V.com weekend vote: Has your cell phone ever gone off during a performance?

January 13, 2012, 4:41 PM · I feel for Patron X.

If you haven't heard, his iPhone alarm went off during the spellbinding fade-away to Mahler's Ninth Symphony at the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday night.

It broke the spell, and it also seemed to unleash everyone's latent exasperation with modern technology's intrusion on even the most sacred moments of our lives. Audience members shouted angrily, conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the show, and recriminations and jokes have abounded all over Twitter, YouTube, and I even heard one on the radio this morning.

And yet -- who among us can say that their cell phone has never strummed, or chimed, or belted out an inappropriate tune during the wrong moment? That sexy riff from your favorite pop tune seemed like a really cool ring tone -- until it started jangling during a funeral, or during a tense meeting with your boss. It happens, in modern life.

As the New York Times reported, Patron X is 20-year subscriber to New York Philharmonic, a devoted concertgoer who is in his 60s. He also hasn't slept since the embarrassing incident.

His company had switched him from a Blackberry to an iPhone just days before, and he really thought the thing was off. It turns out that, though the phone was not taking calls, the alarm was accidentally on. Patron X has apologized to the orchestra, the audience, and personally to conductor Alan Gilbert.

Has your cell phone ever rang at the wrong moment? And when it comes to concerts, what can we do to help prevent this?


January 14, 2012 at 01:04 AM · Bravo, Laurie, for writing a balanced and thoughtful intro to this survey question. There are so many callous and hateful comments against Patron X flying around the 'net that one might almost think the people writing the comments had never made a mistake themselves. So, thank you for seeing Patron X as a human (albeit an extremely unlucky fellow) and not a monster, and for framing the question so as not to find verification that Patron X should continue to be publicly stoned but instead to move the conversation toward how to avoid any such embarrassment -- for anyone -- in the future.

I think it's also good to note that Alan Gilbert has accepted Patron X's apology.

January 14, 2012 at 01:47 AM · That poor man how humiliated hr must have been. I once just last week was playing in the church band. I thought I heard a familiar sound faintly from the back of the sanctuary. I wasn't feeling well. I've had a bad cold over a week and it wasn't till afterwards that I realized it was my phone that I heard. I had turned it way down and put it back in my purse but I must not have put it away right cause the sound wasn't off all the way. Lucky it was not to loud.


January 14, 2012 at 02:35 AM · At rehearsals and concerts, I leave the cell in the car.

January 14, 2012 at 03:14 AM · My son was in church once and his phone was off but he had set an alarm that activated the phone. Very embarrassing. Don't forget to check alarms. Turning the phone off doesn't deactivate them.

January 14, 2012 at 04:01 AM · I was once at a rehearsal where the conductor's cell phone started ringing! - Laurie

January 14, 2012 at 03:59 PM · What I find ironic about the entire discussion is that society has already accepted cell phones and ALL of their negative aspects (many of which are much worse than concert disturbance). That they ring during a concert is, to me, trivial.

Californians know full well that cell phones are illegal while driving, yet everyone is always on the phone. The same thing here in Oregon, where I often see people looking down at their keypads as they drive. I was almost knocked off my bike by a woman diddling with her phone (when I tapped on her window at a stoplight, she started screaming at me).

We've also managed to zombify our teens (and younger), many of whom can't stop themselves from texting throughout the day and into the night.

And of course, we're all frittering away our money on these gadgets when we should be saving for college or our own retirement (hmmm....I wonder where it's all going?).

So outside of the concert hall, we've fully embraced the good and bad of cell phones. Why should anyone expect some sort of miraculous cell-free zone in concerts? The only thing that would really work is blocking technology.

January 14, 2012 at 05:17 PM · Good point, Scott. Plus I like the verb "zombify,' it's very true!

January 14, 2012 at 05:11 PM · So very well said, Scott!

I have a cell phone but I only carry this leash in rare cases such as when I'm out of town. I've lost too many friends due to their crackberry addiction that I simply won't take a job that requires me to carry a cell phone or blackberry all the time no matter how much I'll get paid.

I was particularly alarmed at the zombification of using such device when I returned Shanghai (the place I was born and grew up) a few years ago when I saw the sudden change in people’s way of socializing with each other. Those thoughtful and attentive face to face conversations we used to enjoy so much among friends and relatives turned into constant interruptions with texting messages and phone rings, for matters of no urgency, such as saying hi or sending jokes. At first I was totally flabbergasted to see they’d let these trivia interrupt engaging conversations with their loved ones and with me who they hadn’t seen for years, but soon I realized that this is an addiction, which altered not only their behavior but also perception and self-awareness. What was shocking for me to witness was natural for them to be.

January 14, 2012 at 06:23 PM · I so wholeheartedly agree, Scott! I watched all my friends get smart phones and now that's all they do. They all sit around in the same room laughing into their screens.

January 15, 2012 at 12:16 AM · I went to a concert with Itzhak Perlman and a similar situation happened. It was the second half of the program where Mr. Perlman engaged the crowd by explaining the background of the piece he was about to play. He was discussing the composer's mindset when a row behind us a cell phone rang. Without missing a beat, Mr. Perlman diffused the situation and brightened the performance by interjecting, "That must be him now!"

Fortunately, it wasn't during the performance. I thought Mr. Perlman showed great class.

January 15, 2012 at 04:03 AM · Scott, I suspect that the biggest offenders are also the most conspicuous, and therefore possibly overrepresented.

Yes, it did happen to me once a long time ago, because I did not turn it off. I fully accept the blame for that. The stakes were a lot lower and I made sure that turning it off became an ingrained habit ever since.

I don't want to stone the guy and I'm glad he apologized. But I counter that "a few days" is more than enough time to learn the most basic function of these devices, turning them on and off -- and not just silent, but completely off. Something that ought to take fifteen minutes and I think that's being generous. This was not his first cell phone.

January 15, 2012 at 07:36 AM · I don't use my cell phone as an alarm clock so this is news to me that the alarm still goes off when the phone is turned down/off.

People who live in glass houses...

January 15, 2012 at 11:43 AM · Turning it off is a great idea. Sometimes some of us are unable to turn off. Now I know if I was at a concert I would turn it off, but then o don't go to concerts. In my situation I can't turn mine off, I have a special needs sister and must always have my phone close by to take care of her so I turn my sound off and only way I know if she's calling is the little light comes on. I used to put it on vibrate but even that made to much noise in church.


January 15, 2012 at 03:27 PM · I remember when my parents got our first cell phone. It was purchased just for emergencies, because if you veer off the road during a blizzard in Canada, you could freeze to death. I'm 24 and I consider myself lucky that I just missed the emergence of cells in high school. There were maybe 1/8th of kids that had a phone back in 2005. I can just imagine now that every kid is walking around with their face buried in their phone. My kid will never have a phone until they get out of school.

As much as cellphones are social devices, they really are more like social inhibitors. Honestly, I've seen people text others to break up with them or tell them a parent has died. While I love my iPhone, I don't abuse my social relationships with it.

January 15, 2012 at 03:44 PM · I've never heard of a zombie tethered to technology.

The Borg on the other hand...

Kidding aside, I felt bad for Patron X. Not only did he experience the humiliation of accidentally ruining a concert, but then he further endured loads of angry pixels heaped on top. That is a bitter icing on that foul cake.

January 16, 2012 at 02:45 AM ·

Professional musicians are not immune from this mishap. Last year, a local symphony member's cell phone rang for at least 5 minutes backstage during the performance. It was clearly audible in the concert hall. He didn't realize for some time that it was his own phone. Oops. But he still has his job.

January 16, 2012 at 02:12 PM · I'm a luddite and in favour of airport style security to stop mobile phones getting into concert halls and as many other places as possible...

January 16, 2012 at 02:14 PM · As of now, it has not happened to me. I always put my phone in flight mode when I attend a concert or am onstage. Just using the mute profile is not enough, because as a square dance caller I work with PA equipment and an incoming call might be heard over the speakers even though the phone itself is silenced and not vibrating. You'll experience the same effect in your car when you put the phone close to the speakers and you drive into another cell on the network.

On top of that, I check and double check that the alarm is deactivated. Still, it's an accident waiting to happen. Leaving it in the car or in your coat (the theater in my home town has lockers for those) seems the only SECURE solution - at least as far as avoiding a disturbance to the event is concerned.

Why should we care? Music is the most evanescent form of art. The composer has put much thought into acchieving a certain effect and the musicians have put in much effort to be able to execute the music in the most moving manner. Setting off a cell phone (or coughing, or sneizing, ...) during such a "silent climax" completely destroys the moment for all involved. Therefore, it is the cultural equivalent of pouring a can of paint over the Mona Lisa: this specific work of art (which, in my opinion, is the concert/performance, not the score - or even a recording - those are just a "depiction" - like the photo of the famous painting in your art book at home) has been destroyed forever.

January 17, 2012 at 12:52 AM · Saw Nigel Kennedy in concert tonight, and someone's mobile went off in the front row. Nigel roared with laughter and went over to the woman (with his microphone), asked her her name, and cracked several silly phone gags. His response was very much in the spirit of the concert, and of course Nigel's own personality too, but it was a brilliant way to deal with it, and amused everyone including the culprit. Could this be somehow significant re. the (perceived) classical/jazz cultural divide? (I mention this because Nigel Kennedy is unusual in his presentation of both.) Oh - and by the way his response was similar when one of his own musicians played in a pause; he humorously identified her to the audience, who totally enjoyed the gaffe, and it was just part of the show.

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