With a TV and a cell phone, music fanatics get first hand interaction with all of their favorite stars as they watch the Grammys, the American Music Awards, or Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve. Viewers not only see the stars on camera, but get to join in the conversation with the help of Twitter 

While tweeting at a rock concert or at home in front of your television is almost like breathing, in a traditional concert hall the audience is warned to turn off their phones before the performance, or else risk being glared at by an angry neighbor.  

But with 140 million users and over 340 million tweets a day, Twitter has snuck its way into classical music. Some theatres, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Dayton Opera, the Carolina Ballet, and the Shakespeare Festival, have introduced “tweet seats.” In these specific seats an audience member is allowed, and even encouraged, to pull out a cell phone to share thoughts about the concert. Tweeting during a performance is a way to have a “silent” conversation where the audience can engage and actively participate in the program instead of just zoning out.

After the break, look at a Twitter conversation during a Cincinnati Orchestra concert and hear my personal thoughts on tweet seats.

The first conversation occurs between the audience and the artistic director. Twitter becomes a vessel for a virtual program book where concert notes happen in real time. Such concert notes have traditionally been written in a program book. Many people want to know the story behind the music and want to follow along with the piece instead of reading it ahead of time. Receiving concert notes in tweets eliminates the noisy flipping of program book pages, so you only hear what you’re supposed to hear – the music. 

Another common predicament is dealing with works written in other languages. Countless operas, arias, songs, and dramatic works are not in English, and the audience wants to know the meaning of the words. To remedy the problem, some translations are printed in program books. But it can be difficult to follow along in a dark performance hall. Another solution is to project the subtitles behind the musicians on the stage. But audience members who either know the language or don’t want the translation may find constantly flashing words distracting. The next solution? Tweet the subtitles. Those who want to follow along can do so without bothering anyone. 

At some moments in a concert it’s tempting to lean over to your friend and whisper some comment. “Did you notice how everyone seemed to hold their breath at the end of that solo?” Instead of distracting a whole bunch of people sitting nearby, these comments can now be tweeted to the audience. And instead of dragging your best friend with you who really doesn’t want to go, but feels guilty for making you go alone and looks like he’s in a sort of hypnotic trance the entire time, you can talk with others who are passionate and knowledgeable about music.  

Besides the concert enhancements for audience members, music organizations and venues that allow tweet seats may see even greater benefits. The more a business name name is used online, the more likely it will come up in search results, which means it’s more likely people will find out about it, and more likely that people will buy tickets. With live tweets during a concert, there is potential for a whole lot of free publicity. Conversations about the arts will keep people invested, ensuring the future of live classical music, theatre, and opera. 

Those who have already established tweet seats have seen positive results. The USA Today reports on one happy tweeter attending the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), which began using tweet seats in September. “Tweeting the CSO’s performance was like attending a members-only social event in the midst of a traditionally formal setting,” said tweeter Jennifer Nissenbaum. “I could communicate openly about my reactions to the music, musicians, and conductor – without speaking a word. Plus, I had the opportunity to engage others and get their reactions to the performance.”

So how do I feel about tweet seats? I like to use a performance as a method to get away from it all. Much like reading a book, I want to become fully engrossed in the story. I may think of something along the way that I’d like to share with someone, but that doesn’t mean that I pull out my phone and send a text that minute. At a concert I don’t want to be distracted by what the person next to me has to say. To all those tweeters out there, thanks for finding a silent way to talk during the show, but I’ll shut my phone off and get back to you in a couple of hours.

Posted on April 11, 2012
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