Today was concert day. This, in and of itself, is not an unusual occurrence, especially in December. Today, however, was especially fun because I had the opportunity to be in the audience, on the "other side" of the conductor, so to speak. It was a massive choral concert with nearly 200 singers, so the audiences (plural -- there were two performances) were quite large, filled with lots of parents in addition to all the community members who so faithfully support the college music program.
As happy as I was to see so many people there in support of the musicians, I had to wonder how many enjoyed it. Not because it wasn't enjoyable. On the contrary, it was an outstanding concert. I wondered because so many people in the audience were preoccupied.
Before the concert began there was a stampede of folks with taking pictures. Lots of pictures of the church, which had been tastefully decorated for the holiday. Pictures of the giant wreath, pictures of Christmas trees, pictures of the organ pipes up in the balcony. This progressed to an extended session of "selfies." Pictures of themselves (obviously). Pictures of them and their friend/date/random stranger sitting next to them. Pictures of their entire family sitting in the row all leaned over and scrunched in so they'd make the shot. Everywhere I looked, heads were tilted together, and people were staring and CHEESEing into the back of a cellphone.
When the concert started, the selfies stopped (thank goodness), but the picture-taking, sadly, did not. Several people shuffled multiple devices: cellphones, standard cameras, movie cameras, and even ginormous iPads, and continued to snap pictures throughout the entire concert like it was THEIR JOB. The paparazzi seemed amateurish in comparison. All of this was astonishing, annoying, and very very sad.
I understand the desire to document events, particularly when they involve a child. It's nice to have something to look back on and remember. But manners, decorum and tact have taken a back seat to the insatiable allure of one more picture, one more closeup, one more... one more...
If I give camera-people the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that it doesn't even occur to them that all this picture taking is a huge annoyance to the rest of us in the audience. I'm not here to watch you, but when your screen lights up in a dark hall, I can't help it. It's also impossible to ignore you when your camera is raised above your head right in front of my line of sight. I know you think you need to "get the shot", but Ansel, you're in my way. And then I have to watch you focus, and do the little two finger pinchy thing to zoom in or out. It's a huge distraction, and I'm just in the audience. Consider the poor performer who has to navigate a concert while an overzealous photog (complete with camera flash) impedes their ability to see critical things, including, but not limited to: words and notes on a page, other people, furniture, and well, you know...THE EDGE OF THE FREAKING STAGE. For them it's not just a distraction, it's an outright danger.
As annoying as this behavior is, I actually find it more than a little bit sad. There was a man who spent a bit of time before the concert telling us about his son, a freshman, who was one of the performers. Even before the concert started, he was juggling an iPhone and a standard camera with a sizable zoom lens. Once the lights dimmed and the singers began, he.... just kept right on taking pictures. It seemed sad to me that he was so busy documenting the concert that he never stopped to actually listen to it.
Over the years I've been in and been to more concerts than I could ever possibly count, and each performance represents an enormous amount of time learning and preparing to do one thing: to communicate. We tell stories, declare truths, and hope to inspire through philosophy, humor, beauty, rhythm, harmony and melody. We desperately want to share these incredibly special things with you, and we simply can't do that if there is a camera, cellphone or other electronic peripheral standing in the way.
Ultimately, cameras can only document what they see. They can never truly capture the heart and soul of either performer or performance. It takes a real measure of courage to come to a concert unarmed. I challenge you to put away your camera and turn off your phone. Be fully present, involved and engaged. If you take the time to listen, watch and think, you'll be amazed at what an incredible gift you're given. The audience will appreciate your politeness. The performers will be thrilled beyond measure.
Believe me, I know.