Violinist Gil Shaham Takes On a New Role: Crime Fighter

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 - 01:00 PM

Gil Shaham's 'Music to Drive Away Loiterers' Gil Shaham's 'Music to Drive Away Loiterers'

The violinist Gil Shaham was battling his way through Penn Station recently when he heard a recording of the Haydn Violin Concerto being piped over the public address system. “I wanted to stay and ask if it was my recording, but before I knew it, I was in a cab and on my way out,” he said.

To Shaham, the anecdote illustrates the powerful (some say, unfortunate) effect classical music has, not in enlightening the masses, but on reducing loitering.

Reports of train stations and shopping malls blaring classical music to chase off vagrants, vandals and ne'er-do-wells have been making headlines for over a decade. Along with Penn Station in Manhattan, New Jersey Transit pipes light classics into its Newark transit hub, purportedly to create a soothing ambiance.

While some artists may cringe at having their performances appropriated for nuisance abatement purposes, the internationally-recognized Shaham saw an opportunity in the concept, and on Tuesday – April 1 – he released "Music to Drive Away Loiterers."

"All those years of conservatory training have endowed me with superpowers to drive away people," Shaham joked with host Jeff Spurgeon. The whimsical collection, released on Shaham’s own Canary Classics label, reissues 15 short pieces and single movements by Bizet, Faure, Mozart, Prokofiev, Sarasate and other composers.

While Shaham's concept is tongue-in-cheek, some quality-of-life campaigners take a more earnest view. Last year, when a Columbus, OH YMCA began playing Vivaldi in its parking lot, a local business leader touted its efficacy to the Associated Press. "There's something about baroque music that macho wannabe-gangster types hate," he enthused.

Others are less enamored with the idea. “We must seek out other pro-sociable ways of dealing with the problem rather than just squirting acoustic insecticide at young people,” Nigel Rodgers, the head of the anti-background music group Pipedown, told WQXR’s Conducting Business last year.

Shaham has yet to receive any licensing requests from police departments or transit authorities, but he envisions a genuine practical application for the CD.

“To be fair, classical music could also drive away doddlers and loafers,” the violinist told Spurgeon. “But we designed this specifically to drive away loiterers. For me, when I pop this in the machine, it makes me want to stand up and walk away.”

Weigh in: What do you think of the use of music to fight crime? Leave your comments below.


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Comments [13]

Hilary from NYC

In fighting crime, whatever works!

Apr. 17 2014 07:04 PM
Louis from Manhattan

Maybe they should blare Florence Foster-Jenkins' Greatest Hits.

Apr. 05 2014 10:08 AM
Birgit Matzerath

I hope this is an April Fool's Joke, and I find it cynical. I'd prefer to imagine the 'never-do-wells,' vandals and thugs sitting in front of the speakers and listen to classical music with mesmerized attention, as it appeals to their better selves.

Apr. 04 2014 10:28 AM
james jagiello

they have done that @ the Port Authority Bus Terminal for years now...

Apr. 04 2014 03:19 AM
Andre from NJ

When my neighbors quarreled in the apartment below, I would put on the Gloria from the Bach B minor Mass. That quieted them pretty quickly. Seriously, though, Mozart in Penn Station would almost be enough to make me miss a train.

Apr. 03 2014 11:43 PM
Kat from NJ

Perhaps it will have the opposite effect and change their lives by motivating them with the beauty of the music so that they want to become better and more productive wouldn't that be a beautiful thing! :-)

Apr. 03 2014 10:25 PM
otto from Australia

A brilliant and peaceful idea

Apr. 03 2014 09:07 PM
Bruce Pribram from Brooklyn

I would not worry about this one way or another, but I am opposed to violins in the streets.

Apr. 03 2014 05:01 PM
Jared from Greenwich CT

Indeed The Rite Of Spring is a choice work to clear the floors as BunnyB mentioned; however unless one kept the "Ritual of Abduction" on repeat I'm not sure the rest would do the trick! An extreme example came to mind for me, "Black Angels" for Amplified String Quartet by George Crumb (Kronos recording is still considered the go was the very 1st work they performed together!) The entire piece is delightfully bizarre and oft chilling, however it's "Threnody I: Night of the Electric Insects" that could not only clear a room but compel an entire planet to relocate to a different galaxy; it's featured in The Exorcist quite effectively and I must say to this day I cannot play it without extreme chills taking over my body. Playing that movement in total darkness freaked me out, and my tastes musically can be much more extreme..

Apr. 03 2014 11:56 AM

I thought everybody knew you could clear out undesirables by blaring Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." This is no slur of Igor S.; I LOVE the piece, but when my vacation rental faced a common terrace and the drinkers and loiterers just wouldn't go away, I'd put it on and they'd be gone in minutes. The only thing that works nearly as well is Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

Apr. 02 2014 09:59 PM

I would like to point out that Megadeth will be playing Bach and Vivaldi next week in San Diego.

As amusing as it would be, it probably wouldn't be all that convenient for commuters waiting for a train at Penn station if a Thrash Metal pit erupted because someone accidentally played the Dave Mustaine version of Winter...

Apr. 02 2014 02:54 PM
John Flory from Morristown

Shopping malls have been using Bing Crosby music for this purpose for years.
And yes, I'm a fan of 'der Bingo", so I stay and buy.

Apr. 01 2014 10:02 PM

This is an April Fool's Day joke, right? Classical music chasing away 'ne'er do wells', really? If Haydn can chase those types away, Berio should make them repent and become Pope...even the atheistic ones!

Apr. 01 2014 03:32 PM

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