04 April 2012

Bach and Beethoven on the Buses

It is always good to know that I am not alone in my desire to link classical music with bus travel.  Take this item from Monday's edition of The Yorkshire Evening Post;

Classical music to tackle Leeds City Bus Station yobs

Transport bosses are turning to Beethoven and Bach to help keep the peace at Leeds City Bus Station.  West Yorkshire passenger transport authority Metro today confirmed plans to start playing classical music at the station’s York Street entrance.

Metro chiefs think it will create a more harmonious atmosphere for station users.  But they also hope the initiative will be less popular with groups of young people who occasionally loiter at the York Street entrance.

It is thought playing classics rather than pop or easy listening might make them decide to hang around elsewhere.

Composers whose work will be piped through the speakers include Mozart, Vivaldi and Handel as well as Beethoven and Bach.

The move follows a trial of the scheme at Huddersfield Bus Station.  A Metro spokesman said: “Feedback has been very positive, with passengers commenting on the soothing atmosphere. Our surveys have also shown that the initiative has deterred people from gathering at the station entrance.”

The speakers playing the music are currently used for pre-recorded safety and security messages. Staff have a separate sound system for emergency announcements.

Metro’s scheme isn’t the first time the arts have been utilised as a peacekeeping tool.  The Local Government Association said in 2008 that techniques such as the playing of opera, classical or unfashionable music were being used by councils to disperse groups of youths.

Dr Simon Warner, a lecturer in popular music at the University of Leeds, today voiced concern about the deterrent side of the station plan.  He said: “I find the idea of music being used like a weapon a little bit sad. If it is effective, then it might be justified. It has been tried elsewhere and anecdotally it seems it may have worked.  It’s still a shame, though, that something that can be such a positive element of everybody’s lives is being used as a form of social control.”
The Bus equivalent of Beethoven

 This is, of course, by no means the first time classical music has been used to engender public calm and to deter vandals, and there are numerous underpasses both in Europe and Asia where piped classical music plays to keep people away.  For my part, if I enter an Italian restaurant which is playing Mariah Carey at full blast, or a French restaurant attempting to attract me with Vivaldi, I go straight out the door.  If these people have no perception of the depth and marvels of their national culture, how can they hope to cook decent national food?  It doesn't matter what the music is, if it's in the wrong context it can drive people away.

Research has shown – and I've undertaken a lot of this myself, so I know it to be true – that certain types of music encourage certain types of behaviour.  When I ran a company which provided music for hotels, restaurants, airports and airlines we were able to show figures that proved how effective different types of music were at keeping customers in and sending them away.   That research was far more detailed than would appear to have been the case with these Yorkshire transport people.  Certain pieces of Bach were shown to encourage activity while others encouraged passivity (the opening of the Double Violin Concerto did the former, while the Air from the Suite in D did the latter) and it did not really matter whether it was pop, jazz or classical, what affected behaviour was the piece itself rather than the genre. 

So to dismiss Beethoven and Bach as "soothing" shows such appalling ignorance on the part of the authorities that I am tempted to buzz off to Yorkshire simply to vandalise the Leeds bus station in protest.  I'll certainly do that if they are playing the God-awful Beethoven Für Elise.  If, however, I get there, and find that I am hearing the sublime "Erbarm dich mein" from the St Matthew Passion, I will, instead, sit and listen.  If you play music to affect public behaviour without having first done your research, beware, you are opening a dangerous can of worms!

The Rheinberger of the Bus World

1 comment:

  1. At Waterloo mainline station several years ago they used to play military marches during the morning rush hour. It looked like a scene from Monty Python but it was very effective at getting commuters off their trains, striding across the station concourse towards their offices or tube connections.