It’s a familiar request to hear at the beginning of a concert: “Please make sure turn off all cell phones during the performance.” However, as orchestras across the country seek to engage new—often younger—audiences, more and more are turning a 180 and encouraging audiences to turn on mobile devices and receive real-time program notes via text message or Twitter, and, if they so desire, respond with their own impressions. Feelings among the wider classical music community are mixed.
One such initiative that’s been causing quite a stir is the Pacific Symphony’s “tweet-cert” concept. In an August 7 article in the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Berger reported on a July performance by the Orange County-based orchestra at its summer home, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Determined to draw a younger generation into classical music, Berger writes, the orchestra “encouraged audience members to please turn on their smart phones and tweet or text during the outdoor concert.” During the performances, audience members could follow tweets posted on behalf of the orchestra by Los Angeles-based composer Jonathan Beard, and, when they weren’t onstage, by members of the 5 Browns, the sibling pianist group that guest-starred on the program. One tweet during Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals read, “The ‘kangaroo-hopping’ effect you hear is accomplished musically via the use of grace notes: small quick notes added just before each beat.”
Audience member Nikita Pacheco, a 29-year-old graphic artist, was delighted by the tweets and offered up some of her own, but admitted mixed feelings to Berger about tweeting during concerts. “For me personally it was kind of distracting because even though the music was really good, I just wanted to see what other people had written,” she said. “Every 15 minutes I was checking to see who had posted what.”
Shana Mathur, who leads digital technology efforts at the Los Angeles Philharmonic as vice president of marketing and communications, sees an irony in using such tricks to initiate audiences in an art-form often defined by the length of the works. “The flip side of engaging people through digital technology is that digital technology is actually the reason why people’s attention span has decreased,” she told Berger.
Tweeting—or any other mobile phone usage, such as texting—during concerts is clearly not for everyone, particularly when it poses the kind of distraction Pacheco suggests. “For me, anything—and I mean anything—that comes between me and what’s happening onstage pulls me out of the listening experience,” writes Portland’s Oregonian critic David Stabler in an August 15 blog post. Such distraction is not just a drawback on a personal level, Stabler notes; immersion in individual mobile devices can undermine the communal aspect of a live concert. “The perfect listening experience for me is when I can feel people around me giving their full attention to the performers. In quiet moments, I crave pin-drop silence. In noisy or rambunctious or funny moments, I love gasping or chuckling alongside other folks.”
Now we’re wondering, what’s your view on tweeting—or other mobile device usage—during orchestra concerts? Is this a viable way for orchestras to attract a younger audience that is increasingly more at home with social media? Or do glowing screens, clicking buttons, and beeping alerts spoil the performance? Does the venue—i.e. concert hall vs. outdoor amphitheater—make a difference? Offer your thoughts using the comment box below.