When Hooligans Bach Down

Posted on July 23, 2009 at 2:19 pm, by Ben

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.

Click here to read the rest of this article.


  • Thank you for bringing attention to this article, Ben. Yes, if music did not objectively communicate I doubt studios would spend as much money as they do to hire masters like John Williams to compose for them. I lot of money can be won or lost through the messages that businesses send to their customers through film, in ads, or even in the stores from the speaker system. Can you imagine a fine restaurant like Ruth’s Chris playing disco music in the background and expecting their customers to relax?

    Of course, I know you also like this article for its pun. =)


    Posted by Nathaniel Darnell on July 24th, 2009 at 1:02 pm
  • Interesting thoughts. I agree, there is something to the structure and delicate inner workings of of 19th century music that many postmoderns would find jilting, even offensive.
    Music expresses the social climate in which it was written. I would simply propose it was the deviation classical music presents from the norm of superficial cacophony known as rock music 😉 that is so frightening to those caught in a net of conformity. Perhaps they fear it because it causes them to stop what they are doing and consider the world around them, or even worse, the messed-up world inside themselves. Mozart is orderly and symmetrical and melodious and proportionate and resolved, they are not. And that realization is scary.

    Posted by Molly on July 24th, 2009 at 8:25 pm
  • Interesting article. People try to make everything subjective, including music’s affect on people, but I don’t think it’s working…

    Posted by Benjamin Coder on July 28th, 2009 at 4:13 pm