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Sit down and listen: Standing ovations getting out of hand

Utahns need to save their raves for spectacular event

Utahns have a reputation for all sorts of things — some better, some worse. For example, I've heard that we're known in other parts of the country as unusually friendly people.

As I've traveled, I've found friendly people just about every place I've gone, so it's hard for me to say for certain if that's an absolute truth. One thing I can say, however, with complete assurance, is that in the concert hall, we are friendly to a fault.

I can probably count on one finger (maybe two) the number of performances I've attended where the performing artist(s) hasn't received a standing ovation (or should we say, the "standard" ovation).

You've really got to be bad — I mean, really bad — to not get one. And we're talking out-of-tune-Britney-Spears- wannabe-at-karaoke-night bad.

Now, my understanding is that you stand after you've heard a spectacular event — a truly peak performance, where the excitement and enthusiasm is so great that to not leap to your feet almost seems impossible. It's those times that the music brings tears running down your cheeks or makes your heart beat faster and your blood rush to your face. It may even be a performance where you simply appreciate the genius of the talent before you.

But not every performance.

By definition, a peak performance cannot be every performance. No performer, no performing organization plays at its peak during every single concert. Not even Yo-Yo Ma.

Professional performers probably do their best at every concert, but there are some days when everything comes together in a magical, synergistic way, and there are days when, for no particular reason, everything falls flat. Admittedly, Yo-Yo Ma on his bad days is probably better than most on their best days, but we're humans, not robots. No athlete plays his best game every game.

By the same token, not every concert (by various organizations and individuals) during a given month will be a peak concert. The law of averages indicates that some will be above, and some below, average.

I have to admit, though, watching Utahns' standing ovations can be entertainment in and of itself — maybe even worth the price of admission. Rather than the rush of energy that brings members of a crowd simultaneously to their feet after a show of genius, it's usually more like a voting process.

First, one person stands — often after a couple of minutes of clapping, casting their "aye." Then, another person seconds it, and then another. Once the majority of the crowd has decided to stand, everyone in the auditorium is compelled to rise to his or her feet. This usually occurs after the second or third bow.

One of my favorite standing-ovation experiences was at a jazz concert, where everybody stood, applauded the artist, made him come out for about three bows, and then began streaming out when it looked like he was going to play an encore.

Or another concert, where the audience gave the standing ovation after the next-to-last piece (they thought it was the end, apparently), and then departed, while the player was tapping the microphone saying, "Hey, wait! We still have another song to play for you!"

What's the deal? I think we're sending mixed messages, here.

My theory is that this happens because we're such a family oriented society. I think we're so used to encouraging children and applauding their progressive efforts that we apply the same feel-good philosophy to professional performers.

After all, they've been practicing really hard, and besides, we don't want to hurt their feelings. I laud parents who support their children and offer encouragement, especially in musical pursuits. But professionals — people with degrees, experience and a paycheck . . . well, they're different. We're paying money to hear people who purport to be (and usually are) the "experts" in their field.

Teachers don't give an A+ to every student, so why do we lavish the same sort of superlative praise on people who get paid to do what they do?

As an audience, we get to acknowledge the effort of these professionals, the preparation and accomplishment of a good performance, through clapping.

If we don't like it very much, a short acknowledgement will do. If we like it a lot, we can demand multiple bows by loud and continuous clapping.

And if the performance is really amazing, we stand.

But even an A+ can lose its meaning if its not duly earned.