Marimba Ringtone Stops Concert; Media Goes Nuts. Why?

As luck would have it, I was at the New York Philharmonic’s concert last week when an unsuspecting long-term subscriber’s new iPhone alarm starting playing a marimba tone over and over, during the most etherial ending section of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I was no more than 10 rows away, and was dumbfounded as Alan Gilbert stopped the concert and had what seemed like a standoff with the patron who was in the front row.

Now that the facts have gotten out, it turns out to be a profoundly unfortunate confluence of errors, which it so often seems is the case with situations like this. The subscriber had no idea it was his phone and had indeed turned it off before the concert started.

Over the weekend I was talking with some friends who have worked in the symphony business for decades, and most of them marveled at why this event got so much attention since this isn’t so unusual. One friend recounted how at a Chicago Symphony concert  pre-concert dinner in 1991, 400 guests were given Tiffany alarm clocks as a gift on their way out from the dinner to the concert. During the concert, some of the clocks starting going off and they had to stop the concert to collect all 400 bags. The story is recounted in all its glory here by Henry Fogel, who was the CSO’s executive director at the time.

So, is this more recent event simply a brilliant litmus test of the power of social media, and the Internet to carry a relatively mundane situation into the PR stratosophere?  Or is it uncovering some pent-up anti-cell phone rage that concert-goers live with?

Having seen this in person, I find it all the more intriguing since I assumed some people who were there would talk about it for years to come,  but not that it would end up on the evening news. What do you think?

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One response to “Marimba Ringtone Stops Concert; Media Goes Nuts. Why?

  1. If that’s what it takes to get a symphony orchestra on the evening news, I say go for it. Despite (or because of) the plethora of tv channels, the “big 3 or 4” seem to have abdicated any responsibility to cover “high culture” seriously.

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