Concert halls should check for pagers; Beepers, buzzers, and Beethoven don't mix

It's the glorious age of electronics. You can have a personal computer on your desk with a memory that 20 years ago would have required a roomful of equipment. You can watch TV on your wrist. You can make phone calls on a wireless phone 1,000 feet from the base unit. You can walk around with a stereo system clipped to your ears!

And with all these electronic marvels, one perambulating person can become a fount of electronic noise: The digital wristwatch beeps or chimes the quarter-hour, the pocket calculator/clock cheeps Bach and Mozart tunes, the Walkman blares Diana Ross or Mahler, the personal pager barks out its demand for attention.

It all adds up to a barrage of new signals and sounds that are now taken for granted.

What, you may ask, does this all have to do with a music column? If you've ever been listening to an adagio of a Beethoven sonata, only to have it punctuated by the staccato shriek of a pager, you know what I'm talking about. There is nothing quite like the silence between phrases of a Bruckner symphony being shattered by the tinkling of a pocket calculator mindlessly repeating the first 16 notes of a Bach invention until its inattentive owner discovers the problem (usually by means of a bevy of hostile glares) and turns it off. (If the calculator is buried in a pocketbook or an overcoat stuffed under the seat, the distraction can continue for what seems like an eternity.)

What this says about an increasing lack of sensitivity to noise is distressing. It almost makes one look back fondly on the days of candy unwrapping, program rollering, and foot tappers. At least in those cases, ushers or thoughtful patrons could quietly remind the perpetrator of his or her error. Electronic intrusions, however, are inattentive to reminders.

The electronic pagers are the most obnoxious, the watches/ calculators the most insidious. The times I go to a concert and do not hear a few of these devices are rare indeed. Nowadays at Avery Fisher Hall here - where the audience noise ricochets throughout the hall with a clarity rivaling the noise on stage - the two-minute spread around the hour becomes a subdued cacophony of hundreds of these dread noise generators.

Perhaps a time will come when placards are posted at concert hall doorways reminding patrons to turn off their electronic gadgets before entering (a simple push of a button is usually all it takes). And then some sort of tripping device should be installed to detect pagers.

We are running a great danger of becoming so inured to extraneous noise that one day the concerts will be inaudible for the din. Of late, I have begun seeing people walking down the aisle with their Walkmans on, removing them only when nearing their seats. (Wearing a Walkman on the city streets or while biking through perilous traffic is, in fact, an emphatic antisocial statement, and a dangerous one, too.) Is it, therefore, unreasonable to expect that one day people will actually start using Walkmans in a concert they deem too dull to endure? New York City Opera strike

The ongoing strike of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802, against the New York City Opera is a potentially ruinous event.

The orchestra union is under new management, elected to office on a platform of militancy. This new management (headed by president John Glasel) and the City Opera management got off on the wrong foot this past spring when the players refused to perform in a revival of the wildly acclaimed ''Candide'' under a Broadway rather than an opera contract.

This refusal had been the latest manifestation of frustration over the pushing forward of the spring season to the summer so that a new, economically more feasible summer-fall season could be created. The company had said it was better to perform six weeks of ''Candide'' with 10 fewer players in the pit than usual. The union had said no, it was better to have the complete company unemployed.

The current dispute involves wages and number of performances per week. The company says it cannot afford the terms requested - raises of $50 the first year , $70 the second, and $100 the final, as well as one less performance a week and the guarantee of work for more than the 20 weeks the company will be in business.

This is too bad, since general director Beverly Sills had spruced up her seasonal planning and had high hopes of being able to reduce the $3 million deficit the company is now carrying. The planned Puccini Festival would give the season - which was due to open July 7 - a focus. Also, for once, there has been a conscientious attempt to instill a sense of company in the City Opera.

But Miss Sills and her management insist they cannot afford the musician union's demands. Meanwhile, the stagehand union signed a new contract last November, and the chorus had tentatively agreed to a new contract July 2. They have since voted to table discussion on ratification until Local 802 settles, in the hope of getting a more favorable settlement.

These are tough times for the arts. It is an especially tough time for the City Opera, laboring as it is under this huge accumulated debt. Whereas it cannot afford to meet 802's demands, it also cannot afford a strike. The 802 management has taken the hard line, and with it, there is a real threat that the company will not survive.

The City Opera has always been the poor relation, compared with the Met. The larger company - which celebrates its centennial this season - will be going into negotiations of its own next summer, by which time it will probably have completed its $100 million endowment drive. Such funds are simply out of the reach of the City Opera and always have been.

Some of the grievances against the company are valid - particularly concerning the 20-week year - but should the company founder on the inflexibility of the orchestra players, it will be an unspeakable tragedy for the young American singers on the roster, for the entire administrative staff, the chorus, the dancers (all rendered jobless in a fell swoop), and the public.

It is not something to be taken lightly as each side attempts to justify its stand to its constituency. The risks and potential of damage are too great.

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