I recently ran across this fascinating City Journal article by Theodore Dalrymple, an author and columnist with many worthy observations and commentaries on modern culture trends.
His article raises an interesting question: if the emotional messages of classical/orchestral music are merely subjective, neutral, or as vague as most today give them credit for being, how could this music have such a profound effect on people– even those who haven’t developed an appetite for it?
Staying recently in a South Yorkshire town called Rotherham—described in one guidebook as “murky,” an inadequate word for the place—I was interested to read in the local newspaper how the proprietors of some stores are preventing hooligans from gathering outside to intimidate and rob customers. They play Bach over loudspeakers, and this disperses the youths in short order; they flee the way Count Dracula fled before holy water, garlic flowers, and crucifixes. The proprietors had previously tried a high-pitched noise generator whose mosquito-like whine only those younger than 20 could detect. This method, too, proved effective, but the owners abandoned it out of fear that it might damage the youths’ hearing and infringe upon their human rights, leading to claims for compensation.
There is surely something deeply emblematic about the use of one of the great glories of Western civilization, the music of Bach, to prevent the young inheritors of that civilization from committing crimes.