|Image by J. Samuel Burner,|
from Wikimedia Commons
The story took social media by storm yesterday. A performance of Mahler's monumental Ninth Symphony in New York City, a ringing iPhone that didn't stop, the concert coming to a grinding halt and the angry mob that arose out of the incident. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about you can read the first-hand account of one of the audience members here.) At first I was determined not to add my two cents about it all but after browsing through several blog posts last night and reading the mostly vitriolic comments that ensued and that left an incredible pain in my stomach, bringing me almost to tears, I feel I do need to say something. Hopefully it will be something that has not already been said.
To start off, I want to say that I completely understand how disrupting a situation like this can be. And in light of the repertoire being performed and the fact that this all occurred in the final moments of such a significant work, I can viscerally imagine what it was like to be there. What I don't understand is the violent response that an accident, a common mistake, inspired. Being the usually optimistic person that I am, why can't we find another way to look at this incident? Why can't we take a moment and look at the realities of the situation rather than throwing stones at a gentleman that accidentally forgot to turn off his phone?
So in an effort to throw out some constructive thoughts about the whole ordeal, here are some things that have been swimming in my head since last night.
Cellphones and their kin are part of our everyday lives now. They are mighty convenient but they also have a price. I'm not just talking about the high monthly fees, I'm talking about their tendency to go off at the most unfortunate times. I'm not sure what we can really do to take the risk factor out of the equation effectively. Yes, there are those notices in the program, signs at the entrance to halls, announcements made at the start of a concert, the influence of seeing those around us silencing their phones. But those preventatives are not infallible. What if a concertgoer gets to the hall late and misses all of the notices and announcements? What if he or she was in the bathroom when the announcement was made? What if he or she just ignored everything not out of spite or ignorance but simply because that happens? I think it's important to realize that it is not always ignorance that leads to a cell-phone not being turned off properly. In fact, I rarely think it's ignorance.
So what do we do?
- We can stop using cellphones all together. (Won't happen.)
- We can leave our cellphones at home when we're going to a performance. (Won't happen.)
- We can all put our cellphones on vibrate all the time, regardless of the situation, so that we never have to remember to silence them. (Won't happen.)
- We can find ways to allow people to check in their phones upon arrival somewhere, kind of like a coat-check for technology. (Interesting idea but probably won't happen.)
- Concert halls could have a device that automatically turns off phone signals upon entering the building. (I believe that's illegal.)
- Concert halls could place devices like security gates at the entrances so that patrons can voluntarily walk through them to be assured that their devices are turned off or silenced. (Probably too expensive and there will always be some people that refuse to walk through them. Plus the gates could fail to work properly.)
Hmmm...none of those ideas seem very plausible. So now what?
At this point in time I don't think there's a whole lot we can do because as long as we have cellphones we're going to encounter incidents like last night to varying degrees. But here's something that I do know as a performer. I know that before I walk out onto stage again I can come up with a plan for myself. And that's what I've done.
- I will try to envision different scenarios before walking out onto the stage so that I won't be caught by surprise quite as much and react in a way that I might later regret.
- If a cellphone goes off, I will try to play on as well as I can. If I find that I simply can't concentrate or that the audience is clearly disturbed, I will stop and try to politely resolve the problem.
- I will try not to blame the person in question but acknowledge that it could happen to anyone.
- If the situation doesn't remedy itself quickly I will ask for assistance from either the ushers in the hall or someone sitting around the patron with the cellphone.
- I will then decide on the best way to proceed once the ringing has stopped.
- I will not publicly humiliate the patron in question. Chances are he or she is already feeling humiliated.
When I consider how many people attend a given concert such as the one in New York the other evening (thousands?), and compare that to how many people are the ones that have to deal with a difficult situation (a handful), doesn't it seem like it would make more sense to try to control ourselves and our own reactions as performers rather than depending on a mass of people?
Ugh. I'm sorry that this all happened the other night because I was so very discouraged reading the reactions of so many of my colleagues and of other classical music supporters. I get their frustration, but I sincerely don't get their anger. And it saddens me that in all the comments and reactions I read there were hardly any voices that eased up on that anger. Aside from Fran Wilson, pianist and author of the blog, "The Cross-Eyed Pianist," who wrote a post yesterday that echoes many of my same sentiments, I couldn't find many others that felt the same way that I do.
If this resonates with anyone else, please feel free to comment to this post. I think it would be good to have some more positive, constructive, sympathetic thinking about the iPhone-gate incident on record. And if my feelings doesn't resonate, well, please just be respectful should you choose to comment.
[Added later: After receiving a comment which can be seen below, I feel like I should say that my use of the term "angry mob" is not quite fair since from further reading it seems that in general the response of the audience was quite restrained. There were some exceptions though. My apologies for speaking without having been there myself.]
[Also added later: Here is a link to the NY Times article that reveals the story behind what happened. The patron in question agreed to an interview.]