Classical music must beware of the Facebook mindset
In his eye-opening analysis of the impact of social media Terms of Service, Jacob Silverman observes that the fundamental principle of Facebook is that everything - dating, browsing photos, playing games, and listening to music - is better with other people watching. Now the frightening success of Facebook - a highly profitable $12.5 billion turnover business that proves the tech adage that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product - has been seized on by classical music's new gurus. So I am told by the Southbank Centre's head of music Gillian Moore that if the person in the seat next to me breaks her eminently sensible suggested concert etiquette by using a mobile phone to tell friends they are in a concert, I should simply "be nice to them".
Now Ms Moore is quite right in restating that, unlike social media, civility is a fundamental principle of concert etiquette. But, in my view, she is quite wrong in surrendering to the Facebook mindset. For practical reasons, live classical music - like air travel - can only be experienced in the company of a lot of other people. But appreciating great music is essentially a solitary experience that depends on direct transmission from composer through musician to listener, and this solitary experience is a very brittle one that is all too easily fragmented by intrusive distractions. There always have been, and always will be, unavoidable distractions such as coughing. But today these are being overshadowed by avoidable intrusions such as mobile phones and gratuitous applause, which we told to tolerate in the name of reaching new audiences.
The fashionable Facebook-derived doctrine of the classical music gurus is that concertgoers are there not only to provide an audience for the music, but also to provide an audience for the audience. Gillian Moore is quite right that I should be nice to the person next to me who repeatedly uses their mobile phone in a concert - as happened last week. But she has overlooked the very important point that the least confrontational way for long term audience members such as myself to be nice to that guy on a phone, is for us to stop going to concerts and, instead, enjoy distraction-free classical music from recordings and streaming services. As I asked yesterday; what price classical music's new audience?
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