His voice filled me from the sheer beauty of it – the deep register and clear tone. I didn’t understand a word of what he was singing and couldn’t distract from his performance to read the words in the program. In fact, I couldn’t even keep my eyes open because visual images interfered with my enjoyment of his voice. I just had to surrender myself to the pure sound.
I wanted to respond. I wanted to say uh-huh, Amen, clap or something other than the gentle swaying my body was doing because bodies in my culture respond to music while it is happening and after it is over. This was a chamber music concert, however, and clearly this wasn’t done. The piece he was singing – Dichterliebe, (A Poet’s Love), Opus 48 by Robert Schumann – was very long with 16 song cycles. Every time I thought it was ending, when the singing ceased and Dashon Burton stood silently, the piece would start again. I looked to my right – a gentleman had his program opened and was making notes. I looked in front of me and no one was stirring.
In the chamber and classical music concerts I’ve attended, it is the tradition to wait until a piece has ended before one responds. The applause is often thunderous as if the audience has been holding its breath for a long time and needs to release all those pent-up emotions and responses. Woe be anyone who breaches that delayed response. You will get side-eyed and tsks-tsks. Once, I attended a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at a community venue during Conductor Seiji Osawa’s farewell tour and he even stopped to let the audience know that their applause wasn’t coming at the appropriate time.
Give a girl a clue.
I grew up in a tradition of gospel music, R&B, Motown and Philly Soul, jazz and blues with a sprinkling of country music now and again, all of which it was okay to respond to – it was actually expected and welcomed. We even had times when the entire congregation would hum as one voice and still we responded.
Give a woman a when.
I thoroughly enjoyed bass-baritone Dashon Burton (with Christopher Walter on piano) at the Parish of All Saints Peabody Hall at this concert on September 16th sponsored by the Ashmont Hill Chamber Music. I have also enjoyed concerts at BSO, Boston Baroque, Boston Landmarks Orchestra (on the Esplanade and much less stuffy), Handel and Haydn Society, etc. I have a few suggestions for all of these organizations that are actively trying to diversify their audience base:
Introduce the concert – As in, “Welcome…Some of you have enjoyed our concerts regularly and some of you are new to our concerts, maybe even new to chamber music…this is how we do…”
Translation in program – Mention that there is one, which may help people understand and will certainly illuminate the songs. (This was certainly true of the aforementioned Dichterliebe. It was about love, unrequited, she married someone else! Happened centuries ago; happens now.)
Inform why applause should be held (Will it really bother the singer and musicians if we respond during the music? Especially a brother like Dashon who comes from the African-American tradition and included a few musical selections from that tradition in his program.)
Inform when it is appropriate to clap: Have a volunteer start the clapping when a piece has ended or have a sign (“piece has ended y’all”) or flicker the lights or something.
At any rate, I will continue enjoying classical and chamber music from time-to-time as I can. I enjoy most music. Music speaks to the souls of people.
Let me also brag #Dorchestergotitgoingon! Other concerts I’ve enjoyed at the Parish of All Saints in Dorchester were:
Dot Jazz Series – First concert of the season featured Jason Palmer – on September 13 – great music, affordable ($15 includes dessert and beverages; season ticket gives a discount to the bimonthly series)