Attraction or Annoyance? Orchestras Invite Audiences to Use Their Smartphones

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Audiences use Twitter at a Cincinnati Symphony concert Audiences use Twitter at a Cincinnati Symphony concert

The San Francisco Symphony is to become the latest orchestra to set aside "tweet seats" in its concert hall. Patrons seated in the balcony for its summer concerts will be invited to turn on their phones and dish out 140-character missives about the performance as they hear it. The orchestra joins the Cincinnati Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, the Pacific Symphony and the Dayton Opera, among other arts organizations, to introduce Twitter sections in the hall.

Live-tweeting is one of many strategies orchestras are trying in an attempt to enliven the concert experience -- from holding contests via YouTube, to placing video screens in halls. Advocates say these efforts could help make concerts feel more welcoming and interactive; skeptics wonder if social media and other technology will become a distraction.

Host Naomi Lewin discusses this trend with three guests: Brent Assink, executive director of the San Francisco Symphony; John Schaefer, host of WNYC's Soundcheck and New Sounds; Christopher Pinelo, vice president of communications for the Cincinnati Symphony, who oversees the organization's social media activities.

Weigh in: Do Tweet Seats belong in performance venues? What are other ways that orchestras can make the concert experience less stuffy? Leave your thoughts below.


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Comments [23]

Ladislaus Horatius

There is a name for what goes on here and it is "ononism". (Mind your vowels.)

See for more info about this EXTREMELY virulent disease, as yet unrecognised as such.

Ladislaus Horatius (musician, prefering a Lisztening to a twittering audience)

Sep. 17 2013 12:57 PM
Faust from Manhattan, NY

It's hilarious to see the middle-class and the nouveau riche both attack the smartphone crowd, and remain completely ignorant of classical music's roots. History Lesson:

If you were attending a performance of Beethoven, Mozart, or any of the "greats" you would find that the audience conversed at leasure during the performance. Laughing, chatting loudly, and telling the occasional off-colour joke in mixed company. GASP!

Wagner was known as a terror or an "L'enfant terrible" because he insisted that people *actually" sit down through out his entire performance and be quiet!

Wow! Today, with the influx of the middle-class paying for something they hold as "important" the entire world has been flipped on its head. Eh. So goes anything, where the pompous, self-righteous, and indignant middle-class goeth.

Do us all a favor and stick to your Broadway shows and American Idol.

Jun. 10 2013 02:36 AM

I recently attended a concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL, and the numerous people texting, e-mailing, and taking pictures with their smartphones was extremely annoying. As someone else here noted, the bright lights from the phones in a dark concert hall is distracting in the extreme. This behavior is now a major distinctive for me to pay good money for another concert unless the halls start cracking down on smartphone use, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. :(

Mar. 01 2013 02:33 AM

So long as the ubiquitous, back-lit blue screens (plus frantic typing/keying of rlly kewl txt) doesn't interfere with my aural or visual experience in the hall, go for it. Have a tweet room. Serve ckctls. Just don't interfere with my experience. No phones, no crackling candy wrappers, no whispering, just listening.

Thank you,


Apr. 02 2012 08:08 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

And let's get some vendors selling hot dogs and popcorn too!!!

Apr. 02 2012 11:42 AM
José Bergher from New York

How about bringing big laptops and using e-mail, internet, and all kinds of lighting effects to enliven the procedures? Concerts with music by Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart shouldn’t be dull. Let’s make them real fun for ourselves and others. Between movements of a Brahms piano sonata the laptops could be used to tune to radio and TV stations, play commercials out loud and thus help the economy. And don’t forget a feature once every 10 minutes: the baseball scores.

Apr. 02 2012 11:16 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha,l NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

When I was a student at both Juilliard and Columbia University, we received Score Desk seats for a dollar at seats with a desk on both SIDES and behind all the other seats, at the Family Circle, the top balcony at the old Met.
Today we should have separate areas of the opera houses and concert halls and arenas where ONLY Smartphones, texting and twittering are permitted. Like smokers, in this respect only, they are not bothered by others twitting, texting, or whatever. I PERSONALLY WOULD NEVER ENGAGE IN SUCH ACTIVITIES IN THOSE VENUES.
As an opera composer, Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, I enjoy exclusive attention to the performance without distractions.

Apr. 01 2012 11:23 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha,l NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

MULTITASKING HAS BECOME MORE AND MORE OUR COUNTRY's LIFESTYLE ! Many depend on a daily menu of hedonistic pleasures of all that surrounds us. I DO NOT, BUT I DO UNDERSTAND. OUR SENSES ARE OUR TREASURABLE AND LASTING VALUES ALONGSIDE OUR FRIENDSHIPS ! As an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare," my own perceptions of character development, interactiveness between the personalities, and the era and mores of that era in time all directly immensely define the tapestry of the orchestration and the denouement. I studied with leading performers and teachers composing, conducting, singing and acting techniques at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music and with Friedrich Schorr, Alexander Kipnis, Frieda Hempel, Margarete Matzenauer, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell, Enrico Rosati, Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meissner, Philip Burton, Fausto Cleva and Laszlo Halasz and many others. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor and the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. At my website,, one may download free 37 complete selections from the over one hundred I have sung in four three hour long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, of Carnegie Hall. They are all LIVE performances.

Apr. 01 2012 10:26 AM
Score: 0/0

Apr. 01 2012 10:59 AM
Frank Pedulla from Queens

I am writing to clearly state that there should be an obvious "logical" difference between attending performances within the parameters of a concert hall, and those given "outside;" such as in parks, restaurants, cafes, etc.. It's not so much the type of music, but rather, the setting in which its performance takes place, that makes the difference in whether or not 'distractive debvices' should be permitted. Musically yours, Frank Pedulla,

Mar. 31 2012 04:42 PM
Frank Pedulla

I definitely believe it is not a 'smart' idea to allow Smartphone usage in the concert hall. The concert hall is a "sacred place" where people paying "good money" to listen to music without either themselves or anyone in attendence being by any means, distracted. However, if the same "exact" music were to be performed in a cafe-type setting where people go to eat and socialize, then it should be allowable. This line must be drawn, or music and the arts as a whole will continue to suffer, at least with regards to respect! Musically yours, Frank,

Mar. 30 2012 10:54 PM
Bernie from UWS

It's clear most of the people commenting here that they dislike the idea didn't listen to the show. If they did, they'd realize that this would in no way impact the other audience members. The tweeters are isolated in an area where the rest of the audience can't see or hear them. The screen lights aren't an issue.

Also, I would disagree that you can't multitask at a concert. I listen to music while cooking, cleaning my apartment, reading, etc. and pick up just as much of the music as I would if I were just sitting there staring at a stage. It's time some of these luddites get with the 21st century!

Mar. 30 2012 09:46 PM
Shepsl Topaz from Queens, NY

It's already been proven that people really can't multitask -- their divided attention is no real attention at all. So tweeting during a concert? The music becomes secondary -- just so much background soundtrack. These are the same people crashing cars because driving becomes secondary to texting or telephoning. Bottom line? Those people would be taking up seats that should be available to people who really appreciate music and would actually pay attention.

Mar. 30 2012 08:35 PM
Elizabeth from Kendall Park NJ

The worst idea ever! These devices have no place in a concert hall. Totally agree with Chuck - if you can't disconnect from the outside world for a few hours, what are you doing there? Essential personnel were able to be reached years ago when cell phones didn't exist, so that argument doesn't hold water. Agree with others regarding how distracting the light from the phones is.....Let's hope this never becomes an accepted practice. Keep the concert halls and opera houses free from disruption & distraction.

Mar. 30 2012 08:30 PM
SI from UWS

Tweet seats are a good idea possibly misunderstood by the summary's author and by some of the commentators. It's not primarily about "enlivening" the experience. I think that's daft. Tweet seats are not an accommodation by the orchestra to people who like to tweet--or would be bored otherwise--but an invitation from the orchestra to have people help promote the orchestra by tweeting. It's not an accommodation to some (non-existent) suppressed urge to tweet suffered by a segment of subscribers. No, it's online and social media *marketing.* It turns a segment of attendees into promoters and advocates.

And it costs the orchestra nothing. That's key in this economy and also in light of subscription trends, which are not favorable for most orchestras.

Tweet seats are an experiment in finding a way to communicate to young potential subscribers the orchestra's ability to enrich people's lives and to drive them to the orchestra's website to buy tickets, see the schedule, and learn more. Also, it's a traceable effort. Web traffic can be tracked, and special offers can be made as part of the efforte--e.g., 1st time subscribers paying online could enter a discount code that is on the website only during a tweeted performance, etc.

Mar. 30 2012 05:51 PM
Dave B. from New York, NY

I'm all for this. In this day and age, there are, in fact, professionals who must stay available and connected at all times. Think doctors, for example.

Mar. 30 2012 05:49 PM
maddy from new york city

I'm with Chuck from Clark on this. Since when do people need other entertainment while attending a concert? It's juvenile, like the kids who can't do their homework without the TV on or the radio blasting. At least San Francisco has enough respect for concertgoers who are there to enjoy the music to put the "tweeters" in a separate section. One other concern: Are they occupying seats in an otherwise sold-out house, making seats unavailable to those who would attend if there were tickets left to buy?

Mar. 30 2012 05:15 PM
Judy G. from NYC

This is the worst idea I've ever heard. I attended a wonderful Yefim Bronfman concert a week ago today at Carnegie Hall -- yes, Carnegie Hall --and a woman texted throughout the first half of the concert. She didn't text during the second half, so I can only think that people closer to her complained. I was very annoyed by the light from the phone she was using. If you can't spend an hour listening to a superb pianist, stay home. You can tweet or text during intermission or when the concert is over. Remind me never go to the San Francisco Symphony.

Mar. 30 2012 04:21 PM
Whit from Tenafly, NJ

Good Grief! Can't we have some places without phones, ipads or whatever. People can tweet after the performance if they wish to comment. If you set aside a place for tweeters, you might as well give them the restricted view seats since they will be focusing on the devices. However, I really think electronic devices should be off during concerts, as a courtesy to the performers, the rest of the audience, and as a favor to the tweeeters who will then listen without distraction.

Mar. 30 2012 04:09 PM
Paula María Schaer from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Firts, humanbeing has not instantanous conscience of facts. They need time to elaborate feellings, sensations. Besides, the performance is a hole, which must be evaluated so. Ergo, the information you will get, maybe it will be not true. Besides, poor musiciens who will be thinking about evaluation, and not feeling the music and perfoming acording to music. These are tecniques which has nothings to do with arts. Please, let people feels.

Mar. 30 2012 07:30 AM
Steven Lanser from Upper Manhattan

You have got to be kidding! In no way should this practice be allowed or encouraged! Don't we have enough intrusion of these obnoxious devices in concert halls?

Mar. 29 2012 01:32 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I agree with Chuck. If your Smartphone or other electronic device is so important that you can't even attend a concert and pay attention to the performance without texting or tweeting or whatever else you do with them, then you shouldn't be there in the first place. Listening to music is an active experience that requires your full attention, as opposed to merely hearing music, which then becomes a background to whatever else you happen to be doing at the time. I'm not saying that there isn't a place for music as background, but it should not be in the concert hall. Have some respect for the composer, the musicians and your fellow audience members!

Mar. 29 2012 12:18 PM
Bernie from UWS

I regularly watch TV while doing work or social media on my laptop. To me, a concert can be no different. Our brains are built to multitask and there's no reason why we can't Tweet or read program notes for that matter and still digest the performance as it's happening. I think it's going to be a long time before we see Tweet Seats at the NY Philharmonic though, after the infamous marimba ringtone incident.

Mar. 29 2012 06:56 AM
Chuck from Clark, NJ

Wow, never would have thought to read "What are other ways that orchestras can make the concert experience less stuffy?" on a classical radio website. If you don't understand why Mozart's Don Giovanni or Beethoven's E flat major symphony or The Rite of Spring are vital and exciting I don't know what you're doing in a classical concert hall.

Mar. 28 2012 06:42 PM

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