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June 3, 2009

Pianist Stephen Hough suggests $2,000 fine for cell phones going off at concerts; let's double that in Baltimore

Tuesday night at the Lyric, in the final act of Puccini's Turandot, while soprano Sabina Cvilak, as Liu, was in the midst of her final, ravishing scene, a cell phone went off in the hand bag of a woman sitting behind me (why are they always sitting right behind me?) and she proceeded to fumble noisily for it, muttering as she did so. As the incident marred an otherwise rewarding performance, I was reminded of a suggestion posted the other day by Stephen Hough, the fabulous British pianist and engaging blogger:

I don't mind the odd rasp of a cough, or rustle of a programme; but a jingle from the depths of someone's pocket or pocket-book is about as annoying as anything can be. Perhaps an instant fine of $2,000 would be the incentive needed for people simply to check and make sure the wretched things are switched off.

Personally, I'd say ...

Hough is not asking enough. We might as well go for double that, at very least. The situation is simply out of control in Baltimore, and, I'd wager, the rest of the country.

Not long after that rude ring finally stopped behind me at Turandot, another went off elsewhere in the theater. What part of "Please turn off all cell phones and pagers" don't people understand?

Last week, I attended four concerts over the course of four nights in four different venues in Dresden and heard exactly zero cell phones. On these shores, I'm more likely to encounter four cell phones at a single performance. It's downright criminal. I say, bring on the Hough Fines.

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:10 AM | | Comments (4)


Perhaps the audience could be invited to sound their mobiles in chorus for one minute before the orchestra tunes?
Or a spotlight operator could be hired to illuminate offenders.
Best to keep the fines -- could replace lost revenues rather quickly.

You're onto something there. TIM

Tim, can we also fine people who talk during the show? My husband and I were at the Lyric last night and certain audience members chatted the entire time... sometimes, the talkers were louder than the performers! This happens at all sorts of events and is so annoying.

For incessant talking, capital punishment seems to me the most appropriate penalty. TIM

Off with their heads!!!

(That'll shut 'em up -- hopefully... Can't talk without the attached lungs, after all!)

Seriously, the talking and cell-phone ringing here in Baltimore have become rather ridiculous. Facilities _need_ to make a point of broadcasting a message pre-performance (and even after breaks, maybe?) which clearly states, "DO NOT TALK DURING THE PERFORMANCE. TURN OFF ALL PORTABLE PHONES/PAGERS NOW!!! YOU WILL BE SUBJECT TO REMOVAL IF YOU CAUSE A DISRUPTION." Or something to that effect. I think such current messages are a little too polite.

I like the spotlight idea!

Keep those ideas coming. TIM

I have managed, in the many years that I have owned a cell phone, to ALWAYS put my phone on vibrate when entering a church, library, theater (live or movie), opera venue, or any other place where quiet is expected from the patrons. I have never had my phone make noise when attending events at any of these places - it's not that hard to do. It is really selfish and arrogant not to even think of checking your phone before entering such places. I have sung in many operas, concerts, weddings and memorial services, and have heard phones go off at every one!

If only others could be so sensible. Thanks for commenting. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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