Tuesday, June 16, 2009

These hands deserve some applause

Fortunately for me, I've had many occasions in the past few weeks to cheer. To applaud. More specifically, to clap.

It started 2 weeks ago when I was fortunate enough to see Phish play at Fenway Park in Boston. I'm a longtime Phish fan and a Boston native, but I had never seen them live and I had never seen a concert at Fenway. Two birds, meet one stone. As you might imagine, there was lots of cheering and clapping at that concert. Every song, every solo, every intro, every encore, etc. Heck, Phish even has a song, Stash, which includes an audience refrain of rapid claps in succession. To wit:

The clapping party continued later that week when we had our annual Employee Recognition lunch at VPR. On that day we honored six of our colleagues for career milestones, six people with a collective 100 years of service to Vermont Public Radio. On the VPR Blog we called it "A Century of Service" and, deservedly so, they all received rounds of applause and even a couple standing ovations. In other words, more clapping.

And it continued from there. The Burlington Discover Jazz Festival began its 10-day run and I started to wonder just how much clapping I would be doing. Mind you, this is not a complaint - I rather enjoy clapping, and I can even be generous (although not overly) with the standing ovations. I merely thought it prudent to take steps to ensure I was in shape for the clapping-filled days ahead, much like a runner preparing for a marathon. Yes, I was like an athlete in training and, like any athlete, I am aware of the importance of proper stretching before and after a workout.  Never having prepped myself for rigorous clapping, I naturally took to the internet to learn some helpful stretching techniques:

As I was sitting in the chair, stretching like the lady in the video, I started to wonder: maybe I should mix it up. Maybe, rather than being an applause one-trick pony, I could expand beyond clapping and have a more diverse set of tools at my disposal for expressing approval in a crowd.  Sure, I can just increase my "woo-hoo" quotient, but that didn't really seem original.

I immediately considered ululation.  Wikipedia defines ululation as "a long, wavering, high-pitched sound resembling the howl of a dog or wolf with a trilling quality".  I suppose that's accurate, but I don't think that description makes it sounds as lovely as I think it sounds.  If you have ever been to a wedding or a concert with lots of African women, they often ululate in celebration and approval.  If you still don't know what I'm talking about, check this video: the ululation starts at around 13 seconds:

Guedra from Hannah Scarritt-Selman on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia states that ululating is "exclusive to women". I'm not sure how they enforce that, but since it's on the internet it must be true. Regardless, I don't really think it's a practical alternative to clapping for your average 30-something white American male.

After ruling out ululation I considered humming.  Yes, humming.  Last year I attended a conference at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard where the method of choice for crowd expression was humming. Yes, that's right, they/we hummed. The Berkman Center is just what it sounds like and at this gathering the crowd was presented with questions from the speaker and if they agreed, they hummed, if they disagreed, they didn't. If the speaker posed a question and heard a loud sustained humming from the crowd, the message was clear: if the speaker heard silence, the message was similarly clear. If the humming was mild - neither strong nor quiet - the speaker knew he had a mixed response and had to further refine his message to achieve some sort of agreement. While it was an effective technique for polling a crowd, it seems less effective as a tool of applause. Was I really going to leap out of my chair and hum for Anat Cohen?

Which brings me back to the Discover Jazz Festival, the original reason I was thinking about clapping alternatives in the first place. Back to the the Main Stage, back to the Flynn Space, back to the Waterfront, to Church St, to Radio Bean, to the rock outside Leunig's. These are the places I saw some amazing artists ply their crafts. This is where I watched Anat Cohen's hands work the clarinet, Esperanza Spalding's hands work the bass, Branford Marsalis's hands work the sax, Parker Shper's the piano, Jen Hartswick's the trumpet, and on and on and on. And I thought those - those are the hands that are truly working hard. Forget my clapping - these musicians' hands are the ones that are working hard to express their art, to entertain the crowd, and to fill our community with music.

And so, I clapped.

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