Music, with a Side of Distraction

An unfortunate consequence of my writing schedule for NewMusicBox is that I often get around to addressing pertinent news items some time after they’ve begun to recede from public consciousness. As usual, I’m a bit late to the table with this week’s serving (a problem that was compounded this past week by server migrations that put the kibosh on NMBx chatter). But now here it is: Part two of a daring exposé on the twittering lives of large, well-respected classical music organizations. The National Symphony Orchestra tweeted Emil de Cou’s program notes to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony during a recent concert at Wolf Trap, a lovely semi-outdoor venue in northern Virginia. Naturally you want to know how I feel about de Cou’s brazen stoking of the info-addiction flame that threatens to consume our generation, and naturally I will be happy to tell you.

First, though, let me note that if I wanted to hear a performance of the Pastoral symphony—a piece for which I have nothing but affection—Wolf Trap wouldn’t be my venue of choice, and I wouldn’t circle Twitter night on my calendar. I expect that the relaxed attitude that characterized the jazz and rock shows I’ve seen at Wolf Trap (some taken in from a blanket on the lawn that stretches uphill beyond the roofed seating area) inflects classical concerts there too; although I go to rock shows to people-watch as well as to hear the band, to observe and partake in a social mechanism, I go to concerts of classical music for no other reason than to apprehend the performance. I don’t want to watch the people in front of me struggle to uncork their Yellow Tail, I don’t want to hear my blanketmates’ peanut-gallery commentary, and I especially don’t want to read Emil de Cou’s tweets. I am there for Ludwig Van and the brave men and women of the NSO.

On the other hand, I can’t argue with the listeners interviewed in this WaPo piece who dug the program tweets in a big way. If you didn’t have to process them while the piece is actually being played, these bite-size, real-time program notes would probably be just what the doctor ordered for neophyte audience members. However, the NSO’s gambit seems to herald a step away from “playing a piece of music” and toward “leveraging the organization’s musical expertise and PR acumen to furnish an educative, enjoyable experience revolving around a piece of music.” Maybe the latter is just the life preserver that symphony orchestras will need to stay afloat in these dark economic waters. If that’s what it takes, so be it, I suppose—again, if the Post‘s report is to be believed, the response among those listeners who could actually manage to get their Blackberries to view the NSO’s feed (a share of the crowd at Wolf Trap whose size should tell you something about the demographics of classical music patrons, I need scarcely point out) was largely positive. I just hope there’s still somewhere I can go in ten years’ time to hear some damn music without distraction.

3 thoughts on “Music, with a Side of Distraction

  1. davidcoll

    Sometimes when I’m sitting in a hall, i read the program notes during the piece, thus i suppose distracting me from the music somewhat.

    Is there much of a difference b/w this and reading it on your cell? I guess some people would start fidgeting w/their phones. I admit also that I’m a compulsive paper folder, and often my programs resemble crappy origami by the end of a concert..

    Of course it is the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, so i wouldn’t be doing anything other than having my secular religious experience, with a picnic setting, and imagining cows mooing along to the first movement. What a beautiful day in the park with Ludwig!

    Reply
  2. colin holter

    Is there much of a difference b/w this and reading it on your cell?

    No, I guess not – although it sounds like the NSO concert was full of people who couldn’t operate their phones correctly, which is less of a problem in the case of printed programs!

    Reply
  3. scottgendel@hotmail.com

    David,

    I do think there’s one major difference between reading program notes during a performance, and reading such things on your cell phone during a performance: the cell phone lights up. Therefore, anyone in a darkened concert space who happens to be within eyeshot of the cell phone (which is, in my experience, a fairly large portion of the audience) is distracted visually by the light radiating from your seat. Whereas, it’s pretty easy to read program notes and only have your companions be the wiser.

    Reply

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