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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Hank Drake said…
Absolutely agree. Presumably, when people speak of Classical music needing new audiences, they mean younger audiences. But the demographic I see fiddling with their cell phones most often is not young. It tends to skew toward seniors who haven't mastered the art of turning the phone off. Just last night, I saw an older woman trying to figure out how to deactivate her iPhone - finally, her concert companion (probably her daughter, from the looks of it) reached over and swiped to the right.
Pliable said…
Hank, you make a good point. It is conveniently implied by Gillian Moore and other gurus that the only people disrupting concerts with their mobile phones are young first time concert goers who do not know better. In my experience that is not the case: the disruptions are coming from a broad demographic cohort. This is not a debate about being nice to first time concertgoers: it is a debate about common sense in the concert hall.
JMW said…
These populist efforts to increase the audience inevitably have the opposite effect. The sentiment espoused by Gillian Moore is doubly insidious precisely for the reason you state: it will drive away the core audience without replacing them with new attendees. In this it is similar to a Vietnam-era American soldier who described their tactics thus: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

They didn't save it.
Pliable said…
Gillian Moore has done some very good things at the Southbank Centre, and she has also made some mistakes. But she is a very powerful person in the classical music establishment. So people do not cross swords with her; unless, like me, they do not depend on classical music for their income. It is also worth noting that she is part of the team under whose management the public areas of the Southbank Centre have degenerated into a cross between a Burger King and a car boot sale.

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