Keep your phones switched ON during concerts

Keep your phones switched ON during concerts


norman lebrecht

January 03, 2018

Ariane Todes has an enlightened proposal for 21st century concert etiquette:

There are few things as likely to light my fuse as the blue glow of a phone screen during a concert. Recently at the Royal Opera House a lady in front of me took out her phone to photograph Rigoletto mid-aria and I nearly choked on my own outrage.

Yet, if you look at my social media feeds, you’ll see they’re full of slightly fuzzy photographs of soloists, bands or actors acknowledging applause, usually taken on my phone from somewhere at the back of the hall. Cartier-Bresson it isn’t, but these snaps capture something of the moment and serve as a visual focus for my posts, which sometimes spark interesting conversations with music friends and colleagues around the world.

I’ve always had strict rules with myself about this…

Read on here.



  • erich says:

    A good idea…but far worse is the mindless swigging from water bottles which is spreading to every venue (and saints preserve us from the proletarian crunching and munching of crisps and chocolates prevalent in theatres).
    Do people really die of thirst if they go without a drink during either half of a concert or opera? The disease is compounded by singers who also seem to need a swig during concerts. Did Ludwig or Nilsson or Freni or Fischer-Dieskau need to do that??
    Lack of discipline, methinks.

    • Thirst trap says:

      Wow. You really hate water.

      Perhaps the fact that so many modern halls have to climate and humidity controlled, they are much drier than is comfortable for many singers. Especially if it’s a soloist coming to an already drier climate and higher elevation than where they normally live.

      Singing is also an extremely active vocation, not too dissimilar from sports. Would you suggest an athlete also not hydrate as it distracts from the game?

      • erich says:

        It’s not the water I hate, but the hideous sight and sound of the swigging, unscrewing and rescrewing of the water bottles or the scrabbling under or beside the seat to get the glass. Athletes do not, as far as I‘m aware, perform in opera houses or concert halls and have a far more strenuous continuous activity to cope with – they should of course be permitted to do so.

        • Sue says:

          It’s a fashionable fad, like bike riding in lycra. They drink from the bottled water because they’re covered in wool and have four legs.

    • Una says:

      As a singer, I couldn’t agree with you more. The only exception to bringing on water was when the singer would have a cold and in my time, would go on and sing regardless. Today they just cancel! And then you get the botttle swiggers in the audience every five minutes as well – off with the top and another sip of their eight glasses a day.

      As for taking photos, it is very distracting if you are in the audience yourself, and I have never minded if they take them at the end when taking a bow. While they’re fiddling with their phones and then putting you on FB during the concert either as a photo or as a snippet of a recording they’ve taken on their phone as well, they are not engaged with the music, they are spectators, and a pain in the neck. And if it’s in a place like the Wigmore or even twice or three times the size, it’s a total distraction for the singer as you can see what’s going on, and the movement if you can see the movement all the time, even from the balcony. .

      Opera North in Leeds has become very strict about drinking and eating and taking photos in any of their productions as there have been so many complaints from members of the audience, and it’s working.

  • Olassus says:

    All mobile devices to the cloakroom and on silent — against a $100-bond paid before the season in case of breach! No exceptions. Not even for doctors on call.

    • RW2013 says:

      ONLY $100?!

    • Player says:

      Even better: do as at Bayreuth.

      Insist the patrons swear evening dress in the middle of a hot Bavarian summer, in a theatre with no aircon, give them beer and sausages, then dehydrate over several hours, lock them in the middle of a long row, with flower maidens in strict uniforms at the end of each row, and dare anyone to leave or do anything wrong.

      Works a treat. Except of the poor bugger who actually does have a heart attack.

      When they get hoist in the air, passed down the row, and out in to the sunshine.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        What makes you think Bayreuth has no a/c? I happened to go there in 1994 and 1995. In 1994 I roasted. In 1995 I didn’t, because they had recently installed a/c. They mentioned it in a guided tour and I felt it. They were probably using it very carefully: it was nowhere as cool as a modern building, but it had taken the edge off the heat.

  • Jon H says:

    I don’t think anyone can seriously listen and do something else at the same time. And visually what’s happening, including onstage – is sometimes distracting from the musical result – and so the only way to really focus on the music is to have eyes shut – so that all the attention is on the sound.
    If it’s a rock band with orchestra accompaniment – that might be phone worthy… but the listener trying to hear details in the middle of a concerto will probably not have the phone out. And phone mics don’t know ambient noise from music – so it’s not like the result will be ideal. The problem is posting that imperfection online – like on YouTube, and people then think acoustics are bad, violin sound is rough, etc.

    • Sue says:

      Sounds like we need to stay home and listen to our CD library.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I agree. What puzzles me is, what kind of classical music audience wants to do something more than listening? Some people think that watching the action on stage enhances the experience. That may be the case with some conductors. Some of them can be stimulating to watch (especially Carlos Kleiber) but some great conductors are visually unremarkable (e.g. Boehm or Wand). I enjoy following the music with a score , though that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
      But I cannot understand how one can be in the moment and still use their cell.
      I felt the same way about people attending a great exhibition and snapping photographs of great paintings with their cells, without necessarily spending more time looking- never mind that they could find online far better photos of the same works.

  • Bruce says:

    As a performer, I really don’t mind audience members taking pictures during concerts. But DON’T USE YOUR FLASH. It doesn’t help. All it does is light up the back of the person’s head in front of you, and creates a distraction for the performers. (Yes, we can see it.) And while you’re at it, make sure that little red “recording” light doesn’t come on either. We can see those, too. We like to think it’s your way of telling the orchestra, “Hey guys! I’m an idiot!”

    (Had a guy in the front row take a flash photo once while I was playing a concerto — there was an audible bobble on the recording since I was thrown off a little by being momentarily blinded. I didn’t do the famous-artist, stop-the-show-and-confiscate-the-camera thing, but it might have been fun. It was lucky I wasn’t doing something physically risky like dancing, though — momentary blindness could have resulted in an injury.)

    Smart phones have adjustable screen settings where you can dim the brightness: easy to see in the dark, but doesn’t have the effect of shining a flashlight at the people behind you.

    If people would think for 3 seconds about how to use their phone without being disruptive, it would make the lives of everyone around them a lot pleasanter.

  • Margot says:

    Great idea Wigmore – bowing to what is more and more the practice. I have no problem taking a photo of a much loved performer as s/he takes a bow during sustained applause, and posting on FB (which as you say is free marketing). And I’m not in the younger media driven set either – happen to be a 70 year old who gos to 4 or so concerts a week.