Paris Turns to Classical Music to Chase Away Loiterers

Travelers May Choose from Lully and Scarlatti

Sunday, June 02, 2013 - 06:00 PM

Later this month, Paris will become the latest in a string of international cities to pipe classical music into its train stations in an effort to chase off vagrants and youthful toughs who loaf about and ostensibly make life unpleasant for rail travelers.

Operators of the SNCF, France's railway system, said the sweet sounds of Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin will accompany passengers in stations located in the north and western suburbs of Sartrouville, Mureaux and St. Cloud.

But there's a notable difference between the Parisian rollout and similar, well-documented efforts in North America and elsewhere (including New York's Penn Station and London's Underground). The French rail network has introduced an online poll inviting travelers on the A, J and L lines to "choose the background music in your station."

The musical choices include chestnuts like Vivaldi's Four Seasons, but also more esoteric corners of the Baroque repertoire: Lully overtures, Scarlatti sonatas and Marin Marais's solo flute piece, Les folies d'Espagne. The three pieces with the most votes will be played.

The rail agency is presenting the piped-in music as an effort to spread art and culture rather than an Orwellian attempt at "acoustic insecticide" as it was recently described on WQXR's Conducting Business program.

The plan hasn't been entirely glitch-free. Le Monde newspaper reported on Friday that the SNCF changed some original website language that was deemed a bit too forthcoming. The website reportedly said that classical music would help "restore order" and discourage "these groups of people [who] use the stations as places to squat."

The current, more benign web copy states that "travelers appreciate the atmosphere that makes the most serene and pleasant stations.” Commuters can vote through June 7.


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Comments [4]

Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

The sedative powers of Erik Satie cannot be overemphasized!

Jun. 06 2013 10:18 AM
Douglas from Los Angeles, California

I have observed some service stations in Los Angeles turn on kusc 91.5 FM and have classical music playing into the street. I just hope it can be played in prisons, courthouse corridors, County jail and detention centers.

Jun. 05 2013 01:16 PM
John Moran from NYC

At first when I read about music to drive out homeless and young people hanging out I felt a bit sad. The music I love was an antidote to the people who hang out in the station.

When can we have the same for the subway stations where it would help?

I like the Paris's polling for pieces to be played.

Jun. 05 2013 10:50 AM
Andrew B. from Lower Merion, PA

"This is a great idea for cultural promotion. Could you imagine if every NYC subway station had a "Showdown at rush hour" every morning (like WQXR's Wednesday's showdown at noon)? Riders would vote the day before for pieces to be played between 7 and 9am the next morning at their station...

WQXR, can you get this going with the MTA?

This might mean that we hear the same Classical proverbial "Top 10" (Beethoven 3, 5, 9, Dvorak 9, Bolero, Greensleeves, Mozart 40, etc), instead of the greater variety of music and music education that is required to build and maintain the interest of audiences. But that's just being nit-picky. Not only would this be great for the arts in NYC, it just might invert some of the long weary faces that dominate the subway cars and platforms during the rush hours.

Jun. 03 2013 05:50 PM

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