Symphony Goers, Start Your Smart Phones

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To Tweet or Not to Tweet.

It’s a question that has confronted a number of American orchestras as they try to connect with a population more accustomed to getting information from the touch of a button on smart phones than through things like program books and pre-concert lectures.

Now the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has established "TweetSeats," a section of Music Hall in Cincinnati where audience members can bring out their iPhones, Androids and tablets and Tweet along with the music.

Patrons who sit in this special section can use a hashtag -- #CinSym – to engage with others during the concert and better share the experience. During its latest installment, on Thursday night, some 10 to 15 Twitter users sat in their own Tweet section while the orchestra’s assistant conductor Will White and associate conductor Robert Trevino also sent out messages about the music they were hearing from backstage.

The initiative was reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer and can be re-traced on the orchestra’s Twitter account at @cinycsymphony.

Orchestras around the country have been experimenting with text messaging in various ways. The Indianapolis Symphony and the Pacific Symphony in Orange County have also introduced tweeting sections in their concert halls (during "tweet-certs," as they are known). In 2009 at Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C., the National Symphony Orchestra provided real-time program notes via Twitter during a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6.

These experiments have had some strong detractors, including David Stabler, music critic of the Oregonian. “Nothing against encouraging digital communication to engage young folks with classical music,” he writes, “but can you imagine sitting next to someone who's busy texting during a performance? All those busy fingers would be a horrible distraction, not to mention a lot of phones beep when they receive a text.”

The Enquirer reports that each tweeter was given an etiquette sheet on their seats -- telling them to silence ringers and vibrate modes on their devices, and to keep their tweets "PG."

The possibilities of the technology are certainly interesting. An orchestra could narrate the ongoing adventures the hero in Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, for instance, or provide an ongoing analysis of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, all in real time. Of course, the success of these experiments may ride primarily on the quality of the tweets. Twitter is a medium built on brevity and finding interesting things to say within the 140-character limit may also be one of the biggest challenges of these experiments as they move forward.

Weigh in: Should orchestras encourage tweeting during concerts? Leave your comments below: