Excessive Ovation Syndrome

There’s a malady sweeping the nation that’s highly contagious to concertgoers.  It doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call it Excessive Ovation Syndrome (EOS for short).  Those suffering from it stand and applaud at performances that aren’t good enough to deserve such enthusiasm. In extreme cases, they shout “Bravo!” during events that are best forgotten.

The more people pay for tickets, the more susceptible they are to EOS, because ovations confirm that their money was well spent.  Even those in bargain seats can easily catch it from their neighbors.  The urge to stand and cheer may be irresistible if everyone around you is doing it.

Here is more.  Is the fear that too much costly clapping goes on?  I believe most of these people enjoy the pretentious show of approval.  A more plausible worry is that audiences, if they approve all performances, can no longer signal quality to performers.  Given that other and arguably more accurate signals remain in place (critics, bloggers, the conductor, etc.), I am not sure we should be concerned by greater noise in the audience signal.  After all, the very complaint suggests that the audience cannot be trusted to judge quality, so why not neutralize them?

And if the excess clapping gives the less musically sophisticated attendees a better memory of the show, that is arguably a benefit.  Are we not, after all, committed egalitarians?

Against my better aesthetic judgment, I am on the verge of endorsing Excessive Ovation Syndrome.


EOS - talk about irrational exuberance. Ai yi yi yi yi....

Theres the negative externality of annoying the people next to you who know better.

If everybody is giving a standing ovation there is significant social pressure to join in, which is irritating.

The phenomenon is linked with the view that if someone is doing something arty or "creative" it is somehow this wonderful thing that deserves to be gushed over, which is rubbish.

Being moved to give a standing ovation is rare and special, especially for the performers, excessive ovations are robbing every one of these genuinely special moments.

It counts as compensation to performers. EOS is inflation, eating into this value.

How bout using more and more exclamation points to drive home just how excited you are!!!!!! And what is a star these days anyway? Anyone less than a megastar is really just a nobody.

I have been seeing the same phenomenon occur at weddings. As a bride and a groom enter the reception hall, everyone is obligated to give the new couple a standing ovation, while simultaneously casting doubtful eyes to their neighbors about how long that union is truly going to last.

EOS is much less prevalent in Europe, I've found. I think our problem is that we're missing a middle level of approval - better than mere clapping, but less than the ovation. The Europeans have the end of concert rythmic clap, which I think fits the bill.

LOL, a bit of accidental wisdom from Tyler_Cowen:

I believe most of these people enjoy the pretentious show of approval.

That explains pretty much all "high art" patronage, not just excessive clapping, I'm afraid to say.

"Oh, *I* enjoy Bach/abstract expressionism/ Shakespeare. *You* just don't get it."

Joshua Bell, anyone?

We have no choice. If we don't applaud and applaud, we won't get our encores.

Jokes that get applause rather than laughter can't really be funny. Clever, perhaps. Funny, no.

I think EOS is more prevalent when you are dealing with "blockbuster" shows like musicals of various sorts. I mean if you're going to see some blockbuster musical and its not opening night or closing night or something special, then the performance is most likely not going to be even close to deserving of a standing ovation. However, it will happen, because the audience would feel like they didn't see a 'blockbuster' if they didn't stand and cheer at the end.

I am anti-EOS, for what its worth.

Speaking of ovations for economics lecturers, I found it interesting to note which of my econ professors received an ovation for the last lecture of the year and which ones didn't. It wasn't easily predictable.

An academic treatment.

"The Standing Ovation Problem"
Miller and Page


I think a large part of it is that many people do not go to events often. When they do, they want their money's worth so they clap to try to get the encore. So Gary Sugar is right. That especially applies to big name acts or any music with expensive tickets.

If one goes to smaller shows for bands with smaller followings, the cheers and ovation are more likely to conincide with real enthusiasm for the show. Chances are these audiences know the material better as well (as people who follow smaller acts are more likely to have higher interest and more "refined" tastes) and are better likely to know if they got a good performance. The cheaper tickets allows fans to go to such shows more often and thus develop their ear for good performances.

As for theatre and classical music performances, I think many people who can go were not brought up with it. They don't know when they should have standing ovations. They base their decision to do so not on clues from experienced audience goers, but by their expectations from depictions in other media like movies. Usually when such events are shown, people see a standing ovation so when they go into a theatre themselves they expect to do so - and in large part giving an ovation becomes part of the experience they pay for. They aren't a real member of the community, but a "tourist." Such people, should they continue to attend shows regularly, and thereby experience the difference between a routine, good, and exceptional performances, will begin to ratchet down the applause appropriately.

Tyler is aware that some of us think not enough "disapproval" is shown at sub-par concerts -- especially of the classical variety.

I once got fed up with a modernist/soi-disant avant garde cello concerto and stood up at the end and started to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

My wife was appalled, but this is one European custom I'd like to see imitated more often over here.

That's why I yell "Hey that was pretty good! Not the best mind you, but pretty good!" I need to find one word that expresses the same feeling. Do Germans have a word for it?

I'm sure they do, and I'm sure it has 6 syllables.

Also: what Elena said.

I once got fed up with a modernist/soi-disant avant garde cello concerto and stood up at the end and started to boo and hiss as loudly as possible.

I wish people would do that during church sermons.

I'm sorry to post something so innane, but I just had to share that when I read the post topic, I thought it said "Excessive Ovulation Syndrome." Combined with the one-line preview in my RSS reader of "There's a malady sweeping the nation that's highly contagious..." I began to worry...

"Every single opera I've seen in Seattle has had EOS."

Heh, it was the dearth of ladies' rooms in the old Seattle Opera house and the inevitable traffic jam in the parking garage that originally instilled in me the impulse to bolt for the door while everyone else was still clapping. :)

Frankly I think the explanation is simple, and suggested by Dan Hill above, tho never taken to its logical conclusion:

I beleive in signalling my approval through market mechanisms. I pay my money and you give me a performance, the quality of which ought to be commensurate with the ticket price. Do you clap when your grocery clerk delivers the 'performance' you've just paid the supermarket for?

No one fears for supermarkets. Capitalism works fine over there. But there is an enormous and growing fear that classical performers and performances are on their way out.

I don't think I need to remind this group of readers that there is an increasing sense that classical audiences are dwindling and classical organizations are facing a poor future. True or not, this is certainly the general feeling.

So I believe audiences use applause as non-monetary compensation. They are begging the performers to stay in their profession.

"PLEASE, Ms Fleming, please don't release a rock and roll album, Please stay in opera and keep singing the operatic repertory, we're BEGGING you."

I'd be very interested to see if anyone has examined (or would examine) excessive ovations in this light.

I'll speak from the perspective of a frequent classical music concert attendee, an amateur performer, and a close friend to several professional musicians.

I have a pretty well-developed understanding of the music I listen to -- I've played lots of it (in orchestras and chamber groups), I attend around 50 concerts a year, and I have a classical music library of about 1000 cds.

Nevertheless, the point when I attend a concert is not to be a critic, comparing each performance to the others I've heard. That is subsidiary to the underlying goal -- enjoying the music.

An audience member's standing ovation shows his or her level of enjoyment. When I attend a decent but undistinguished concert (or sometimes even a bad performance) and see others standing and cheering at the end, I think it's great. Maybe they're really cheering the composer. (Even in a bad performance, I think listeners are stunned by Beethoven's genius -- and that's great!) Maybe they're connecting on some level with the performers' effort. Fine with me.

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