Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Open Letter to People who Perform/Lead Music

Dear People Who Perform/Lead Music, 

Let me start by saying thanks. I myself know how difficult it can be to perform/lead music, and I appreciate that a little feedback or participation from the crowd can help validate you and set your mind at ease about your performance/leading.

But hear this: I don't want to rhythmically clap during the song. Honestly, I greatly dislike the whole convention. I don't like it because some pleeb is going to start slapping away on 1 & 3 instead of 2 & 4, and that makes me hate all white people for a minute. And my family and a large percentage of my loved ones are white (as am I), so that causes all sorts of conflicted emotions that I just don't need to deal with right now.

Also, clapping during songs is work, and not the rewarding kind, but the kind of “dig-this-hole-then-fill-it-in” work that inmates are made to do as punishment. Don't get me wrong; I've been drawn in by particularly lively siren songs more than once—songs that blinded me to what was really going on and made me think, “Yeah, I really do want to clap along with this.” But then, after like six repetitions of smashing one of my hands against the other, I'm tired of it. But I know that if I stop clapping right then, I'll look like a total quitter with enormous commitment issues, so I usually try and keep it up for the rest of the song (which can be as long as five minutes!), even though I didn't want to start clapping to begin with and I was just pressured into it.

I'm not suggesting that people who enjoy clapping along with music should not do it; I'm saying that you, as the performer/leader, need to stop doing that thing where you look all expectantly at the audience and start clapping your hands above your head like some kind of maniac until 51% of the group is following suit. Because what do you do then? You stop. You stop clapping, which is understandable, since clapping is work, but now we're all stuck. That's just unfair, man.

Another thing I don't like: standing at concerts. Now, back in the mid-to-late Nineties, I was the first guy down into the mosh pit, but I have since determined that the best way to appreciate almost all live music is by sitting in a comfortable chair, absorbing it (the music, not the chair). I offer as outside evidence the fact that almost all concert halls, auditoria, and arenas, are filled with, that's right, chairs. I expect the Justin Beiber concert or whatever the 2014 equivalent of the Jonas Brothers or Hanna Montana is to be all-standing-all-the-time, but that's one of many, many reasons I would never attend such a concert.

Because here's the thing: the next stop for me on the age-train is 40. And, while my hips and knees are in quite good shape and I am perfectly capable of standing (in fact, I try to use my standing desk half the time I'm working in my study), I'm also somewhat grumpy. And Dutch. Why does that matter? Because I paid for a seat, not an 18” square of floor in which to stand. I encourage others to stand during concerts if they are so moved, but only if they are not positioned between me and the stage.The phrase "down in front!" is a recognizable thing for a reason.

Along those lines (and I can't believe I even have to say this), if your music is failing to elicit the kind of “I just have to move my body” vibe that you'd like, please do not resort to ordering the audience around like some kind of musical Stalin. “Put your hands up now! Now wave them! Then, when I sing the second line of the chorus, clap three times! DO IT!!!”

I remember my affection for a particularly Australian Christian singer dwindling after attending one of her concerts in high school. And I started with an abnormally high amount of affection (i.e. she was my Jonas Brothers, even though that sounds weird). But after two hours of barked orders about what to do with our hands, when to shout what, and (I kid you not!) regular updates/reviews of our progress and how we, as an audience, could do better, I got the sense that the whole crowd felt...well, used. To me, from that day on, that particular singer looked/sounded like this:

I doubt that's what she was going for.

Thank you for your consideration,



  1. As a singer and an occasional audience member, I agree with you completely.

  2. Amen. Bill and I are quick to point out when artists have "the Rebecca St. James syndrome".

  3. Hey! Whoa, now! No one said who SPECIFICALLY was the Australian singer in question. Could have been Michelle Tumes...

  4. I'm slow clapping right now.

  5. We went to the Ryan Stevenson, Matt Maher, and TobyMac concert at DeVos a couple weeks ago. I couldn't get this blog post out of my head. Especially as we stood up and sat down with the crowd every time TobyMac performed a new song. I kept thinking that I had paid for seats, and I should be able to sit down when I want.