Collage Format

I love collage format – the holding of applause until the end of the concert – in certain situations.

For example, the Holiday Collage Concert my high school music department presents every year. Collage format allowed for substantially more music in our 75 minutes concert by transitioning seamlessly from piece to piece, and it enabled students to participate in multiple ensembles or small groups while making all the movement happen out of sight while other music was being played.

It has been my experience, though, that collage format is quite in vogue at music conferences. In this case, I generally do not enjoy it as much.

First, the lack of applause doesn’t add enough time to significantly increase music performed. In a conference-length set, you might save a couple of minutes – not enough for an additional octavo-length piece.

Second, this time gain is often lost by ensembles who need a moment to transition between pieces. That’s natural. It takes stamina to present a longer set of music, and a small break can be beneficial. But those breaks becomes awkward without applause to cover them. The results is large gaps of silence that aren’t in keeping with true collage format.

Third, it is artificial – at conferences I regularly see music professionals wanting to applaud truly outstanding music, only to feel forbidden by the note in the program. As performers, we ought to recognize that the audience is a vital part of our performance, and allow them to make their own decisions regarding applause between pieces.

Fourth, there is often no programmatic reason to hold applause. I can certainly get behind two pieces performed attacca, even by different composers, if it offers a programmatic reason. My wife executed this brilliantly at the ACDA-Michigan Fall Conference, as described here: they used Fruits of the Selfless Heart as a sort of choral mantra underneath the opening narrative of But a Flint Holds Fire, adding drama to the second piece and increasing the catharsis at the end of Andrea Ramsey’s piece. It’s worth noting that no note had to be added to hold applause there, because the musical moment dictated it with no comment needed.

Without such a programmatic reason, and with a silent pause that could be covered with applause, I strongly urge conference performers to reconsider their program note saying, “Please hold all applause to the end of the performance.”

tl;dr: If you want to add a note in a conference program saying, “please don’t clap,” you probably shouldn’t.