Sunday, March 3, 2024


We have all, I imagine, noticed that it is the custom for many stores to play music for the entertainment of patrons. Not only stores are so afflicted. Places where one would especially expect and wish for quiet also play music. Recently, as I sat in the vast waiting room of the Allina Clinic, I could not help but notice some wretched tune being piped in–fairly softly, fortunately; but after one notices it one cannot easily ignore it, like a stone in one’s shoe. I once had to sit through “music” not only in the waiting room but also in the examination room of a dermatology clinic.

The sounds chosen for our delectation range from so-called “classics” (dating back perhaps as far as twenty or even thirty years) to “contemporary” cacophonies. When the entertainment is a song, it is invariably “sung” by some troubadour with no musical training who wails and chants gibberish or platitudes.

I do not know what marketing studies indicate that people–at least those with IQs in three figures–are pleased to be captive audiences to sounds at best trivial and at worst repellant. It does surprise me that cultivated ladies and gentlemen do not grab the nearest heavy objects and demolish the ceiling speakers.

But I do not wish merely to carp or cavil. One should offer an alternative, and I herewith do. In fact, I offer two alternatives. The first is to stop playing music in stores, clinics, and similar places. Silence has a charm all its own. But, if silence is inconceivable, incredible, here is another idea: play good music. I  do not advocate piping Mahler, Bruckner, or Wagner into public spaces, I do not want Handel’s oratorios booming out. But we have an enormous repertoire of exquisite, beautiful, soothing material by various Baroque and Classical geniuses that would serve the purpose very well. Georg Philipp Telemann wrote myriad  sonatas. Vivaldi wrote over 500 string pieces. Haydn composed 104 symphonies If the works of just these three masters was placed on a loop, one could captivate the captive customers/patients with different works–no repetitions–for well over a year. And maybe some people would realize that their musical horizons should extend beyond their lifetimes.

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