Clap Fear

I should reassure residents of Cambridge (and environs) that this post is in no way related to the activities of Clinic 1A.  No, GofaDM remains family-friendly – though, if pressed, I would be hard pushed to identify the family: Addams, perhaps?

Today I shall be tackling the vexed question of audience participation and my associated anxieties.  Audience participation is nothing new of course: when I was a lad during the time of the old king (Elvis, I believe he was called) one of the few musical events we went to en famille was to see The Spinners.  For those unfamiliar with their oeuvre (not that I can imagine this is a large group) they were an a cappella folk group from Liverpool who were rather more famous in the 1970s than I had realised.  Anyway, for at least one song they would always divide the audience in two and have them join in with different vocal lines – something which didn’t engender particular fear in the much younger me.

Skipping forward forty years, on Good Friday I had the good fortune to see the Brighton Festival Chorus’ semi-staged version of Bach’s St John Passion.  This was as different as possible from the Dunedin Consort performance I saw the previous year, but also amazing.  We – the audience – were allowed to join in with four of the Chorales: but fortunately, a free day’s training session was laid on by the BFC a fortnight before the concert.  This was a wonderful day: largely down to the excellent Joe Cullen (who I still believe is called Nick – I suspect some raw work done at the baptismal font) who led the day: if anyone is looking for a speaker, may I heartily recommend him!   This day – in conjunction with nearly two weeks of practise at home – meant that I could join-in with relative equanimity on the day (despite Mr B’s worrying tendency to wander from the home key – he’s not wrong to do so, but it does make the bass part rather trickier for the neophyte singer).

No, my fears lie in the not uncommon request by a band for the audience to clap along with a fixed rhythm.  Obviously, this does not play well with my tempo-related deficiencies – I find it all too easy to provide some entirely unnecessary syncopation – which makes it stressful, particularly as non-participation tends to be frowned upon.  The other issue is that whilst the band are always very clear when the audience should being to participate, they are usually entirely silent as to when to cease.  I really feel some visual signal needs to be developed so that an audience knows when to stop clapping (a flashcard perhaps?) – otherwise, the audience rhythm-section can be represented by a normal distribution with an ever growing standard deviation.  The longer the clapping goes on, the more twitchy I become – especially if the band seem to have abandoned the rhythm we the audience are still trying to maintain.

This issue has arisen twice this week alone.  The first occasion was with Frigg (who also had us joining in with the Finnish version of Happy Birthday!) and where I am convinced we continued clapping for far too long, or certainly the time signature of the piece seemed to change quite substantially for the band but not for the rest of us.  The second occasion was last night at the Art House Cafe with The 150 Friends Club – though here (I must admit) the clapping seemed to work rather better and band and audience (probably) stayed on the same page rhythm-wise (why would you expect me to know, for Pete’s sake?).  Despite the nerve-wracking clapping incident, last night was enormous fun but rather poorly attended (at one stage I was slightly worried that I would be the audience).  I find it impossible to pigeonhole David Goo (what an excellent name, short and easy to spell but memorable) and the band into one (or even several genres) – my best idea is for you to imagine a cross between Vampire Weekend and Bo Burnham, then completely forget that and close your eyes really tight and the after-image on you eyelids might give you some idea.  Suffice to say, I returned home once again with some very reasonably priced CDs of a fairly obscure band’s work to enjoy at home.  I am always strangely pleased when I am listening to something on Spotify (because I am too lazy to work the CD player) where less than 2000 ears (assuming the standard complement per listener) have been before.  I do recognise this is less ideal for the musicians affected – but I am doing my best to make GofaDM into the NME de nos jours (though I’ll admit Tom Robinson probably has more impact, for now).

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