Standing Ovations: Appropriate or Pressure?

I have always had an issue with standing ovations. This was especially the case years ago, when other people would stand up and applaud for something and I would just stand up with them. Eventually I realized what am I doing? Most of the time I was just waiting for someone else to stand up, and then I would come to the conclusion that it was time for me to stand up.

You see, giving someone a standing ovation means, to me, that you are so overwhelmed by the amazing thing that is happening before you that you automatically just get out of your seat without even realizing it and clap and cheer as hard as you can.

The first time I felt this way was at my very first trip to the Minnesota Orchestra back in college. I went with a few friends and we sat up in the side balcony of Orchestra Hall. The featured piece was great, but they ended the concert with Ravel's "Bolero." I'd never heard the entire piece from start to finish, and the dynamic changes that take place over the piece with the addition of instruments was mesmerizing. And what holds it together? The snare drum, which just plays the same beat for 15 minutes. 

I was entranced and exhilarated, and then there's the modulation that signals that the piece is wrapping up and this is the loudest it gets, and then BAM! It just stops. I didn't even wait for the cue to stand; I just jumped to my feet. And you know what? Most of the audience did the same thing. There wasn't that ten seconds of applause followed by that one person who just has to stand up and then everyone follows suit. There was no doubt that everyone was going to stand and cheer after the piece was done.

After that, my view on standing ovations changed. I knew that some people were going to be so excited for whatever they were viewing that they were going to stand, but I shouldn't feel the need to do so if I didn't feel the same way.

Of course, that kind of depends on who you're with. If I'm with family or acquaintances, I almost feel a pressure to stand up if everyone else is standing. If I don't, they might think I'm some miser or too stuck up for my own good. Or I might get The Look, like "You better get up and show some support." I am! I'm applauding! Just because I'm not inspired to stand doesn't mean I'm not supporting them.

Being on the other end, though, makes me feel a bit differently - but only a bit. When I was in a play or putting on a concert, a standing ovation was vindication that we had just put on a really good show or concert. But sometimes I did feel like people were just standing up because "that's what we do," even though our performance wasn't that good. I was more inspired and happy when people would personally come up to me and tell me what a good job I did!

There is one time when I definitely feel a standing ovation is necessary. (And I'm not going to cover weddings and funerals, because that's standing and not applauding.) Over the Fourth of July weekend I attended a parade in a small town nearby. The parade had the cop car clearing the path of stray people crossing the street, and then the American flag was marched down the street. And out of habit and respect for the flag and for our nation, and because I'd been taught to do it at parades back in my hometown, I stood and applauded.

I was shocked to see how many people lining the streets didn't stand up as the flag went by. A few more stood up and applauded for the vets that walked behind it, but it still wasn't a unanimous. It was pretty depressing.

That is something that parents and adults need to teach children to do. The adults in my hometown showed me and my siblings and friends how to do it, and now we as adults teach the children we know how to do it. It was Independence Day, and when you are properly instructed on why that day is celebrated and the steps that were taken to ensure our freedom, why wouldn't you stand?

Your opinion on standing ovations might be different from mine, but I think we can all agree on this point. Just remember that no matter what you're watching, those people worked really hard to put on that performance, and no matter how you show it, make sure they feel appreciated!


  1. Yeah, I hate it when standing ovations are done more out of obligation or pressure than actual enthusiasm. It cheapens the experience. And frankly, if a few people are standing and the rest are sitting, that's fine; it just means those few REALLY got into it.

  2. Great thought - thanks for sharing!


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