Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Clap Clap Clap

[Ed. Note: Here’s a piece that will probably run this week in The Chronicle, the weekly electronic newsletter of the church at which I gig.]


“This past Sunday, if you had been a newcomer to this congregation, I am imagining that there was one feature of the service that confused the heck out of you:

“So when DO I applaud?

“As a musician, the reason I’m thinking this is: there were some downright counterintuitive moments of congregational response, as it related to the musical offerings of the day.

“[1] At prelude time, Kevin and our trumpeting friend Richard Given presented J.S. Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’, and I believe I recall applause. [2] At offertory time, the choir launched the grand and glorious Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of ‘For All the Saints’, and after its firm and forthright conclusion … no one clapped. Instead, there was a gentle, almost unspoken ‘mmmm’ from the congregation. [3] During Communion, Kevin and Richard brought forth a gently swinging rendition of ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’, and it got applause – causing Pastor Joel to do a small eye-take, and causing a few choir members and me to whisper to ourselves, ‘we don’t often applaud right in the middle of Communion, do we? Oh well, it was Good Tunes…’ [4] And after the rousing closing hymn, which was text set to the grand old Beethoven ‘Ode to Joy’ melody and featured a blasting brass arrangement that was decidedly based on moments from its Symphony-No.-9 source, and therefore was played at near-jet-engine decibel levels (well… maybe not THAT loud) … no applause.


“Take note: above, I described these pieces of music as offerings. I didn’t call them performances; and I never do. A worship service isn’t a concert; and the choir and other assorted musicians are really offering up their art to God … although admittedly the congregation gets hit with it on its way by! And whatever effect the musical offering can have on a congregation is also all to the good.

“If this were a concert, we would have some idea as to the proper times to clap. At a musical comedy, it would be right after just about every piece of music. At a classical concert, it would be after each piece, except if a piece was one of several pieces in a multi-movement work like a symphony; then only after the last of a set. At a jazz club, people also clap in the middle of a tune after a soloist has completed her or his improvised solo. At a rock concert, very often they’ll clap any old time they want.

“In church?

“Ordinarily, I’d suggest that it’s much more complicated than mere protocol. If it’s one of those bouncy African-American spirituals, or one of those more contemporary ‘praise songs’ with drums and bass and such, then applause seems to work, either borne of the songs’ emotion or its resemblance to pop music. If it’s a quiet, contemplative choir anthem, then maybe not. If it’s a choir anthem that appeared to take lots of skill, or was quite forceful at the end, then we tend toward the trained response of clapping. If it’s a calm organ prelude, then both the lack of a dramatic stinger at the end and the selection’s placement in the order of service may dictate no applause.

“So the response to Sunday’s music, again, may have made a new churchgoer a little flustered. Do I clap? Do I not? And nobody wants to be the single person who claps, and then looks around. (Early this program year, a number of choir anthems finished, and it sounded as if that single person clapped and then other people jumped in and clapped too, as if not wishing to let that first person feel embarrassed!)

“Short of buying a flashing applause sign, as used to be used in the days of live radio variety show broadcasts, all I can say is … in church, please don’t feel obligated to applaud … but if the Spirit moves ya…!

“*sigh* There are no set rules. There is just what seems appropriate in the moment. Didn’t make that any easier, did I?”


November 3, 2015 - Posted by | music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: