Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Classical Music Scares Off Loiterers


Apparently criminals and loiterers flee from classical music and opera--so businesses plagued with hanging-out low-lifes blare it in front of their stores--and it works!

I was captivated by a front-page story in our Seattle Times describing the brain mechanism classical music triggers, causing loiterers to scram. Apparently this crime-deterrent is successful in Europe and increasingly around the US. Locally, the Tacoma Mall Transit Center and several stores in the Rainier Valley clear their sidewalks with the harmless tactic.

If you're a loiterer, this is your brain on rap: "Amigdala up! Stimulate nucleus accumbens! Dopamine up! Woo-HOO!" Here's a loiterer's brain on opera: "Amigdala: 'what is this noise?' Pull back... Dopamine....not. What a downer; outta here!"

Menacing hoverers scatter at classical, opera and even country music. And our streets are safer because of it. What amuses me is the eggshell-walk in the article when a music professor "cautioned about being elitist or ethnocentric in linking good behavior with classical music and other fine arts." He speculated that "hip-hop or R&B or heavy metal, in the right circumstances, can make someone feel kind, sensitive or inspired."

Now I'm laughing. I think they ought to play hip-hop in front of the stores and find out what it does for loitering and customer count. And how many loiterers become "kind, sensitive and inspired." On the other hand, have you ever noticed typical symphony audiences? After hearing the orchestra, are they more likely to lawfully return to their families and professions, or leave Benaroya Hall to hang out in front of McDonald's on Third and Pine?

Music and Muzak have long been used to manipulate behavior. Bright, happy melodies cajole shoppers to buy more. Innocuous tunes calm nerves in claustrophobic elevators and on "hold." The town of Christchurch, New Zealand, keeps unruly taggers and disorderly youth at bay with Barry Manilow.
But it's politically incorrect to suggest that certain types of people, and certain types of music go together--that rap songs with primitive, driving beats and lyrics demonizing police and degrading women foster less-civil behavior, and appeal to less-sophisticated people, than those who appreciate the classics. Is it elitism or, perhaps, demonstrable?

My rabbi points out that music is an intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds. Fine music with complex structure and harmonies can be ethereal, arousing lofty emotions, and connection with God. As music simplifies further and further toward chanting and a plain, pumping rhythm, its physical elements strengthen, and it moves from spirituality toward raw animal instinct.

Unlike my husband, I don't have a visceral yearning for classical music, though I do enjoy and appreciate it. I was raised with "oldies" and pop music. It's true that I would indeed avoid any store that blared rap or heavy metal from loud-speakers.
It's undeniable that classical music is generally associated with "culture," and rap with a counter-culture, and often, sadly, a self-destructive drug culture. Am I a music snob? Maybe a little; I do believe some music is "better" than other music. And apparently, loiterers do, too.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting post! I think you point out something that is generally true, but then there are very, very creepy exceptions like the Nazis listening to classical music while committing unspeakable evils...

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  2. Mink, excellent point. The Nazis prided themselves in their high culture--ironically. Some say the holocaust was God's response to Jews' forsaking their obedience to God and their spirituality and assimilating into German high culture in the haskala ("enlightenment"). Interesting connection.

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  3. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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    ReplyDelete
  4. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Sara

    http://pianotutorial.net

    ReplyDelete