"Please remember to NOT turn off your cellphones..."
We hear it every time we go to a movie, watch a play, attend a concert, listen to a lecture, attend a conference. Just as the lights go down, an omnipotent voice from the soundsystem redminds us, "Please turn off all cell phones, pagers, and other noise making devices. And remember, the taking of any photographs or video is strictly prohibited at all times." And perhaps no where in San Francisco has this admonition been more strictly enforced than in the hallowed space of Marion Davies Symphony Hall, home of the world-renowned San Francisco Symphony.
Well, times they are a changin'.
I've been to two concerts at Davies this month: Chanticleer's joint concert with the National Youth Choirs, and last night's "Rockaria" by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. At the beginning of the SFGM concert, conductor and music director Dr. Kathleen McGuire stepped up onto the podium, turned to face the audience, and then reached into her jacket pocket and pulled our her iPhone. She raised it above her head and said, "If any of you have a blackberry, iPhone, or cell phone with you tonight, I want you to take it out right now, power it up, and start posting and tweeting about your experience here thoughout the evening. Take photos! Email them to your friends! And when we sing 'Stairway to Heaven,' there's this great free app on the iPhone by the Zippo Lighter company that lets you light up your virtual lighter and wave it above your head. No fire department restrictions on open flames!"
No sooner had Dr. McGuire turned back to her singers to begin the concert, than the audience in Davies Hall was illuminated in the pale blue glow of hundreds of mobile devices powering up simultaneously. All around me the little vitrual "click" of Zippo lighters being ignited filled the hall. And as I looked around me, little vitural flames were waving back and forth with the sway of uplifted arms. (Okay, there's a slightly weird little part about the Zippo application - the flame is designed to always burn upwards, like a real flame, as you're moving the "lighter" back and forth. So if you turn the whole thing upside down, the flame burns backwards into the lighter and towards your hand. Don't try this at home with a real lighter. Not unless you're dying to end up in the Emergency Room immortalized in their "stupidest patient of the night" award. But I digress.)
The sing-along section inspired the most picture-taking. The chorus randomly handed out inflatable guitar toys to whichever audience members were willing to come up on stage and airguitar rock out to the Freddie Mercury "We Will rock you"/Elton John "Crocodile Rock" medley (well, as much as one can w"rock out" with an inflatable plastic guitar surrounded by 220 gay men in tuxedos and sporting Elton John oversized eyeglasses). But it DID make for a great photo op. It also inspired my first true moment of iPhone envy. My blackberry had no Zippo Lighter app, and my camera didn't work in the low light of the auditorium. So I just had to pretend to be cool by wedging myself against my date, who DID have the iPhone and was getting far more admiring looks than I was. (Which I kept trying to convince myself was because of his iPhone, and NOT because he was more attractive than me. Not that I was feeling jealous or self-conscious or low-tech or anything. But I digress.)
And since we had permission to fire up the social media, why not see what people were doing? Yup. There was the guy posting his photos to his Facebook account. There was an audience member's @SFGMC tweet, telling everyone how much fun he was having.
All of which was almost exactly the same thing that happened at the Chanticleer concert a few weeks back. As the 400 members of high school choirs across the country took to the stage at Davies Hall, Chanticleer staff members came onstage to describe how this multi-school, multi-state collaboration was made possible only trhough the use of social media. Twitter and Facebook were used by chorus members to introduce each other to their fellow singers; to exchange ideas about performance concepts and scoring changes. YouTube videos allowed singers to see their fellow choruses perform, and to get a sense of stylistic similiarities and differences. Musical arrangements and scores were PDF'ed and emailed so that singers could practice their parts - in essence, virtual rehearsals took place via social media for months before all 400 singers were able to gather together in person for the first time. This little primer on social media was concluded by the speaker saying to the audience, "I want every one of you to take out your smartphone right now, and take a photograph of the young men and women standing on stage behind me. Then email it to 10 people, and tell them to email it to 10 people, with the instruction to email it to 10 more and so on. Let's see if we can get 500,000 people to see what happened at our concert tonight!"
So the next time you go to a performance, don't leave your mobile device behind. It may end up being a star in the performance you're about to see. And now I have to have a few words with the folks at Blackberry about that Zippo Lighter app...