BEST political reactions I have seen come from the UK. Watching the Prime Minister address Parliament and not only getting applause but boos and guffaw's..golden. Perhaps our politicians need the applause like a thespian on stage to serve as a popularity meter.
Silence can baffle a politician..perhaps in their mind the silence is just before the storm and right after the murmuring begins to escalate!
Silence is a sign of respect, little utilised and unappreciated.