Relax. You might just enjoy yourselves

It happened again the other night. After a long build-up, the wave of musical euphoria finally crashed, pulsing through the audience, knocking them sideways. A stunned silence followed, then a small group began to applaud, speckled patches of clapping joining from across the auditorium. But it didn't last. A series of glances both embarrassed and derisory informed the relevant individuals of their shame with brutal efficiency.

You see, at classical music concerts, it's just not done to clap between the movements of works. Only at the end, when the work is done, may the audience release their pent-up tensions in ritualised approbation.

People are often put off classical music by its reputation for snobbery but the guilt in this attaches not to the music but to its audiences. Nor can they necessarily be blamed. Where the constant lowing of sacred cows can be almost deafening, and where opinion boldly goes where understanding may not, snobbism flourishes with the vigour of Japanese knotweed.

But the underlying problem is one common to all the arts: fear. The arts are rank with it. Fear of being thought ignorant or being revealed as a fraud. Fear of not knowing how to pronounce chiaroscuro, trompe l'oeil or gesamtkunstwerk. Fear because the books we think we should have read bully us mercilessly and the music we think we ought to recognise tortures us on a rack of nagging self-doubt. Galleries and concert hall lobbies are filled with those darting eyes and premature nodding that masks the gentle, creeping terror of those seeking to signify recognition where none in fact exists....

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