Settling into the back row for our third musical concert in as many days, my little daughter, bathed and dressed in pajamas whined, “I’m bored.” Without hesitation, I handed her my iPhone and she happily sliced through bananas and oranges in a game of Fruit Ninja. A few seats down the row, a man read the New York times on his phone, while just in front of us a toddler finger painted on an iPad. Sighting my son’s conductor approaching us, I smiled and waved hello, but she didn’t have a smile for us.
“I hope you’re enjoying your devices,” she said, sweeping her arm in a circle including the back three rows, “because I’m going to make you turn them off in just a minute. There is no hope, no hope for the future if we can’t teach our children to listen. Orchestras will die, live theater will perish and intellectual thought will disappear if we spend our lives in front of these screens. And frankly, you parents are setting a terrible example.”
Like a choir boy caught swearing in front of a priest, I wanted to defend myself, “I’m a conscientious parent. My kids study and practice. We scarcely even watch TV.” Instead, I simply palmed my phone from my daughter and pressed the off button.
I watched as the conductor canvased the room, delivering a similar message to like offenders. Minutes later she stood in front of the hall, “Welcome to our Winter Concert. Turn off your iPad, your smart phone, your games; no more texting, no more Facebook, no more Words with Friends. Every parent here has invested a small fortune in your child’s musical education and every teenager in my orchestra has worked incredibly hard on the music we will be playing tonight. Your teenagers deserve your full attention, and your younger children need your good example. Listen. Just listen.”
As the music swelled, I felt a rush of shame. The orchestra was incredible, each student playing with the enthusiasm and passion fostered by an excellent conductor. Maybe I would have turned off my phone without her rebuke, but I also might have borrowed it from my daughter to check my email or Instagram.
What have I become? Continue reading