Columnist Tom Taylor: Clap (at the wrong time) and be damned at classic gigs

A classical music concert audience.
A classical music concert audience.

Room for a Laugh: The world of Tom Taylor, organiser of Harrogate’s Sitting Room comedy club and finalist in Nando’s New Comedian Of The Year 2014 at Edinburgh Fringe

You can’t help but feel sorry for those who are genuinely moved and impassioned by live classical music.

Their grail is one of astonishing breadth and beauty. They can be hurled around like lottery balls through the turbulence of Sibelius’ symphonic poem Finlandia, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people, then launched into the tear-jerking romance and emotion of the third movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony then have cold water chucked all over them by a damp squib like Boléro.

And yet, however moved they might be by the fluttering bass drums or the booming flutes – or versa vice – they are gagged by their fellow concert goers.

For these coves, who will occasionally consent to the mouth-popping-in of a Fisherman’s Friend or some other vile antiquity from the Museum of Victorian Sweets and Things That Are Better Left in the 1800s (you’re right, I don’t know how they fit all that on the brown tourist attraction sign), pivot with remarkable speed and technical clout and let detestation pour from their faces should they so much as hear the clicking together of two hooves, the muffled snap of a glasses case or any clapping like sound that does not come at the appropriate time for clapping as clearly stated in the unwritten rules.

As much as you may want to whoop and holler as you get whisked away by sweet music, there are angry lighthouses out there ready to turn on any boat who shouts “I BLOODY LOVE THE SEA” before the gull chorus have squawked their final squawk and drive said boat onto the rocky outcrop of disapproval.

I mean, get with it chaps, we’ve all been stood in the holding pens at a scintillating, emotionally powerful game of association football when someone in shorts performs such a good kick – perhaps even punting it into the net for a point – that we feel moved to shout “Bravo” or “Sublime” or “Ei-Ei-Ei-o, up the football league we go!” only to be nudged by the gent next to us and told politely, “Not now Geoff, we save all our clapping till the end.”

Knowing when and when not to clap is complex for the musical philistine and it is hard to grasp why it causes such great anxiety in the bosom of so many a concert goer.

Great musicians of the past did not demand reverential hush, indeed, there is a delightful letter written by Mozart, in 1778, to his father, in which he revelled in the applause he received throughout a concert: “I was so delighted, I went right after the Sinfonie to the Palais Royale – bought myself an ice cream.” There ain’t no party like a Wolfgang party.

I read somewhere that that the silence between movements (not a pleasant word at the best of times but one that, in this sentence, does create a sense of foreboding) was Wagner’s fault.

Apparently, the preparatory silence before a performance is known as the ‘Bayreuth hush’ and it dates from a personal request from Wagner for the audience to be quiet during a performance of Parsifal at Bayreuth.

The whole thing rather backfired when the maestro, moved by one of his own scenes, called out “Bravo”, and was promptly hissed by the audience.

This, I think, is rather brilliant.

l Sitting Room Comedy Club returns to the St George Hotel, Harrogate on Wednesday, February 11 with Jarred Christmas (Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Dave’s One Night Stand, Mock the Week, Russell Howard’s Good News, 8 Out of 10 Cats), Jonathan Mayor, Pat Cahill and compère Dan Nightingale. Tickets and more information are available at

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