Own a cell phone? Ever had the experience of your phone going off at a somewhat opportune moment? Maybe you were in church, or in the middle of a quiet dinner – and all of a sudden you are frantically fumbling to make the ringing stop. Few of us, though, have had a phone go off at the absolute worst possible time.
Here’s a cautionary tale about “Patron X” – yes, that’s really what he’s been called in the press – whose iPhone began ringing during the New York Philharmonic’s recent performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony. Sadly for X, Mahler had not written a part for the marimba, the instrument featured in the device’s default ringtone. Patron X’s seat at the very front of the hall meant that the entire orchestra (and the conductor, Alan Gilbert) could hear the tone go on, and on, and on. In all, nearly five minutes of marimba. Worse yet, the phone was new – and Patron X had no idea that his was the offending device. Gilbert eventually stopped the performance until the tone was silenced.
Though it is not unheard of for a conductor to stop a performance for such interruptions, it is exceptionally rare. Living in Chicago, I’ve become an avid fan of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. As a general matter, the symphony is a pretty polite affair – lots of sport coats, pearls and way too much perfume. Polite, that is, until someone coughs repeatedly or their cell phone goes off. I understand and even share that frustration. Still, the catcalls during the Patron X incident (“Kick him out!” “Get out!” “Throw them out!” “Banned for life!”) seemed a little strong, probably because I’m afraid that one day it will be me, or because I actually want to believe in forgiveness and the possibility of my being a loved sinner. After all, as X himself acknowledged, he “was often irked by coughs, badly timed applause – and cellphone rings. ‘Then God, there was I. Holy smokes’.” It’s always that way, isn’t it? There was I, doing the very thing I hate. Didn’t St. Paul say something similar? Holy smokes indeed.