Friday, February 01, 2008

Classical music goes underground

More and more stations on the London Underground are piping out canned Mahler to calm us all down. Neil Fisher has an article about this in today's Times. Is it about crowd control, banishing yobs or persuading us that our commuting lifestyle is pleasant?

Quietly, steadily and, if not secretly, then certainly stealthily, London Underground is rolling out a compulsory classical diet. And it's joining a growing group of local authorities, transport companies and even supermarkets across the country. The idea? If we are all stressed out, we need calming down. And if we are antisocial yobs looking to cause some bother and steal Travelcards, we need moving on. Somehow classical music seems to fit the bill in both cases.

Perhaps this is why Brixton is already well used to it, as I discover while the blast of Schubert's Unfinished is throbbing through the ticket office on a Tuesday lunchtime. The station first got plugged in more than four and a half years ago, a test site to see whether the embryonic scheme deserved expansion. Clearly it seemed to do the job; as of the beginning of this year 40 stations have now been equipped with the necessary kit, and they range from the positively genteel (West Brompton) to the Wild East of the District Line - Dagenham, Upton Park - alongside more mixed South London spots such as Balham and Morden.

I'm interested in the question of who chooses the music - see later in the piece for info on the 40-hour playlist - not least because I'm convinced he/she has a macabre sense of humour. I was at Vauxhall Station the other week, trekking from South-West Trains to the Victoria line to get into central London, and unfortunately for me it was rush hour. The glum-faced populace plodded en masse at the necessary snail's pace towards the ticket barriers. And what were they playing over the Tanoy? Mahler's Symphony No.1, slow movement.

Yes. Quite.