Should phones be turned on at classical concerts?


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Have you ever read the program in the middle of a classical music concert? Brought your own printed score and followed it during a performance? Of course you have, say champions of digital media. Now it’s time for classical music to get over its stodgy self and allow you to boost your experience of Beethoven by lighting up your smartphone or tablet during a concert.

To resuscitate classical music in our hyperactive age, says social media consultant Beth Kanter, who works with nonprofit groups, the industry has taken many fine steps in marketing its wares on the Internet. But now its executives need to cross ‘the final frontier -- the sacred concert experience.’


‘Maybe I’m just weird,’ says Kanter, 54, a longtime fan of classical music. ‘But I want to be able to take an iPad to a concert and have downloaded an interactive program and maybe follow a score. Or I might listen, and think, ‘Wow, that was great. Who was that player?’

‘And look him up on Wikipedia.’

All together now: Is this a good idea?

On the bright side, last month the Pacific Symphony held a ‘tweet-cert’ in the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Audience members who logged on to Twitter during the concert could read tweets about the music and post their own. Pacific Symphony music director Carl St.Clair says the tweets brought people close to the music in new ways. Derek Barraza, 49, an information technology specialist from Lake Forest, who was in the audience, agrees. ‘It was a great way to acquire knowledge and be more in tune with the orchestra,’ he says. ‘It was a real enhancement.’

The downside for concertgoers who believe people on smartphones would look best in medieval stocks is obvious. Then there are musicians. Joanne Pearce Martin, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s principal keyboardist, gladly calls herself ‘a geek with my gadgets.’

And how does she feel about audience members playing with their gadgets when she’s performing?

‘I wish I could say, ‘Hey, we’re all over you doing that,’ ‘ she says. ‘Of course it enhances the experience, particularly with a long piece. I just wish there was a way to do that digitally and to still make sure that 2,000 people have their devices silenced. Otherwise it’s extremely disruptive.’

But as both consultant Kanter and musician St.Clair say, there is no turning back the digital clock. People are addicted to their phones, notably those who grew up without ever talking on one with a cord, and who are, not incidentally, the future of the classical music audience. The industry can’t afford to silence them.


To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question for classical music in the Internet age. How would you answer it?

Read more about the the uneasy marriage of music and technology.

Let us know what you think in the comments below, some of which may be included in next Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.

-- Kevin Berger

Photo illustration by Paul Gonzales, with photo by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times