Mahler’s Ninth Symphony was subject to some accidental accompaniment Tuesday at Lincoln Center, when a ringing cell phone halted the entire performance (the ring tone was the especially-annoying “Marimba”). Conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the New York Philharmonic until the phone was silenced, and in doing so, started a national debate about cell phone etiquette in performances.
When the phone rang during Tuesday night’s performance, audience members and Gilbert tried to ignore it. As the ring persisted, and the audience grew restless, Gilbert stopped the orchestra. “We’ll wait,” he told the audience, according to blogger Max Kinchen’s account. When the ring continued, audience members began to shout from the balconies, calling for the offender to be thrown out. Gilbert was, and is still commended for stopping the show.
The audience member was pilloried, but the New York Times offers the patron’s side of the story: He had just gotten a new iPhone, and had indeed turned it off, but was unaware that he had set an alarm, and was additionally unaware that alarms could ring when the phone was switched off. “Seems like we now have to worry about ‘smart’ phones that are also wicked, fooling us into thinking we have control, when, all along, they can overrule our wishes,” wrote Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun.
For the future sake of conductor sanity, here’s a quick refresher on cell-phone etiquette:
• When the lights go down, your phone goes on vibrate — at least. Turning it all the way off is better, but won’t necessarily save you the embarrassment of Tuesday night unless you also check to make sure that no alarms are set.
• No texting or tweeting, either. Unless your theater offers tweet seats, that is. But otherwise, texting during a performance is rude because the light from the phone is distracting to your neighbors and to the performers — yes, they can see it from the stage.
• If your phone makes a noise, silence it immediately. Some people are so embarrassed about a ringing cell phone that they let it ring until it goes to voicemail — that way, they have deniability, saving them the humiliation of everyone knowing they were the jerk who left their phone on.
• If that call really is an emergency, silence your phone and leave the theater before you take it. Do not, under any circumstances, answer a call during a performance.
Want to know how it could have sounded, had Gilbert not stopped the performance? YouTube user hanshorseback offers a helpful demonstration: