Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Remember the good old days when the worst thing interrupting a live performance would be somebody’s digital watch going “peep-peep” at the top of the hour? That seems almost quaint compared to today’s smart phone transgressions, most notably the one occurring at the New York Philharmonic’s recent performance of Mahler’s Ninth, when a patron’s iPhone alarm played a cheerful marimba for agonizing minutes on end.
Hearing about this reminded me of sitting with my husband at the Philadelphia Opera a few months ago, during Don Jose’s and Micaela’s sublime final duet in the last act of Carmen. As the soprano and tenor lines twined and ascended in lush, sweet harmony, a cell phone’s banal ringtone began tootling somewhere nearby. A few rows ahead of us, a woman began fumbling in her handbag. After awhile, she picked up her cell phone but instead of shutting it off, answered with a loud “hello?” and started to carry on a conversation.
The rest of us gasped. One man angrily leaned forward and tapped her arm. When she finally ended her conversation, I was torn between wanting to do her bodily harm and trying my best to concentrate on the rest of the show.
The woman had exquisite timing. Just as Don Jose was pulling his knife in the last moments of the opera, ready to kill his beloved Carmen, the woman rose from her seat, blocking everyone’s view, and without haste, exited the hall.
I don’t believe cell phones belong at the dinner table, during religious ceremonies, live performances, or any of life’s important daily moments. But everyone is tethered to their mobile phones nowadays as if to a lifeline. Can’t somebody write an app that would automatically sense when a cell phone interruption would be inappropriate, and keep the darn thing silent?
Lest anyone think I am on my high horse about cell phones, I confess my own boo-boo. During one of my own solo performances, I heard a cell phone go off, and realized it was my own, ringing backstage!
Until somebody writes that app, perhaps we ought to have a cell phone anthem before concerts, similar to the National Anthem being sung before a ball game. It could go something like this:
Turn off your cell phone
Take it out,
Turn it off,