I was sitting in the audience at one of my son’s concerts. This one was going to be a marathon. His High School music program held a pre-holiday showcase, allowing students to perform individually or in small groups. Although there was supposed to be some reasonable standard for getting to perform, there was typically way too many performances of too wide of a variety in quality. The favored kids got to do insipid “funny” numbers and many of the acts were considerably too long. I must admit that the staging was pretty smooth and by using the entire auditorium, there were no significant delays. Still, three-plus hours was the norm for this type of show.
Even with the extreme diversity of talent, every act had one thing in common. It was followed by a standing ovation. Not everyone stood for every act. It was usually the parents. There were some, however, apparently bent on fairness, who stood for every single one.
I know we live in the self-esteem generation. My kids received student-of-the-month bumper stickers. They received innumerable certificates and trophies for participation. When my son left for college, and he finally moved his books, saxophones, and clothes, we were taken aback by the incredible amount of awards in his room. It looked to rival Tiger Woods. Here’s the thing…my kid hadn’t really done all that much.
When I was a kid, you did stuff mostly because you had to, and occasionally because you wanted to. I got feedback once in a while from a parent or teacher, both positive and negative, but that was about it. Still, somehow, I knew to feel good when my band put it all together and had a good performance. I also had the opportunity to feel like crap when the group or I as an individual underperformed. I just don’t recall ever receiving a standing ovation.
I grew up going regularly to concerts and theater performances. My understanding has always been that polite applause was the reward and acknowledgement of the efforts of the performers. Whoops and whistles were considered boorish behavior as much as boos and hisses. If something truly extraordinary happened, many in the crowd would stand and applaud, almost always waiting until the end of the performance.
There are rare exceptions, of course. For some reason, that eludes me, audiences have a Pavlovian response to the kick line. In any performance, when the orchestra goes into a ritardando, the performers line up across the stage, and all begin kicking in unison to the music, the crowd enters a trance-like state and begins clapping. The first match the beat and then devolve into some sort of convulsive behavior. I can see when you take that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Radio City and the Rockettes are doing it. They are really amazingly good at it, and there are like fifty of them doing it at once. But Joe Namath, bad knees and all at Boca Dinner Theatre? I think not.
I’ve even stood and clapped at my son’s baseball games…but again, I’m talking extraordinary. My son’s team was batting and I was in the stands along the third base line. With the tying run on second and no outs, the batter hit a bullet up the third base line. The third basemen dove to he left and knocks down the ball. He picks it up, has the wherewithal to look the runner back to second, and throws the batter out at first…real Brooks Robinson stuff. Even though he is on the opposing team, I stand and clap and say great play, kid. The other parents are looking at me like I’m standing on the deck of the flaming Arizona clapping for Tojo’s brilliant sneak attack plan for Pearl Harbor. For an eleven-year-old, the play was extraordinary.
As we reach intermission, I have counted at least a dozen separate standing ovations given by the fellow to my immediate right. He certainly cannot have that many kids in four grades of high school. When the lights come on for intermission, he stands yet again and applauds. As my wife heads to the restroom, I jokingly say to the guy, “Dude, you might want to save some of that.”
He sits back down beside me and says, “Oh, but the kids worked so hard.”
I am quite confident that this is not completely true. Some acts appear to have had little planning and no rehearsal at all. I continue, “But what if something truly spectacular happens?”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
Since he seems to be so earnest, I decide to have a little fun at his expense. “Well according to the program, the second coming of Jesus is going to be in the second half.”
He looks puzzled for a second and when I smile, he realizes that he’s been had.
He says, “That’s funny.” But as he says it, he actually stands up, faces me and starts clapping.
I was momentarily taken aback before realizing, “Hey, that felt pretty good.”
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