Concerto for Cello, Orchestra and Solo Cell Phone

January 25, 2011, 11:43 AM ·

What sublime beauty is the sound of a cello, particularly in the hands of someone as gifted as the young Narek Hakhnazaryan, particularly in a piece as well-conceived as the Dvorak Cello Concerto, particularly with the support so many gifted principals as are in the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra, where I was playing in the second fiddles on Saturday night.

Thus were my thoughts during an especially quiet, cadenza-like section of the second movement, when the blaring tones of a cell phone startled me from my reverie. As with so many things technological, the ringtone persisted with no regard for its environment until its owner located and silenced it.

Am I calling for the summary execution of the offender? No, though certain scenarios did flash through my mind.

I'm sure the owner of the cell phone was mortified. Most people who own cell phones have experienced at least one terrifyingly embarrassing moment of out-of-control, inappropriate ringing that interrupted something important. I understand.

No, what struck me was the glaring contrast between the beauty of sound we had been experiencing and the profane noise that poured out of the phone. That profane noise? It's the background music of our lives.

Our lives are accompanied by sound of our cell phones, the music from tiny computer speakers, the unchosen tunes in groceries and lobbies and clothing stores, music delivered through earbuds, computer chip music embedded in toys, the list goes on.

It's clear that we need music, why else would we fill our lives with it? But this kind of music also reminds me of faux food that dominates the American market: stripped to its essentials and packaged for convenience, it loses its quality, its nutritional value, its aesthetic, its ability to nurture us.

By contrast, a symphony orchestra concert is a sanctuary of music, performed in a building created for the purpose of silence and sound, with musicians playing with great care on fine instruments. The pieces are carefully composed, carefully chosen. A conductor directs the energy of the music. It's a place where you can leave the noise of the modern world at the door, let go of everything else for a few hours and experience the kind of live music that resonates with your very being.

We need it more than ever.




January 25, 2011 at 10:15 PM ·

Very well said Laurie!, we go and listen to the live orchestra/ chambers/ solo recitals/ ensemble to get away from the humdrum of the world we live in. We listen to music so that we can go to a place where peace, moments of joy, desire, love, anger, frustrations, and even redemptions just for a few minutes. But reality always squeeze in, and in that suspended time, we hope that we appreciate that moment how beautiful the music , and the places we went with it, even it feels like that we awaken so suddenly in the middle of the most  beautiful dream.


January 26, 2011 at 12:47 AM ·

on my bucket list: writing several pieces for young string orchestra, including one titled "Can you hear me now?" featuring the best of the traditional cellphone ringtones.....

January 26, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

 Thank you, Elinor. And DO it, Liz!

January 26, 2011 at 06:12 AM ·

The really rich people are the suppliers of faux food and faux music. Depressing isn't it?

January 26, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

Whenever I enter a concert venue, I check, double check and recheck that my cell phone is off. As an added "benefit", most of today's technological marvels also have an "alarm clock" feature - that would of course not be silenced by switching off the phone.

Up to now, I've never caused an incident like the one you mentioned, but I guess it's only a question of time (and Murphy's law). Once, while attending a performance of the Bamberg String Quartet, someone's cell phone went off. Thankfully, it happened between pieces, while the cellist gave a short introduction to the following piece. The then violist immediately picked up instrument and bow and replayed the ringtone (that was before polyphonic ringtones) at the correct pitch. An amazing display of showmanship and musicianship at the same time.

January 26, 2011 at 12:45 PM ·

 You make an excellent point about the unchosen background noise littering our lives. Most of these sounds didn't exist as recently as 15 years ago and were inconceivable 25 years ago-- what are the consequences of this change in our environment?

January 26, 2011 at 01:33 PM ·

I remember reading an amusing story once about the great violinist Szymon Goldberg.  He was playing a recital, and there was a toilet backstage that was audibly running.  After a few minutes, he put down his violin, went backstage, made it stop running and resumed his recital.  Before there were cellphones, . . . . 

January 26, 2011 at 02:00 PM ·

He must have been flushed with excitement.

January 26, 2011 at 03:50 PM ·

 Well put, Laurie!

My personal solution is to keep my cell phone off. Works like a charm.

January 26, 2011 at 05:49 PM ·

At least public libraries don't have Muzak.

For now, anyway...

January 26, 2011 at 07:48 PM ·

when life gives you lemons:


January 26, 2011 at 08:11 PM ·

 I believe there are concert halls in Japan where cell phone signals are blocked.


elizabeth- I just read your comment, be sure to watch my link above.

January 27, 2011 at 12:47 AM ·

Great post, Laurie! Thanks! I am also enjoying the comments. One of the things that is done here in Shanghai during concerts is if you are trying to illegally photograph or video a performance, you get lasered. Someone or maybe more than one person watches the whole audience and sends out the red laser onto your camera to try to get people to stop it. I think only once have I been in an auditorium that scrambled phone signals here. The cultural differences are just enormous though on what constitutes audience concert behavior here. It is common that an audience member answers a call and carries on a conversation throughout the performance. It is also common for people to text the entire time. It is also common that people visit amongst one another during the entire duration of a performance.

Anyone see August Rush? The story is about a kid who, while looking for his parents, creates a symphonic rhapsody including many of our modern city noises.

I also heard a modern Chinese symphony recently that was amazingly beautiful - it obviously was mimicking city life and sounds - vaguely reminded me of An American In Paris. 

January 27, 2011 at 05:24 AM ·

 The problem with just keeping the cell phone off or "on silent" all the time is when you turn it back on, only to realize that the school nurse called 45 minutes ago -- and has called three times since -- to let you know that your son is in the office with a temperatures of 104 degrees and needs to go home RIGHT NOW!! 

The Nokia waltz is very funny, I had heard it. By now, there are so many ringtones, though the Nokia one is perhaps most recognizable as a cell phone ring.

January 27, 2011 at 11:13 PM ·

 > The problem with just keeping the cell phone off or "on silent" all the time is when you turn it back on, only to realize that the school nurse called 45 minutes ago -- and has called three times since -- to let you know that your son is in the office with a temperatures of 104 degrees and needs to go home RIGHT NOW!! 

I'm embarrassed to say that something like this did happen to me last year, when my phone was off. They got a hold of my husband instead. And I'm more embarrassed to say I sort of shrug now when I realize I've had my phone off all day, and that the school could have been trying to get a hold of me. I guess, in a way, my thought is, "Hey, our parents dared leave the house, without phone contact, and we survived." But that was a whole different era.

Whoa, way off topic. Sorry. Bonny, your descriptions of what is considered locally acceptable are just fascinating!

January 29, 2011 at 11:42 PM ·

Great post Laurie! Most all of us use cell phones and computers, as they have become a necessary part of our lives.  The most important point is to not let them become our lives.

I have avoided television and fast food at all costs during the last two decades.  Are the only people sensitive enough to the hazards of this current corporate culture playing Bach, Beethoven and Mozart?  Sculpting or painting?  Writing or dancing?

I believe that if more of us had a true creative passion, there wouldn't be any demand for the video game madness that is overtaking our world.

Thank you for encouraging this dialogue!

January 30, 2011 at 11:30 PM ·

 Very well put. We need to take time for music - especially beautiful classical music - live music, not just through earbuds!

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