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3.2: Social Setting and Performance Rules

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  • The relationship between the performers and audience members is highly dependent on the social setting in which a particular musical event takes place. The rules that govern proper performance will vary from setting to setting, and from culture to culture. In the western concert tradition, for example, the performers sit on a raised presidium stage which provides a spatial separation between them and their audience. Audience members are expected to sit in silent contemplation during the performance (cell phones off please!), clapping only when the conductor walks on stage, at the end of a piece and at the end of the concert (not in-between movements or after solos, except at the opera where applause and shouts of bravo, brava, and bravi are customary expressions of approval). At an African American gospel service, in contrast, the singers may leave the stage and walk/run/dance out among audience members who are expected to clap, stamp, and shout encouragement to the performers throughout a song. At a jazz club quiet talk is usually permissible, and audience members are expected to clap not only at the end of a piece but also after a particularly moving solo is played by one of the performers.

    In many social settings audience members do more than sit and listen. At a wedding or at a dance club, for example, audience members dance in a designated space in front of the ensemble, and the musicians are expected to play an appropriate repertoire for the event and the indented audience. One expects a certain type of music and dancing at a rock or blues club, another at a salsa club, and another at a Jewish, Italian, or Greek wedding. Dancers may shout encouragement and make requests to the band, and musicians often watch the dancers to determine how long to keep a piece going, or whether to play a fast or slow piece next. In various Afro-Caribbean religious rituals the musicians drum and chant to call down the spirits to worshipers who dance and trance in special areas of the ceremony. In outdoor events like West Indian Carnival, the musicians and the dancers often merge into one dancing throng to the point where it is impossible to differentiate the performers from the audience members.

    All musical performances are governed by rules that are setting and culture specific. The next time you plan to hear a live music performance, think about the expectations
    for performer and audience interaction that are appropriate for that particular setting. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation, be observant and see if you can determine the appropriate rules.

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