“I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” -R.J. Palacio
There exists a strange phenomenon that occurs in performance spaces. It is a standing ovation. People perfectly poised to remain seated leaping to their feet. Although it is probably rude to even mention, there are clearly two types of ovations. One that slowly creeps across an audience, governed by the laws of politeness and peer pressure. You know it, the type where you look around to make sure others are also standing up first. It is not that that ovation isn’t worthy, it’s just that something is holding us back from that instinctual reaction. The other type is that purest form of guttural reaction that causes one to leap to their feet without hesitation. Those instances are important to recognize. They represent more than a celebration; they represent deeper connections to what it means to be human.
Brandi Carlile is one of the most incredible performers that I have ever been witness to in my twenty-five years of going to concerts. Last month, Brandi and the twins performed at the Grammy Awards and received a well deserved standing ovation from the other musicians and industry insiders. The narrative that came out of the night suggesting that she is this unknown musician is hysterical to those of us who are long time fans of the band. Even as I am prepared to watch the segment about the band on CBS Sunday Morning in a few minutes, I am seeing glimpses of a similar narrative in the advertising leading up to the broadcast. Over the years, I have seen Brandi, Tim Hanseroth, and Phil Hanseroth perform at sold out shows at Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater, and Red Rocks, and many other venues. It was at this first Red Rocks show in Colorado in 2012 when I was first introduced to the artistry and the sense of family and friendship shared onstage. The energy in that natural space was unreal. Since that first concert, I have seen Brandi and the twins perform in all sorts of venues, from small theaters to Madison Square Garden. In the seven years since my first Brandi Carlile concert, I have become equally appreciative of their dedication to authenticity in addition to their live performances. A listen to their albums, an awareness of the Looking Out Foundation, learning about how Brandi used her time and resources in the Seattle busking scene to further her success, and a little research into how they divide their profits is proof enough that they are doing what they love to do for the right reasons and are deserving of all of the support and love that their fans so willingly share. Brandi and the twins are not some unknown musicians looking for a break, they are well known and loved by those who value the authentic and genuine music that they have committed to share with the world. We welcome new fans to join an already valued and successful band.
Like many people who were teens in the 1990’s, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette is a song that you could not escape in 1995. Having seen Alanis perform countless times in the past two decades, the song is still just as relevant and impactful. It wasn’t until this past June that I saw it take on a whole new meaning when I drove to Cambridge on a Saturday to see Jagged Little Pill at the American Repertory Theater. The entire show was original, and songs that have existed for many years took on a completely new meaning and context when woven into an original story. In the middle of the show, I experienced something most rare in the world of theater. A performance literally stopped the show and a standing ovation occurred in the middle of the show for what felt like an intermission in its own right. Lauren Patten’s performance of “You Oughta Know” was the most raw and honest few minutes I have ever seen on a theatrical stage. There is no questioning; she gave it her all. I simply do not know how she was able to find the energy and courage to do this night after night. When the show opens in New York in the fall, there is no doubt that this scene will stay exactly the same as it was performed in Cambridge. (On a side note, the American Theatre Wing should just forego the BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE IN A MUSICAL category next year and just give it to Lauren Patten in her own dedicated ceremony.) The commitment to promoting honesty and showing raw emotion on the stage is to be commended. Theater is so much more than entertainment.
In December, I attended my third “Holiday Hop” that Ingrid Michaelson has been organizing for many years. Originally I wasn’t planning on going, but a few days before the show I noticed that there was a single first row seat for sale for $40. (I am such a sucker for a bargain.) A few weeks earlier, my friend and colleague had let me know that her friend would be opening up for Ingrid at the Beacon Theater, which may have added to the intrigue, as well. Jenna Nicholls was quirky and mesmerizing and talented and humble. The fact that she stated that guys with glasses were sexy was a nice touch, too. In between two of the songs, Jenna shared the story of how Ingrid invited her to open for her Holiday tour. There may be pieces of the story that I am missing, but from what I remember Ingrid Michaelson was somewhere in Brooklyn and heard Jenna performing from outside the venue. She went inside to find out who was singing. It was this chance encounter that eventually led Ingrid to invite Jenna to join the tour, without any care or concern from those who may be part of that decision making process. These moments of kismet or serendipity are magical. The opportunity to showcase talent and give the unsung voices a platform to share what they do is unbelievably kind. Towards the end of her opening set, Jenna asked if we would partake in a sing-along of “Edelweiss.” This shocked me, as only a few days earlier I stayed up later than usual to listen to this song when the Sound of Music playing on the television. Coincidence, or kismet? At the conclusion of Jenna’s set, the Beacon Theater erupted with applause and offered a genuine standing ovation. It was unlike anything I have ever seen for an opening act at any concert. It was evident from the front row that Jenna Nicholls was not only appreciative, but genuinely moved by such a reaction from a room of mostly strangers. Jenna’s gratitude in the moment was palpable. I look forward to standing and clapping after her set in the tiny basement venue of the Rockwood Music Hall next Tuesday. (There are still some tickets for sale for those in the NYC area.)
We should all aim to not worry about or focus on the accolades in life, but concern ourselves with working towards those skills and contributions that warrant the prospect of a standing ovation, whether or not they actually arrive. Standing ovations do not need to be so literal. They can be that instantaneous and genuine offer of gratitude or acknowledgement that happens in the moment. As a teacher, I aim to offer those words and gestures of encouragement whenever I can. They may not seem huge, but I know they are unbelievably important.
Several years ago, I was fortunate to have read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. For those who have not read the book, I highly recommend it regardless of your age. “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” May we all work to notice the worthwhile endeavors, both grand and small, that those around us are sharing with the world. Whether these acts are connected to authenticity, or honesty, or gratitude, or some other expression of the human spirit, taking the time to acknowledge and support those connections to what it means to be human is critical. In a world that can have such divineness and negativity, there are exponentially more examples of positivity and connectedness that go overlooked. It’s no wonder why people are feeling less in tune with each other. Perhaps if we all made a greater effort to offer up standing ovations, whether literal or figurative, to those most deserving in our lives could we foster a greater sense of connectivity. What a wonder that would be to see the ripple effects of that concerted effort.