‘Classical music, in fact any music the listener finds repellent…’

‘Classical music, in fact any music the listener finds repellent…’


norman lebrecht

March 07, 2014

This pretty quote come from ‘Best of Toronto(sic) and is designed to explain why some metro companies are playing Mozart and Sibelius on unguarded stations. It’s intended to deter hoodlums.

‘A lot of dentists pay for it,’ say the marketing company. ‘If you’re in a dentist’s office you often hear recorded music that comes from the same sort of thing.’

Is this what we have come to…?

toronto subway


  • Ziggy says:

    Yes, well… bearing in mind it’s a minority taste, & – generally speaking, doesn’t appeal to youf – then anything to calm & disperse the possibly troublesome is welcome! Personally, I enjoy the classical music that emanates from the Goodge St entrance of Euston Square tube (which when I last exited, was far from unstaffed) 🙂

    Now, my idea of hell would be modern jazz….

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Agree with all of that! Often play very good music at Kilburn Park, not sure it deters but it seems to maintain calm. Mostly.

    • Lora says:

      One time at a station (in Toronto) I asked about the music, and the person told me that they played it to discourage people from loitering. I laughed, because I had just deliberately missed a bus that only came every 30 minutes so that I could hear the end of a piece that I liked.

  • I recall sitting in a dentist’s chair and hearing from the loudspeakers in the ceiling a piece of music from my own repertoire, and it occurred to me that the last thing I would wish is for members of the audience at one of my concerts to be reminded, however subliminally, of a visit to the dentist.

  • RalphHudd says:

    They do the same outside the Kingsgate shopping centre in Huddersfield. It seems to work. The other day I heard a hooded teenager say, “What is the sh*t?” as he stalked off in disgust.

    It the adagio from Mozart’s Gran Partita.

  • David says:

    I was always impressed and touched that the folks at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan had such good taste as to share Albinoni, Sammartini, Vivaldi and Cimarosa with me as I waited on the long lines to board the bus. Why would the directors of one of the busiest bus terminals in the world, only a block away from the pop-culture center of the world, Times Square, be serving up such delicious Baroque music?

    How naive I’ve been…

    Nevertheless, I’ll continue to pretend that it’s a matter of good taste and an attempt to infuse the public with some hearty culture…and to give me–a single, individual guy from Brooklyn–a good time.

    • MWnyc says:

      They do the same thing on the Amtrak/New Jersey Transit side of Penn Station in NYC; the speakers are at stairs and stair landings where people would sit.

      News items about this sort of thing have been appearing for at least 15 years now, of course.

      Doesn’t seem so terrible to me that classical music would keep away the sorts of loiterers that authorities and property managers would rather not have loitering around.

  • robcat2075 says:

    That has been a common tactic here in the US for some years.

  • Since David mentions the Port Authority Bus Terminal, I’ll repost the article I wrote on this subject a couple of years back, for which, among other things, I called up the people responsible for programming the Port Authority music. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/blasting-mozart-to-drive-criminals-away/2011/10/11/gIQAgDqPEQ_story.html

  • Jesse says:

    This has been going on for a long time. Sixteen years ago, when I was regularly commuting at odd hours via the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, I noticed that recordings of a limited selection of works by Mozart were always being piped into the public address system. After a few weeks, curious to learn the identity of the Mozart-loving official who had instituted this policy, I questioned an employee about it. He explained that it was referred to as Bug Spray, and was found to be effective in keeping away undesirable types like drug dealers and the homeless. Saddening indeed to see Mozart utilized for sending the subliminal message of “you don’t belong here.”

  • mezzodiva54 says:

    I enjoy the fact that my favorite grocer plays classical music — I always assumed it was because the place becomes such a madhouse on the weekends, and that the Mozart etc. had a subliminal, calming effect on ferocious elderly women wielding their carriages as offensive weapons.

  • Geoff Radnor says:

    Norman, I am troubled by the possible misuse of (sic) in your opening to this.

    Fowler says:


    the Latin word for ‘so, thus’, is added in round or square brackets after a quoted word or phrase about which some doubt might be expected in the reader’s mind, because of a misspelling (which the quoting writer does not want to correct) or some other error of use:

    It should not be used as a supercilious comment on the quoted writer’s style or supposed looseness of grammar, as in the following example:


    It should only be used when doubt is natural; but reviewers and controversionialists are tempted to pretend that it is, because (sic) provides them with a neat and compendious form of sneer.

    “BestofToronto.net” covers the best in Toronto in Fashion, Food, Arts, Culture and events. Toronto is the place to be and we’ll show you why! We’re also the proud winner of a Canadian Special Events Reader’s Choice Award for “Favourite Event Industry Blog”.

  • Mikey says:

    It’s from “BlogTO”, not “Best of Toronto”. “Best of Toronto” is a section of that blog.

    I also wonder why the use of “sic”? Did you find a spelling error in “Best of Toronto”?

  • JJC says:

    Yes, the Port Authority bus terminal at 42nd St in Manhattan has been doing this for years with excellent results. I read that back in the 1960’s a famous Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district got so fed up with the drug dealers on their doorstep that they acquired some large speakers and directed them outside, very loud, with their favorite opera arias. Presto, problem solved! Hey, whatever works…

  • Deterring the unpleasant,

    Attracting the desirable,

    Two sides of the same coin.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    That’s where we were heading for since the first Dracula playing the D minor Toccata in a movie. Hannibal Lecter listens to classical music only. Years of conditioning. They run for their lives.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    Sorry: “that’s where we were heading”, of course.

  • When in Paris half a year ago, I wanted to buy a light-grey umbrella and went – perfectly calm and balanced – to the Galeries Lafayette, the big department store. There, they played Boulez over the speakers and before I knew it, I felt very agitated, stuck 3 umbrellas under my raincoat, tried to leave the building without paying, but was caught and ended the day at the police station where they informed me that it was a trick, devised by IRCAM, to catch subversive clients.

  • Babi Banerjee says:

    Perhaps we might get lucky and turn the targeted hoodlums into classical music buffs…..

  • SVM says:

    I am not, generally, a fan of having background music forced upon me in public places, but I recall one branch of Oxfam having an absolutely inspired playlist, which included Varèse’s Amériques!

  • James Louder says:

    We all have our take on this, with much variation, so let’s not forget that it’s all comedy, not tragedy nor anything close to it. Maybe one of the little hoodlums will discover good music and it will change his life. Think I’m joking? It happened to my own father. As for his unworthy son…My own benchmark for musical misery came in the course of an MRI scan of my dickey left knee. The technicians–girls, it must be said–thought to spare me the roaring and whirring of the great machine by clapping headphones upon my ears, playing an endless and much worn tape, riddled with dropout, of Céline Dion. It was the longest fifteen minutes of my life.

  • Eric Bruskin says:

    I kind of like the idea that great music repels terrible people. It’s like how vampires are repelled by the cross.