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Something to Tweet About?

March 28, 2013

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?


19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2013 10:38 pm

    I spoze I’m just uncultured blue collar American. Symphony ? Rather go see baseball game. Ballet ? Rather have a root canal and leg amputation.

  2. March 29, 2013 1:26 am

    I don’t think the Classical Music community need shrink to any degree and there is a fine line between that and finding new ways to engage audience. I mean, people are interested in music. If you can tuck the stigma and present it to them in a different context (with a new value attached which is aligned to one of theirs) there may be success. I came to loving it through ….sound tracks (for film). I started wondering how some of these people could come up with such amazing intricate things in certain moments. Sometimes it is something really extravagant and other times really delicate and sparse but perfect. Of course this is coupled together with picture in film, but the picture and music do a dance together to deliver the story and emotion – which includes the value of the music yet combines it with something else to deliver to people theirs in another context. In other words the framing is different. People would be surprised how much young, middle aged and elderly know about details of movies – such as who is a great composer (and they aren’t even filmmakers). Haha. Now, I love Classical and I don’t think it’s dying. It’s an amazing art!! It simply needs to find new avenues of presentation, that’s all…in my humble opinion.

    • April 9, 2013 2:26 pm

      I agree that classical music is a treasure that needs to be preserved and that anything that brings people to appreciate it is worth trying. My problem is the idea that you can attract people to concerts by encouraging them NOT to pay attention to the music.

  3. March 29, 2013 2:01 am

    Classical music and the short attention span of popular culture — perhaps epitomized by Tweeting — don’t have much in common, which makes it easy to think it’s fading away, especially among the young. And yet:

    Just go look. Peek at the videos.

    I love not only the performances on the program, but the riotous interviews with teen performers who often concoct some sort of talent-show skit exchange of dialogue with sound effects.

    There seems to be a rising generation.

    • April 9, 2013 2:30 pm

      Yes and that’s encouraging. The problem I have is with thinking that letting people sit in the hall and tweet is going to cause any sort of renaissance.

  4. March 29, 2013 3:52 am

    What good is tweeting? When I go to a classical concert, I need my iPod and a good pair of earphones to drown out the fiddling.

  5. March 29, 2013 7:12 pm

    I’m caught between finding great humor in this idea and being appalled. I can’t imagine the tweeting addicted among us going in much for classical music. I love live music and would go to more symphonies and classical music performances if they weren’t always among the most expensive. I do find ways to fill seats at some lesser priced venues, but I won’t be tweeting my thoughts and impressions. Again, I’m either amused or horrified. 🙂

    • April 9, 2013 2:33 pm

      I think you hit a key point. People aren’t staying away from concerts because of the music but because of other things (timing, cost, etc.) Being able to tweet isn’t going to solve the problem.

  6. permalink
    March 31, 2013 12:44 am

    Happy Easter! Been busy with family visitors. Will write soon. Must tell you I enjoyed Identities and have recommended it to many. More later! Thank you for taking up this new venture in your life. We are all benefiting! Love, Jan and Jim

    Sent from my iPhone

  7. March 31, 2013 2:28 am

    Some of the best classical music I’ve heard was at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. It’s an outdoor venue, where people bring picnic dinners and wine, and make a fun evening out of it. Sometimes they even have lazer light shows with something like The Planets. Only bummer was, one evening after a bottle of wine, I fell asleep halfway through Ravel’s Bolero.

    • April 9, 2013 2:34 pm

      Too bad they weren’t doing the 1812 Overture with fireworks–that might have woken you up! Were you dreaming of Bo Derek?

  8. April 9, 2013 2:59 pm

    Well, they do pay attention to the music. But people come to any art form in their own way. I think once you do your job as the artist, the audience will meet you how they do. And actually movie goers pay quite a bit of attention to the music, I mean sometimes regular lay film goers will talk to me about a film composer on the level a film person might. Many films give composers exposure for their works. I’ve even followed composers, listening to their albums because of what I initially heard on a film they scored. I track them down, to hear more….and find lay people following them who found them the same way! It’s a powerful way at people. In fact alot of composers know this. Case in point, I went to a concert at Juilliard (a works-in-progress concert that was set up to showcase student work to the general public), and quite of few of them mentioned in their bio they hope to also score film. I was sort of floored. It was sort of unexpected. These guys’ music was completely stand alone. I mean I wasn’t really scouting at that moment so then I was interested in just seeing some of em’ again.

  9. April 10, 2013 3:50 pm

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  10. History of Capitalism permalink
    May 2, 2013 8:24 am

    Ugh but there is a big sad, disturbing story here about the culture industry, about class, about many things… the twitter thing is a troubling story indeed. Also, many of us young tykes love Tolstoy, so chill out.

  11. May 7, 2013 9:25 pm

    Engagement is subjective these days (or has it been always?). To have someone to talk to, who’d rather look at their mobile phone than you while they’re talking or, worse, you are, is more than insulting. It is, in my opinion, alarming. We’re all multi-tasking in one way or the other and multi-tasking communication is the worst kind. You communicate as an audience. you communicate as a reader. If you’re also tweeting or playing Angry Birds at the same time, you’re inviting brain fuzz, I think. Or maybe, just maybe, I am a part of a very small minority.

    I didn’t know of the Tweet Seats, Thomas. I am alarmed.

    • May 7, 2013 9:26 pm

      Oh, and this is me, Priya of the old Partial View, with a different name to display. 🙂

      • May 7, 2013 10:39 pm

        Hi Priya–great to see you again! Particularly Interested looks–particularly interesting. I agree with you about brain fuzz. And etiquette.

  12. May 15, 2013 1:37 am

    Engagement versus enjoyment says it all to me. They may be engaged in their tweets but are they truly enjoying all that a symphony has to offer. If they were parents of a child that has learned how to play an instrument they would marvel at the ability of the performers and the conductor’s ability to bring everyone together for the sound they produce. It is no small feat. Not to mention those who sat down and wrote the music for them to play. No tweet seats for me and anywhere near me.

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