No matter where the concert is, no matter the level of the concert when musicians launch a French audience into a clap I cringe and pray to God that for once the room is actually filled with foreigners because what is to follow is the literal soundtrack to a train wreck: the French clapping.
Something ALWAYS occurs when French people clap to music. For whatever reason the french ALWAYS clap really off-beat. They don’t just clap off-beat, they are tragically so off kilter in their time signature that the musicians themselves are thrown for a rhythmic loop. And we aren’t even talking about people clapping on the 1 and 3 they are on the 2 and 7.4. I know this because may I remind you: I am a musician and every time someone insists on clapping when I am playing it is always really and tragically off-beat. I really don’t know what that is all about but it never has occurred to me anywhere but in France.
An anthropologist however once shared her point of view and what I thought was a simple lack of music education in schools she reduced to a fundamental element of the French psyche.
In French schools, at a certain age the children become reliant on the teacher’s instructions for everything: what color pen to write what word in, what to underline, how many lines to skip, and exactly what their handwriting needs to look like. One step away from this “mis en form” the work is considered unacceptable no matter it’s content and rejected. The French are rigid with this. And the same goes for man other aspects of their lives including learning foreign languages: to the French any deviation from perfection is immediate failure. So when we ask the French to do something so individualist as clapping we are asking them to break away from that. Just like they would ask their teacher what color pen to use on the title of thier paper, the French ask “Well how do you want me to clap” because no one ever taught them that going with thier gut could be good enough
It is this lack of assertion, and the lack of confidence in thier own, free, and spontanious choices according to my friend is what makes them doubt their ability to do something as simple as clapping along with the music.
But the beauty of this? Working with music and teaching I get to instill confidence and decission making skills one clap at time. And that makes me look forward to a future where when I speak to a French person in English the first thing they say to me won’t be ” I don’t speak English so well”.
In the end all of this reminds me that it’s ok to make mistakes, misprounounce things and maybe even clap out of time… well maybe not so much the latter.