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Hilary Hahn

To Tweet, or Not To Tweet?

June 12, 2009 at 5:40 PM

Note from Laurie: Hilary wrote this in response to an ArtsJournal blog by her publicist, Amanda Ameer, in which Amanda confessed that, while live-Tweeting a concert (for Twitter, and yes we are all still figuring out what exactly Twitter is!) "It seems I had missed a few things whilst clicking." So she asked Hilary: Is it okay to "Tweet" during a live performance, for the sake of spreading the news? Here is Hilary's answer:


I'm all for Tweeting and spreading the word, but not during performances. Between pieces, maybe, if you can stop when the music starts up again; while standing in line for the restroom, definitely; at intermission or on the train afterwards, definitely. The problem is that acoustic performers rely on the audience's attention and focus and can tell when the audience isn't mentally present. Your listening is part of our interpretive process. If you're not really listening, we're not getting the feedback of energy from the hall, and then we might as well be practicing for a bunch of people peering in the window. It's just not as interesting when the cycle of interpretation is broken.

If you are Tweeting, then you might as well check your emails, and then you might as well just turn on the camera and make a recording for YouTube, and then you might as well have a little chat online while you're at it, or play a game of Tetris or Scrabble, or write down ideas for that presentation you have to give next week. In that case, really, the question is, why are you here? Are you enjoying the beauty of the live concert experience, in which moments are fleeting and you have to get caught up in the flow because it will never be the same again?

There's also the distraction factor. The stage is a great vantage point and a prime spot of acoustical convergence. It may be possible for you to do multiple things at once, but the same may not be true of the performers and your fellow audience members. They may not be able to keep themselves from wondering what you're writing instead of just listening and concentrating on their own individual experiences. You may not be able to delve into your own listening experience if you're thinking about what other people should be thinking.

Finally, it seems to me that listeners make things difficult for themselves by observing themselves in the third person and putting their thoughts into a narrative before those thoughts can fully form. I feel that concerts can be a break from outside pressures and influences. For audience members, a concert should be like a vacation on a distant beach with a stack of good books. Comfortable seats. No one trying to call you. No one breaking into your trains of thought. No way to reach the outside world. Just a time to shut off and calm down and treat yourself to something truly wonderful. If we can't sit through a classical concert we pay decent money for, and we can't take two hours out of an evening to shut out everyone else's demands and opinions and thoughts, where does that leave us?

From Cris Zulueta
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 5:57 PM

Leaves one with a conscience decision to turn off electronic devices leaving the outside world behind and to be swept away by the performance.  Enjoying the brief time that all are brought together by the beauty of the music.

From Michael Divino
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 6:05 PM

Not to mention, it's quite rude, don't you agree?

P.S.- Saw you @ Strathmore playing Higdon.  I was the one in the yellow polo who asked about you, Jennifer Higdon and Marin Alsop all being females working in classical music... anyway, great performance.  Though I didn't get a picture with you............ oh well.  Can't wait to see you in concert again!



Posted on June 12, 2009 at 6:14 PM

This person has to be nuts...probably texts while driving too...and this is the publicist??????????? Time to get a new one ...

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 6:22 PM

Multitasking is a myth.

Interesting quote from this article:

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 8:11 PM

Now, Sam, that's harsh! Are we talking about Hilary? Good publicist!

I understand Amanda's position, as a journalist. When I'm watching a concert that I will write about, I take copious notes, and I only hope it doesn't annoy the people around me. (Usually it's Robert next to me, and he understands!) I just write my impressions as they come to me, and I use the old-fashioned pen and paper.

In her case, she's trying out what is new, and at the moment, that's Twitter. Will Twitter be around in five years? Who knows! But probably some form of short-form, immediate reporting will be available, and in exploring this, we learn the possibilities. Does it work, to live-Tweet a concert? Maybe, maybe not. We are all still learning. You have to do some messy muddling to find out.

For that matter, people are still exploring what works best on the medium of the Internet in general -- it's not a book, it's not a newspaper, it's not a T.V. -- what works? 

Would I want a publicist who is learning about all this new stuff? Yes!

From Craig Coleman
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 9:04 PM

This is a great blog. I recently had an experience at the Starling-Delay Symposium of this just happening. Mr. Perlman came up on stage driving his Amigo POV/scooter and I think there wasn't a person in the room that wasn't Tweeting, FBing, or You-tubing, including me. It was like suddenly the audience had become a pack of paparaazi's,a bunch of tourists looking at an attraction. Mr. Perlman was clearly annoyed and also the team that was helping him was too. I did feel guilty afterwards and sorry to Mr.Perlman.

From Jason Hurwitz
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 9:10 PM
As a professional violinist (and amatuer Twitterer), I feel there is another reason why people should not Tweet during concerts that I did not see mentioned: cell phone screens are backlighted.

Countless times during shows, I have looked out over the crowd only to see an audience member, head bent down toward his/her lap, eerily lit by that recognizable blue cell phone screen glow. Besides making me wonder what could be more immediately pressing than the show the person has come to enjoy, it also makes me question whether my fellow performers and I are somehow not doing our job as entertainers well enough.

It is also, quite simply, distracting: distracting to the performers, distracting to the other audience members around the culprit. Any bright lights (cell phone screens, camera flashes, etc) in darkened theaters are just plain distracting to everyone, and can end up being dangerous to those on the stage (unless they are being used in the modern revival of the "lighter wave").

I love Tweeting, I love texting, and I'm totally addicted to my CrackBerry (in fact, I wrote this on my Blackberry while waiting at the Nashville airport) ... but there has to be a point for everyone where we can disconnect from the dataweb and just enjoy the "here and now" for a while.
From Royce Faina
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 9:38 PM

I cannot get over the fact that ANYBODY would be doing anything but shut down the cell and just take in the performance!!!!!  Tweeting, emailing, etc., afterwards!!!!!  What Is The Deal????

Posted on June 12, 2009 at 10:13 PM

Now, Sam, that's harsh!


" Is it ok to sit clicking away at a backlighted electronic device in a concert hall during a performance by someone who employs me to publicize said  performance'? Need she ask?...Isn't the answer pretty darn obvious? Is it ok to sit in the front row and chew and "pop" bubble gum?

Nicely...I'm with Hilary on this. But if she actually has to explain it to the publicist,I might certainly be thinking ...inteview time

Pragmatically, I'm with Royce on this one. Leave all electronic communications off or better yet outside  the hall or leave yourself.

From Emily Sweet
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 11:22 PM

I too think it's absurd that anyone would be doing anything other than sitting quietly and respectfully during a concert.

From Kim Vawter
Posted on June 12, 2009 at 11:19 PM

Yes, by all means, Tweet, Twitter, Text and Chat during a concert--Perfectically acceptably to do so if you are sitting on the couch, home alone.

The anticipation. Saving up for the ticket. Dressing up. The exquisit treat. The excitement of seeing a live performance by someone who has trained for years and years and who has reached the rare air of excellance in his or her art--THAT is enough. Who cares what your opinion is during a performance.

Use the time after the concert to have a glass of wine and meet with your friends. Do you remember what it is like talking face to face? The concert experience is all that.


From PM Rolf
Posted on June 13, 2009 at 1:16 AM

I admit I'm really addicted to my iPhone (or iCrack as some people call it), I'm on it constantly, checking email, texting, surfing the internet, but never at a concert!!

I agree with Sam completey, it's rude.

From Preston Hawes
Posted on June 13, 2009 at 2:54 AM

Judging by the comments above, many of us would blow a gasket if we attended a performance even 100 years ago, never mind in Mozart's time, or before.  I say relax, and let people absorb the music and the atmosphere as they feel best.  They won't be back if they didn't enjoy it.

Doubly, I think Hilary needs to read Joy Calico's "Brecht at the Opera" before answering this question.  Specifically Calico's thoughts on estrangement.

From Sam Choi
Posted on June 13, 2009 at 6:34 AM

I don't understand why this subject was even brought up. Apparently some people are inconsiderate and ill-mannered enough to do it. That doesn't mean it is debatable.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 13, 2009 at 9:23 AM

I, too, was at the concert at Strathmore in which Hilary Hahn played the concerto written for her by Jennifer Higdon, and I also attended the Q & A session afterwards, when Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Higdon, and Marin Alsop answered questions from the audience.  This is the second such Q & A session by Ms. Alsop and Ms. Higdon which I've attended.  I think these are absolutely great!  The audience gets to see and hear the main characters of the show as real people, often with good senses of humor.  I've learned so much about music during these sessions.  I often tell my students about what I've heard.  I like to write about the Q & A sessions in my blog because these are really special events that are only heard by those present.  I often take notes at these discussions, and I don't feel that I'm being inconsiderate of others present because this is not a musical performance.  Besides, I'm old fashioned; I use pen and pencil.  My behavior during the musical performance is completely different.  I listen with my whole being.  However, I can listen on more than one level.  In addition to enjoying the music, I often ask myself why am I enjoying this so much?  What makes it so special for me?  If I want to gather my thoughts so that I can share them with people on, I take notes, with pen and paper, fast and furiously during the intermission and after the concert. 

From Michael Divino
Posted on June 14, 2009 at 2:08 AM


I don't know if you remember but I was the person in the yellow polo who asked Marin, Hilary and Jennifer what it was like to collaborate with other women on the Higdon project!!!!!!!!!! The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller!


Also, for anyone interested.... I was the one who asked that question he talks about @ the end of the article:

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 14, 2009 at 2:51 AM

Michael, I interpreted your comment, possibly incorrectly, as showing disbelief that three women could be so successful in musical careers.  It sounded like outdated prejudice to me.  Please let us know what you really meant.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 14, 2009 at 3:08 AM

Well, the original blog was about Tweeting at a concert called "Bang on a Can." That's a little bit different than Tweeting while Hilary's playing the Higdon. But I'm still glad Amanda asked Hilary the question, because though it seems obvious to all of us, I think it needed to be said, and that Hilary said it well: Tweeting at a classical performance is disruptive.

Tweeting at "Bang on a Can," or at an amplified rock performance? Doesn't seem like quite as big a deal, though you might miss some of the action while you are distracted.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 14, 2009 at 2:43 PM

 >For audience members, a concert should be like a vacation on a distant beach with a stack of good books. Comfortable seats. No one trying to call you. No one breaking into your trains of thought. No way to reach the outside world. Just a time to shut off and calm down and treat yourself to something truly wonderful.

Ahh, yes!

From Michael Divino
Posted on June 15, 2009 at 2:01 AM

Pauline--- not at all.  During the performance of Dvorak 5, (after the Higdon) an image popped into my head.  After the performance of the concerto, Marin, Hilary and Jennifer held hands and took a bow- and that was what sparked my question.  Could a collaboration such as this one- female conductor, composer, performer have existed 20 years  ago?  My question was what did it mean to each of the three ladies on the stage that there was this amount of female involvement, considering classical music is still ( I guess) male dominated?


I hope that clears it up.


P.S. - Pretty much all of my favorite violinists are women- Hilary Hahn, Janine Jansen, Anne-Sophie Mutter. 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 16, 2009 at 8:01 AM

Thanks for the clarification, Michael.  It makes sense.  Marin Alsop is the first female conductor of a major symphony orchestra in the U.S.  Fighting prejudice is always a struggle, but these three women, especially Marin Alsop, have been quite successful.

From Michael Divino
Posted on June 16, 2009 at 11:49 PM

Ah but of course!  She is one of the best, and a joy to watch her conduct.

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