I shouldn’t be surprised that so many of my elderly listeners have cell phones in their pockets or in baskets attached to their walkers. Living in a senior facility can feel isolating, and a cell phone offers connection to family and friends. I understand why they don’t want to miss a call. But when I’m performing, I’d really like cell phones turned off, or at least silenced.
I know that people of all ages sometimes forget to do this. It’s not the end of the world for me if a cell phone rings while I’m playing, but it is distracting. And it bothers others trying to listen to the music. What really baffles me is why someone would answer a call and have a conversation during live music. A few weeks ago, a man in my audience did just that, but he took things a step further. He spoke for quite a while—loudly, to be heard over the music. Then he handed the phone to his wife so she could also chat.
Years ago, at an evening community orchestra rehearsal, a businessman seated next to me in the cello section needed to keep his cell phone on in order to receive work-related calls. When his phone vibrated, he answered it with a quiet “Hang on,” and quickly exited the room. I appreciated that courtesy.
Canadian pianist and composer Marc-André Hamelin found a way to channel his frustration with cell phones ringing during his concerts: he wrote a song. His 2001 “Valse Irritation d’après Nokia” or “The Ringtone Waltz” is based on an all-too-familiar Nokia cellphone’s ringtone. The piece lasts one minute. Be sure to listen for the last few notes, played as if dialing a number on a touch-tone phone:
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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