Monday, February 1, 2016

Introducing new technology into the concert hall

I read last week where the deep-thinkers at the Boston

Symphony have decided the way to bring in younger

audience members is to introduce iPads loaded with

content specific to each performance.

This is an area of some concern to me as well as many others

as we watch to see how Boston Symphony patrons react to the


In a sense, it is a logical progression, since the audience they –

and many other performing arts organizations are chasing –

are very familiar with the technology at play here.

So far the iPads are only being used for the “Casual Friday”

concerts along with reduced prices, and only to people

sitting in the rear orchestra secton.   And the iPads themselves

can’t be used to surf the internet during the concert, either.

The fear, of course, is allowing such touch-screen technology

into North American concert halls.  After all, look at how

attached people have become to their beloved smart-phones

even once the lights go down.  The number of times I can spot

someone texting or surfing the net when they should be paying

attention to what’s going on up on stage – be it a concert or live

theatre event – quite frankly worries me.

Now I know, I know, we have nothing to fear here, they say.  

After all, wasn't it the Canadian Opera Company many years ago

that pioneered Surtitles at opera performances so the audience

members can follow along with the opera in their seats.  Once

dismissed as a new-fangled and unnecessary technological advance,

the idea has now travelled the globe and is standard practice in one

form or another in just about any opera house now.

Okay, they help us to understand the opera we're watching.  I get that.

But I think that process is a little less annoying than having one of those

ubiquitous lighted screens in many laps while the house lights are down.

Other orchestras appear to be following the BSO down that new

technology road, too.  The Philadelphia Orchestra, for example, has

developed a new app to let audience members follow along with

program notes, such as translations of vocal parts, in real time from

their personal devices.

Again, using a personal device during the concert.  So who is going

to ensure the thing doesn't ring during the performance, or the

audience member doesn't decided to follow a game instead while

their spouse is enjoying the concert?  One wonders...

We’ve become a nation addicted to technology and try as we

might, we can’t seem to put it down, even to enjoy a

performance we have presumably paid good money to attend.

Introducing more technology into the concert hall might seem

like fighting fire with fire, if you will, but what if it backfires?

Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned here, but I like the idea of

shutting off the world for a couple of hours or so and just

escaping into the music or theatre performance.  And that

means shutting off the electronic world, too.

If you need another reason to perhaps shun the use of this

shared technology at performances, think about how many

others have used the device, and have they been properly

cleaned between performances? 

Do TV remotes in hotel rooms get cleaned routinely?  Not

all that often, I’m afraid.  If nothing else makes you sit up and

take notice of the performance, that just might.

It might even keep you up at night.

Pleasant dreams... 

February 1st, 2016.

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