Are you being pestered by concert texters?

Are you being pestered by concert texters?


norman lebrecht

March 05, 2014

Erica Worth, editor of Pianist magazine, had her gig ruined last night by creepy silent texters. Isn’t it time for concert halls to segregate the active fingers from the contemplative? Hands up the first hall with a dedicated text zone.

Here’s Erica:


erica worth


I am angry! Last night I went to a chamber music concert that featured a pianist friend of mine as soloist (Tanya Bannister, you were wonderful….). Tanya lives in New York and I rarely get to hear her. The concert was in a lovely intimate setting – the Forge in Camden. First time I’ve been, and there’s a very beautiful-sounding Steinway grand (not D though) for anyone looking for a small venue to play in. 

All in all, I was very happy to be there. Lights turned down low, very cosy. Chopin and Schubert on the menu. I was really looking forward to hearing Chopin Piano Concerto No 2 in the rarely performed arrangement for chamber ensemble.

The couple next to me were on their iPhones, texting silently throughout the entire performance. The woman even showing the man her texts from time to time, giggling. The odd glare from me didn’t help. Is this ignorance? Is this disrespect? Why can’t people turn off their damn devices for just half an hour? It made me mad.

The string players and Tanya merged as one. They’d obviously performed together a lot. Tanya’s interpretation of the Chopin was fresh and not over-sentimental, almost feisty – a lot of vigour. Very clear playing and I loved her filigree passagework. Great to see her past teacher/mentor Christopher Elton at the concert. But can’t get those texters out of my head.



  • Eleanor says:

    My sympathies, Erica – it drives me mad too! The use of cameras and mobile phones is forbidden in most concert halls. Perhaps the ‘please turn off your mobile phone’ requests could be expanded for a while so that it’s made clear to patrons that this extends to reading or sending e-mails and text messages during a concert ? An appeal to the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO) ?

  • On the one hand we have Slatkin telling audiences to text away, and here we have a request to please, pay more attention to performance. I can see the sense in both sides to this (the former entirely justified ebcause the young must engage with the “high” arts or the arts will sink,) but I can’t quite “condone” texting at a performance.

    Naturally setting and type of performance matter: a recital such as given above, audience members would be more inclined to treat it as a cabaret of sorts, or club setting – texting away, chatting: setting, location, situatedness breeds and primes behaviour, and response. If one were at a bigger show (concerto, symphony, opera) I’d hope that that technology can be stowed and silent, but I have been at Carnegie Hall watching/hearing a beautiful rendition of Durufle’s Requiem and found myself distracted by the very bright glare throughout of an iPad being used from one of the boxes. You could say, “their loss” but of course, the iPad tapper has paid their money and that’s their choice. Perhaps it is because (especially classical) music now seems not so much debased, but just de-ritualised – an aural background to our lives that is partly to blame. Marketing classical music as “Relaxing” and as mood music and so on may be a reason for this.

    We already know that severing the umbilicus of technology is difficult, but it really shouldn’t be hard to do so for 2 hours. There’s usually an interval if oen wishes to check up on Tweets, feeds, blogs, news, email. And besides, all those can wait, can’t they?

    • NYMike says:

      If the ushers at Carnegie and Fisher spot a texter, they will remind the miscreant to turn off the device. It’s amazing that even after both audio and visual reminders before the concert’s beginning people continue blithely disturbing those around them without a care. It seems their sense of entitlement knows no bounds.

  • Simon S. says:

    Very strange. I go to concerts and opera performances quite often, mostly in Germany. I frequently get upset about people coughing, whispering etc., but I’ve never seen anyone deliberately using his phone during the performance. Is this really common in other countries? I hope not.

    “Simon S.” used to comment as “Simon” on Slipped Disc. He has recently changed his nick name to avoid confusion.

    • Lora says:

      The worst concert I ever attended for texting, giggling, and talking was in Leipzig. I don’t if that’s typical there or not, but the evening that I had been looking forward to for weeks was completely ruined by the rudeness of the young ladies sitting near me – I didn’t even get to hear the encore by the violin soloist because they were making so much noise. Concert audiences here in Canada can be rude, but I’d never seen anything like that before or since.

  • Brian says:

    This is definitely one of the scourges of our concert life. It’s bad enough when the guy next to you puts his phone away only split seconds before the performance begins.

    The worst public for texting and talking on the phone (and, for that matter, entering the hall and noisily taking their seats after the concert has begun) is at Salle Pleyel in Paris. The worst seats there are at the back of the stalls, where you can see dozens of iPhones, iPads etc. still on and lit up, despite the artists already performing on stage. I’ve even seen staff writing and reading texts in that hall!

    And let’s not forget Krystian Zimerman storming off the stage in Essen last year because he – quite understandably – had a problem with being filmed.

  • Tom Emlyn Williams says:

    The answer would be for a blocking device for the area in question, perhaps some system for those “on call” persons who might be required to leave a performance.

  • I occasionally sneak a subtle peek at my phone to reassure myself there’s no urgent call from the babysitter but to sit texting is disrespectful, unless technological participation has been openly invited by the performers. It shouldn’t be the default. And the light from the screen is distracting for other people trying to focus on the stage. They can’t have been taking in much from the experience so why waste their money on the ticket?!

  • Which of course will never happen, sadly, Mr Williams. Would that it could, but “personal freedoms” et al will always take priority over ‘mere’ music-making…

    • Don McKee (also LeginBuddha) says:

      And not offending anyone, including the texter, who actually buys a ticket in these days of shrinking audiences will, in the name of economic survival, be given the same priority. I can think of few areas of life where the clash with cellphones, etc., does not exist. With good, there often comes some bad, which is usually deemed an acceptable trade-off.

  • Tanya says:

    Musica Viva in Australa have done just that. Offered twitter seats in a separate area, an encouraged tweeters to be active. The keleman Quartet benefitted from the enthusiasm of these audence members (see twitter).

  • V.Lind says:

    Their personal freedom to text their friends stops when it meets my senses. As for “sneaking a subtle peek” re an urgenty babysitting message, your peek is no more “subtle” than that of someone checking hockey scores. If you are that worried, you should not be out; if it is that urgent, the babysitter will contact the hall (how hard is it to leave your ticket seat numbers and the number of the hall with her?).

    I hear the continued excuses, but texting through shows is 1) ignorant and ill-mannered; 2) indicative of addiction to meaningless drivel and inability to pay any attention to anything lasting more than 6 seconds. The same “generation” sits through movies without their blessed devices on — the lighting up of half a thousand cell phones is so blinding as a movie draws to its end that those who like to read credits can barely do so, such is the sudden brightness. These self-created umbilical cords are longer than any gruesome mother’s apron strings ever were, and the terror of concert organisers of losing audiences if they cannot exghance trivia with their circle throughout a performance comes too late. Those are audiences you never had and never will have.

    • bratschegirl says:

      “Their personal freedom to text their friends stops when it meets my senses.”

      … and prevents me from experiencing the performance in the way in which I have every right to expect to be able to experience it. Yes. This. A thousand times this.

  • Alison says:

    If I spend £50 on a recording and part of it is obliterated by noise, I return it. If the same happens at a concert, the moment is lost.

    If people want to text and giggle, why go in the first place? Fashionable, free tickets, raining outside? Don’t understand the mentality.

    Do they text and giggle at funerals as well?

    • M.A. Steinberger says:

      Yes, they do. I have played funerals where this is a real problem.

    • A classical performance is not a funeral. If it is, you’re going to boring performances. I understand wanting silence, peace and quiet. This can all be done — texting, relaxing, enjoying the music — at once, peaceably.

      • Alison says:

        “A classical performance is not a funeral. If it is, you’re going to boring performances.”

        The essential point, which I thought was obvious, is respect for others, not entertainment value.

  • Michael says:

    I suggest that after one unsuccessful glare, you should just have said to them “Please switch your phones off”. When I’m at a performance, if someone close to me is using a phone or chatting, I (i) try a glare (often surprisingly successful!), (ii) try a shhhh and failing that (iii) “Please stop talking/switch that off!”. You have to balance the disturbance that might cause momentarily to doing nothing and the continued disturbance throughout the performance that you (and usually quite a few others in the audience) would have to put up with! Once I actually had to ask a young lady next to me to stop filing her nails during the beautiful and quiet start of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music!

    Once at the opera two “ladies” (looked like mother and teenage daughter) were both texting and showing each other the texts they were receiving. They glared back at me after my first shhhh, did the same after my request to switch the phones off, but I asked again and they stormed out, never to return. It was over quickly and the rest of the show continued without their selfish rudeness. And I had a better view as the two seats in front of me were empty!

    Some organisers now in the announcement about switching phones off completely add how distracting the phone screen lights are to audience members and even performers.

    I can sympathise with the occasional phone going off because someone forgot to switch their phone off, as it is easily done. I am always in a panic before a performance starts to ensure I remember to switch off. I HAVE forgotten a couple of times and usually risk the possible wrath of neighbours when they see the phone’s light coming on as I desperately try to switch the phone off in the dark before anyone rings me.

    • Penny Millichamp says:

      Michael, thank you for your final paragraph, sympathising with people whose phone goes off by accident. I, too, panic about my phone, and like you, have tried to surreptitiously switch it off. Impossible! I think phones should be off during concerts, but what annoys me is how critical and unforgiving ‘music lovers’ are. I am in my mid-seventies, and during the last few years, I have come to love classical music. I get enormous pleasure from going to concerts at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. But I am asthmatic, and occasionally have ‘a bit of a cough’. Nothing much, nothing infectious, but what do I do? Give up an hour and a half of happiness, and waste an expensive ticket, just because I might ‘spoil’ a moment of someone’s pleasure? Please, music lovers, couldn’t you be a little more compassionate?

  • I love the idea of phone use at shows. It has to be done with a modicum of respect — for performers, for other audience members. A glowing phone can be distracting mid-show.

    Nonetheless, phones are an integral part of life (who wakes up next to theirs? Guilty as charged) and I have full faith in fellow concertgoers that they’ll use them responsibly and respectfully. A gentle reminder not to be distracting could work, before the show begins.

    As a performer I want people snapping photos and rolling video as often as possible. Tweet it, instagram it, facebook it — it’s all free promotion. And I want people to know they’re missing out on an awesome show.

  • bratschegirl says:

    The urge to text and tweet etc. from a performance seems to me akin to what happened in the first days of mobile phones; those inane calls made from the supermarket or the sports stadium, simply to say to someone else “Hey! Guess where I’m calling you from! I’ve got a mobile! Aren’t I the coolest?!” Eventually, as more and more people joined the club, this phenomenon mercifully died out. Why hasn’t the same happened with the urge to tweet “Hey! I’m at the symphony/opera/club!” with an accompanying photo as proof?

    Or is that what they’re doing? Are the majority simply continuing the ongoing conversation from the rest of the day, about other things, because they can and must be available instantly, 24/7?

    It isn’t only with electronic devices that one can be an obnoxious audience member, of course. My husband once had to shush a fellow symphony-goer who was wearing a nylon tracksuit and shifting in her seat constantly, resulting in an endless whooshing, accompanied by the dulcet jingling of her keys being passed from hand to hand.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    As a performer the lights going on & off from their devices is highly disturbing. It is bad enough in my peripheral vision, but even worse for players (oboists, e.g.) facing directly out. It’s not even like bad stage-lighting, which at least stays constant. The randomness is the worst part.

  • ed says:

    Texters beware. That fist coming down hard on the inflated cartoon figures you may recall seeing at the end of Monty Python episodes, could be intended for you, and end in more than a belch or fart. Admittedly, there are differences in how audiences might respond, depending on the event and its cultural context. For instance, one reads of noisy crowds at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, or of audiences at a Chinese Opera that would often visit together or loudly comment on the show, and in today’s movie theater showing a blockbuster, it’s not unusual to hear boos and cheers. But where quiet and the absence of distractions are necessary for the enjoyment of a performance, or silence and the dark is even part of the performance, it’s too bad some people don’t get it and aren’t considerate of the performer or their fellow attendees. It is, after all, a show of respect for the music and the performer’s effort, and for one’s neighbors who have invested time and money to attend and enjoy the show.

  • Oy. Ultimately, presenters, house managers, and front-line ushers must stop appeasing the boors, and put a stop to such nonsense. Bodily removing offenders, after giving fair notice on tickets, etc., would be no more disruptive than their texting, and over sooner.

    The only thing that has ever calmed me down about this issue is the brilliant scene in Ali Smith’s novel, “There But For The,” where an audience member’s cell phone goes off in the last moments of A Winter’s Tale, and one of the protagonists has the most delightful, unexpected response….

  • I agree that this is THIS is THE MOST DISGUSTING attitude of today’s audiences. Leave the stupid phones OFF,,for pity’s sake Or why not eave them at home or in the car or …so that the moment becomes special?! Inc ase you do not agree to resist the urge of looking at the screen/ check for messages / calls / f-BK posts etc etc etc PLEEEEEase ->> better NOT to GO at all to a classical concert, why bothe if you are not there to shut your eyes and enjoy the silence which coats beautiful sounds coming out of instruments played/stroked by people who have dedicated a long time of their lives, improving in every way so that SUBLIME Music can be communicated through to those who CARE, LOVE and/or NEED the solace of live performances!

    The flicker of a Bluetooth device ALSO drives me almost as mad as — when in the audience, sitting quietly by myself, I see lit-up screens of people who spend all their time glaring as well as their devices from the fact that obviously they d not consider being there any different than sitting in their own homes..

    It’s a sign of lack of respect for anything still so SACRED to so many of us, performers and needy of a higher importance to our spirits than any iphone et al can bring us by ANY stretch of the imagination!!

    I may not have made half as much sense because I get SO MAD at this generation of UNCARING souls and also I have no time to re-read or correct any of what I couldn’t resist writing.


    Vaery trully yours, C* Ortiz

    • Ms. Ortiz–

      I don’t think they’re uncaring souls at all. People just want to share what they’re doing — whether it’s in that moment, or at the intermission. Allowing a few pics here and there is the concession you have to make in order to build a fanbase and create a community. Autographs, programs, all that stuff make for boring mementos. It’s all about the (promptly-tweeted and retweeted) photo now, and the sooner the better.

      Wanton texting is annoying, especially somebody waving it around and distracting others. But like it or not, we’ve already crossed the rubicon. Phones are here to stay.

      There’s nothing so sacred that people don’t want to show they’re part of it.

      Will Roseliep

      • M.A. Steinberger says:

        So you don’t consider it a wee bit egotistical on their part that they think merely being seen at a concert or play means that they are “part of it”? The performers, who have worked so hard, are the ones who are actually part of it.

      • Geoff Radnor says:

        Yes, phones are here to stay, but a great artist like C* Ortiz is absolutely right, phones are here but leave them alone for just a couple of hours if you can. Listen to the music properly with all your amazing senses and be empowered by it. Then after the concert get to your phone and tell the whole world or even just your friends what the music was all about and why your friends should have been there also to enjoy it..

        The audience’s part of the equation is to be listeners, the artists are there to be listened to.

      • bratschegirl says:

        Yes, phones are here to stay, but that does not mean there is never an inappropriate time or place to make use of them. If you’re happy to have your audience texting and tweeting and sharing photos and video while your performance is going on, that’s a fine decision for *you* to make on *your* behalf, but nothing gives you the right to make a blanket declaration that this must henceforth apply to every other performer in every other genre. My personal humble opinion is that the urge to share what one is doing with the rest of the world at all times is self-indulgent and infantile, especially considering that these earthshaking activities are usually on the level of importance of “drinking a latte.”

        I’m willing to stipulate that texting a friend from a noisy nightclub to say “awesome show going on! You really ought to be here!” is perfectly all right. But during a solo recital, or a string quartet, or the slow movement of a Mahler symphony, if my neighbor in the auditorium decides to give in to this impulse, the inevitable resulting distraction robs me of something precious which cannot be regained, and I say to whomever will listen that he or she does not have that right.

      • Will, what is the ‘point’ a sharing something electronically with someone who’s not there? Sure, do it afterwards – or better still have a CONVERSATION with them! Perhaps people don’t talk to each other any more – just text, saves the hassle of actually having to open the mouth….If one can’t get through an hour and a half without a mobile don’t bother going to concerts.

  • Michael says:

    The only solution would be to having a special mobile phone section, where everybody who wants to text can go right ahead. They could invent a phone shade so that the light emitted is minimal. Everybody else would not be allowed to use their phones unless they were in the phone section. As far as blocking the phone signals, that is illegal in the US, but I’m not sure about Europe and the rest of the world.

  • As the pianist in a Purcell Room recital of Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ some while ago I had no sooner begun the heart-breaking final song when a mobile started ringing; I stopped, waited half a minute or so, began again – half way through the song the same mobile added its ghastly counterpoint…..I admired the courage of the owner in admitting culpability (and apologising) afterwards. As a teacher in workshops/masterclasses I preface each session with a warning that i will not tolerate the use of mobiles – if anyone is unable to countenance a couple of hours without their mobile active then they should leave the room immediately (and not return). It is a curious one in the concert hall because texting is essentially a silent process – as is reading programme notes so why should it bother us? But it does because it denotes a lack of attention on the part of the listener and that disturbs me. Listening is an ‘active’ process – a corporate sense of shared experience (or should be).

    • Derek Castle says:

      Many, many years ago I can remember programmes for song cycles having something like “Please turn over quietly” printed at the bottom of each page. I think we are living in a nervous age. Young people fiddle with their phones, older ones (to my sensibility) fumble with programmes. Other pet hates: handbags snapping to, jangling of bracelets, trying to get the first clap/yelp in before the final note has died away, as well as the obvious unwrapping of sweets. Will calls himself ‘a performer’; I guess of pop or jazz. How anybody could encourage people videoing, photographing, let alone texting during a performance of classical music is beyond me. I sat next to three texting girls at the (free) NYO Beethoven 9 at the Proms last year. Is this the paying audience of the future? I don’t think so. They didn’t show the slightest interest in the music. I give myself one or two more years of concert-going. Then it’ll be a cup of cocoa with CDs and DVDs – not the same as live, I admit, but far less frustrating.

    • John – how infuriating!

      You are quite right: “Listening is an active process” – so is performing (something I wish these Narcisists would realise.

      I know Winterreise well, and I’d have been very upset for you and your singer (not to mention it would have spoilt my enjoyment of your performance as a whole.

      There appears to be a craze for the “selfie in the concert hall during the bows” at some events too. An autographed programme is one thing. However there are some mementos that need to be stamped out.

      I’ve had pupil’s phones go off in lessons. Why they can’t turn them off when they are meant to be concentrating on learning how to sing for the duration that they are paying me I don’t know. They can always turn it back on again when they get into the car!

  • David says:

    Sadly, the ubiquitous use of cell phones (for non-calling purposes, that is) is one of the main symptoms of a general degradation of our culture but also fosters, in my mind, an increasingly shortened attention span, as well as an endemic form of narcissism and self-centeredness of the very worst kind. One wonders, really, what could be the urge, during a concert, to text someone about the concert itself right away instead of enjoying the concert by giving one’s full attention to it, and then perhaps sharing it afterwards. It reminds me of certain people who, when visiting a foreign country, spend their time taking pictures and recording movies and paradoxically end up having no more a true experience of where they are than someone perusing a guide book in a bookstore. It literally is an incapacity to be fully present. The impulse to text right away, or “post an update,” says a lot indeed about both parties involved, and sheds much doubt about either party’s true capacity for understanding or simply caring about the work being performed. It’s so hopelessly superficial, but it also is a sad statement about where we find ourselves today. I think the greatest casualty in all of this is our literal incapacity to truly concentrate upon something — perhaps upon anything, really — and therefore of making the necessary mental space for being solicited by the work itself. It’s not too surprising: a society that is constantly “multi-tasking” is simply rendered incapable ofmeaningfully focusing on anything, much less being transformed by a work of art. We are simply too busy wandering from one “update” to another. Not to mention, of course, the utter lack of respect and courtesy for one’s fellow audience members — but that would be too much to ask, as in a culture of unbridled narcissism, any impingement on one’s “sacred” right to be able to do whatever one wishes, regardless of circumstance or consequence and regardless of one it might actually affect others, has somehow become an absolute taboo. That we are even considering cell phone usage during concerts is perhaps a testimony of all of this in and of itself. The whole point of art is precisely to interrupt the world of practical dealings and purposes, not to make it an accessory of one’s inflated sense of ego.

  • Clyde Knutsen says:

    Invaluable ideas – I was fascinated by the analysis ! Does someone know if my company might be able to find a sample KS DoR K-19 example to work with ?