Extraordinary, isn’t it? It’s a classical concert, so presumably the audience are there because they want to hear classical music – and yet the bar is playing “bad pop” (and those two words cover a multitude of sins!). This strikes me as a major “fail” on the part of the management of the venue – it’s also just plain dim.
Music, often bad music, is everywhere these days. We used to make jokes about “lift music” (or muzak) or “hotel lobby music”, but now it is inescapable. It’s in shops, bars, cafes, restaurants – the noise often blaring from the invisible speakers so loud as to preclude intelligent or intelligible conversation. It’s leaking tinnily out of other people’s headphones on the tube and bus. And if you dare to ask to turn it down – as I do on occasion – you are met with looks of surprise, as if to say “you don’t like it?”. Or, worst case scenario, the chef gobs in your soup in revenge for your effrontery. I have had to leave certain establishments because the “background music” (ha!) made it impossible to have an audible conversation with the person I was meeting.
Most of this “music” is repetitive, musically simplistic (4 or 5 harmonies at most), and full of banal platitudes. But endure it we must, because it seems that some of us are afraid of silence. (Pause for a moment to consider the composer John Cage’s thoughts on “silence”…..)
Even the bank which I use on London’s High Street Kensington has been invaded by bad pop, the “music” regularly interrupted by the inane gabbling of some fifth-rate “DJ”. Why do we need such “noise” in the bank? Do those that select this noise think it will enhance our “banking experience”? In most cases, it makes me want to run screaming onto the busy street. It is a relief, therefore, to enter High Street Kensington tube station, where classical music plays, as background music, just audible enough to identify Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto or a Handel aria as I make my way down to the westbound platform.
Most of the time I – and I suspect quite a few others – would happily go about my business uninterrupted by bad pop or “background music”. I don’t need a soundtrack to my transactions at the bank (though if one were to choose something appropriate, perhaps ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd, or Beethoven’s ‘Rage Over the Lost Penny’?); I’d like to enter a pub or cafe and hear the sound of other people talking, laughing. Going clothes shopping needn’t be like entering a discotheque (though I was pleased to have my street cred enhanced by correctly identifying ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers in Top Shop recently – the (very young) assistant said “this is nice, what is it?”. Fortunately, I resisted the urge to sound like Michael Winner – “It’s from the 80s, dear”.
Don’t get me wrong: I love music, especially classical music, and most especially live classical music. I enjoy music in the right context and I’ll happily sit and listen to a radio broadcast, CD or live concert for several hours, uninterrupted, given half the chance. But out of context it can grate and intrude, especially when the music being played is someone else’s selection, a playlist made to someone else’s taste. Better in those circumstances to turn it off.
Because my main activity is playing the piano and teaching other people how to play the piano, when I am not engaged in that, I tend not to listen to the radio or music via CDs or a streaming service. Instead, I like to hear the sounds of my house quietly creaking and stretching, the cat mewing, the birds in the garden, the wind in the trees in my garden, the chatter of my neighbour’s grandchildren. These sounds are far more enjoyable and genuine that anything blaring out of a loudspeaker in a shop or cafe.
Pipe Down – the campaign for freedom from piped music