Applause has been called “the custom of showing one’s pleasure at beautiful music by immediately following it with an ugly noise.”

From time to time, music lovers have tried to do away with it during public performances, but all they have succeeded in doing is bewildering or embarrassing the performers.

Still, at least two Maine choruses, St. Mary Schola and Renaissance Voices, request no applause until after each half of the program is complete.

We probably can’t do anything about the emotional outlet of clapping hands – although tradition has managed to stifle it between the movements of a symphony – but it might not be too late to campaign against trivial encores after outstanding classical performances, such as last week’s interpretation of the Brahms Violin Concerto by Ray Chen at the Bowdoin International Music Festival.

The practice of encores after concertos has been uncommon until quite recently. In a long career of attending concerts, I had never heard an example until a couple of years ago, when I found the practice surprising and distressing.

It was precisely because the Brahms performance was so magical that an encore, even as harmless as a Bach andante for solo violin, was such a tragic mistake.

I have no confirmation of this, but it seemed to me that festival authorities tried to save Chen from himself by turning up the house lights at Crooker Theater, to no avail.

My objection to the innovation is best illustrated by a friend’s reaction to a ballet of “Carmina Burana,” which we attended in Philadelphia many years ago. As we walked to the car, he said: “Please don’t talk to me for a while, OK? I want to relive as much of that as I can.”

It seemed like a good idea to me too, and it still does.

There are some artistic experiences that one wants to linger on the palate for as long as possible, to retain the impression and store it somewhere in the memory bank for a rainy day.  

There’s discussion on various sites of the Internet about concerto encores, pro and con, and one of the more prevalent attitudes, even among professional violinists, seems to be: “What harm does it do? The Brahms concerto is not a religious experience.”

As Woody Allen said about a different subject: “It is if you’re doing it right.”

Paradoxically, professional musicians, even composers like Beethoven, are bemused by or unaware of the profound emotional impact their work can have on an audience.

I don’t know the mechanism by which an encore cancels out the impression of a concerto when applause doesn’t, but it’s rather like forcing oneself to sing a different melody to get rid of a tune that won’t leave your head – what the Germans call a “brain worm.”

The encore has a long history, beginning with Italian opera, and so has opposition to it – because of the reasons above, because it interrupts dramatic or musical flow, or simply because it places impossible demands upon a soloist.
I have no objection to encores after a recital of equivalent short pieces.

Some of them are designedly exciting and can end a concert on an upbeat, unless a pianist plays “Yankee Doodle” after the “Diabelli Variations.”

I have always wanted to attend a concert in France, where repeated calls of “bis” (“again”) must sound like a theater full of snakes. How does a singer know if the audience is calling for an encore or hissing?

Because of the prevalence  of standing ovations in Maine, which often bear no relation to the quality of the performance, a concerto soloist might object that he or she is merely doing what the audience demands by playing an encore.

It’s a demand that is easily resisted if one is a musician rather than merely a performer.

Pianist Martha Argerich, to name just one shining example, returned to the stage many times during a 15-minute ovation, but never succumbed.

Or one can simply write “No encores” in the program, or turn up the house lights …

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat[email protected]