A few months ago, the New York Times debated the question “Is Classical Music Dying.” According to all measures, e.g., number of new classical recordings, orchestra attendance, number of classical radio stations, the answer is yes.
Some people think that the only thing classical music is good for is to prevent crowds of teenagers from gathering. Apparently, shops and malls who don’t want kids hanging around just pipe in some Mozart and they run away like vampires from garlic.
There has been a lot of discussion about how to get the “youth” interested in classical music. I think that will happen right about the time they all read War and Peace and proclaim it to be awesome.
In my opinion, this isn’t a youth problem, but rather a cultural problem. The current orchestra model is for people to come home at night, then dress up and go out and sit still for a couple of hours listening to music that they may or may not know much about. Plus there are a lot of snobby old white people in the audience.
That model worked before the days of Facebook and American Idol but today it’s no contest, and if orchestras want to remain viable they do need to do something about their demographics.
One orchestra, the Mobile (Alabama) Symphony, came up with an idea that, I hate to tell you, probably isn’t going to do the job.
On the theory that people today have issues if they are not connected 24/7, they have designated the last row of the auditorium as the “Tweet Seats,” from where concert goers are allowed to use silent mobile devices. So they can tweet, and text and surf and, probably, play Angry Birds. They are, however, admonished not to crinkle candy or cough drop wrappers.
Those Neanderthals among you who still have the benighted view that one goes to a concert to listen and concentrate and engage in the music will probably have trouble with this concept. I know I do.
So I did some research to try to understand what’s going on and the results are not comforting. Four reasons are put forth as to why this is a Good Thing
1. It is nice to have access to your mobile device if you are bored.
2. My Facebook and Twitter followers want to know what I’m doing and expect me to update them regularly.
3. What I have to say/think is important and I need to capture it.
4. It is arrogant to think that you shouldn’t let people enjoy something in their own way.
My favorites are 1 and 4.
I read an article by a youthful reporter who experienced a Mobile Symphony concert from the Tweet Seats. He claims that his experience was improved by being able to access his phone. The article included some of the breathless tweets he sent out during the concert, so you can see how his experience was enhanced:
Conductor Scott Speck . . . looks like Lord Voldemort. Wonder what his patronus is?
Struggling to find a metaphor to describe the difference between a live orchestra and a recording
I love his metaphysical response to his previous question:
Listening to a recording of classical music is like seeing your shadow on a cave wall. It’s you but it lacks vitality.
At least he didn’t say: “it’s nt ovr ’til d f@ ldy sngs.”
The whole idea behind Tweet Seats, etc. is the idea of audience engagement. Apparently ‘engagement’ is a really hot topic these days. Teachers must engage with students. Businesses must engage with customers. Writers must engage with readers. And vice versa.
But does sending out random, impulsive reactions really represent “engagement?” And in a live performance, isn’t it insulting to the performers that you aren’t at least looking like you are paying attention? The guy who wrote the article about his experience in the Tweet Seats claimed that “The exercise helped transform me into more of an active listener, a true observer instead of merely an audience member.” To which I would say, isn’t a mere audience member supposed to be an “active listener” and a “true observer?”
But the real issue is summed up by what he writes about the violin soloist: “Given the power of her performance I regret somewhat that I spent a few precious seconds of it sending 140-character missives into the swirling void of the Twittersphere.”
I guess there are limits to multitasking.
A final point of confusion about the way Tweet Seats work. The guy who wrote the article was at the concert by himself. I’m not sure that the typical person who would go to a concert alone would be inclined to tweet much about it. Which then raises the specter of couples or groups sitting in the tweet seats together. And tweeting their “real” friends about it.
And what does that say about your “engagement” with the people around you?