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Musical Weeds

By FRANK BEHRENS
ART TIMES Sept, 2003

The Garden is Full of Musical Weeds.

Too much of a good thing? When does wonderful music become too much music? There are three ways.

First, I often think so when I look at my walls lined with audio CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes. When I was young, I would go running to any theater that happened to be showing either the opera "Faust" or the two films dealing with Faust legend. I cannot say how much money I spent on movie tickets, when they were anywhere from $.11 and $.75 (that is not a typo), to see one of those films. Now I have five different recordings of the Gounod opera alone on CDs and one videotape, not to mention one of those films on tape too! — and I cannot remember playing any of them more than once or twice since the purchase. (I pass over the eight versions of "La Boheme" that sit side by side on my shelves.) Is it that the thrill of the search is gone and that all the fun was in the RARE viewing of the work?

Here is the second way. In reading books about Mozart's Vienna, I find that the populace was so starved for music that should a single player strike up a piece on any street corner, a large crowd would gather around him and revel in the unexpected treat. Today, you enter any shopping area and you can't escape from the constant bombardment of music coming out of speakers in all directions and often at levels that are nerve shattering. And you can hear it even more clearly in the comparative quiet of the rest rooms.

Where it bothers me most is in restaurants. Stopping at a New Hampshire hotel, we decided to eat on the premises and were treated to a radio station. The music was tolerable, but the news reports and commercials were scarcely designed for dining pleasure. (We asked them to turn it off.) I will not even comment on the insult of booming jukeboxes in some pizza parlors, but many restaurants like those here in Keene, NH, who pretend to some "class" (at least in their prices) still have recordings of orgasmic vocalizing that simply do not go well with the low lighting and fancy arrangements of the food on the very large plates.

On my second visit to that place, I brought my own CD of Baroque Italian music (it was, after all, an Italian restaurant) and asked that they play it. They smiled tolerantly but complied. It seems that many such establishments purchase a service whereby they are given several hours of music that will be played in some order; and should you arrive at the rowdier portion and do not feel that the contents are appropriate, that is your hard luck. (Yes, they can switch to the next sequence, if you insist, which I feel more of us should do.)

More specifically, I do not feel that any vocal music is appropriate to begin with in a dining atmosphere, because the vocal calls itself to your attention and does detract from any conversation, compelling or trivial as the case might be, that is competing with the recordings. And even the most pleasant Jerome Kern, Vivaldi, or Louis Armstrong played at high volume is just as bad, which is the third focal point of my little thesis.

I thank goodness that all the young cousins and their children in my family have been confirmed or married by now and I will never have to sit at some catering place with the band playing amplified music in a room far too small to require such volume. How many times have you had to shout to persons at your table simply to be heard? No one likes it or demands it; but the hired bands somehow feel required to reach the threshold of our pain from the start to finish of the event. (We will ignore concerts at which volume is equated with good playing. My cousin once answered my "How was the concert?" with "Great. My ears still hurt.")

Most will agree that the most beautiful flower, growing where it is unwanted, is a weed. So is it with music.

Will I, then, give up any of the eight or nine Aida's in my collection? No, no, not one (as the female chorus sings in an operetta.) Why not? Er, well, some day in the next thirty years, I might want to hear it again. Will I continue to campaign for quiet dining music? You bet.

How do YOU feel about it?

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