Facing the music


PHOTO COURTESY PEXELS

My son was ‘caught’ at work the other day for contravening one of the employee rules – wearing one ear-bud in the last hour of his shift when he could no longer tolerate the relentless onslaught of generic middle-of-the-road music that plays nonstop in the grocery store.

Though he admitted he was tempted to defend his actions as a necessary sanity-saving measure, he simply removed the offending item and resumed stacking the oranges.

As someone who is equally ‘sound-sensitive’ I can relate although, ironically, it’s often that very same son’s choice of music or ‘experimental noise as an artistic genre’ that not only grates on my nerves but elicits an involuntary eye twitch.

While I usually don’t spend enough time in retail outlets to be too bothered by the music, I have left stores where the music was either too loud or something I really didn’t like. Usually, however, I just grit my teeth and tough it out, make my purchase and hurry out the door.

Music played in stores has always been an effective marketing tool catering specifically to the clientele the owners hope to attract. If you happen to be that outlier who falls outside that particular demographic, that’s a gamble head office is willing to take. And if you happen to work in the store, you’re pretty much stuck with someone else’s musical choices.

Christmas time is the worst and if I, as a consumer, can barely stand it, I can’t imagine what my son and his workmates go through with Rudolph, Frosty, and Jingle Bells on permanent rotation, usually beginning sometime in November. A few years back, a national pharmacy chain was forced to backtrack on its decision to start playing Christmas music immediately after Halloween as customers voiced their complaints.

Ambient music also finds its way into our lives in many other locations including the universally-despised telephone-hold Muzak. I make it a point if ever I’m on hold to politely tell the employee I’m speaking with that the company’s hold music is awful. If it was good music, I’d also tell them but to date that hasn’t happened.

I once worked for a children’s product company that relied on radio stations for its hold music. That worked fine until the receptionist changed the station to a local university broadcast that had an afternoon call-in show that openly discussed safe-sex practices for the benefit of the students. She had quit her position weeks before any of us noticed.

Senses in the brain can become forever intertwined, a realization that materialized a few years ago as my dentist, a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, has Springsteen music playing non-stop courtesy satellite radio in his office. I’ve always been a Springsteen fan myself until I began to associate his music with the sound of a dental drill and the smell of medical disinfectant.

Springsteen’s music certainly isn’t the worst choice for a medical office. While waiting in a radiology clinic for a mammogram recently, I stopped filling out the paperwork when loud rap music began playing. I surreptitiously glanced around the waiting room but neither the administrative staff nor any of the patients appeared to notice leaving me in awe of their ability to either enjoy it or to completely tune it out.

A great piece of music can induce equally positive reactions and I’ve long told my family I would buy a Subaru Outback simply because I adore the Moonbeam & Starlight song written specifically for their Outback television commercial.

In the words of Oliver Sacks, the late neurologist and author of a fascinating series of books on the workings of the human brain, “It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads.”

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