Where Ringtones Dare Not Tread

Mobile phones have made a recent negative reemergence in the world of public performances, with literally show-stopping results. 

As reported by The New York Times on January 12, an iPhone’s “marimba” ringtone in the pocket of one of the audience members at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York was so loud and rang for so long that New York Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the group’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, chastised the transgressor, and received cheerful applause from the audience.

Philharmonic Performance

Image of philharmonic via Igor Bulgarin / Shutterstock.com

“Patron X,” as the offender was referred to by the Philharmonic, described himself as a business executive between 60 and 70 and expressed great regret for his inability to correctly operate his iPhone.

“It was just awful to have any role in something like that, that is so disturbing and disrespectful not only to the conductor but to all the musicians and not least to the audience, which was so into this concert,” Patron X told the Times

It was later determined that, while Patron X did think to silence his iPhone using the “silent” switch on the handset, the event that caused the ringtone to play was not a phone call but a pre-set alarm, which are not guarded by the phone’s “silent” status and will play audibly regardless. 

While most reactions to inadvertent ringtones during performances are negative, Chris Matyszczyk over at CNET found a different type of reaction from Slovakian violinist Lukáš Kmit.

Mr. Kmit was performing his recital last summer in Presov, Slovakia when one audience member’s Nokia phone rang. After a brief awkward pause, the gifted musician performed his own rendition of the familiar tune.

In the end, most cases of interruptive ringtones are simply a case of carelessness; a busy patron who forgets to silence their phone and alarms or a new phone user who simply doesn’t know how. Perhaps the solution is to change your ringtone to match the music of the performance you’re about to attend, as composer Daniel Dorff suggested in jest.

Or, you know, you could just turn the phone off.