Reconsidering Boarding Music

Recently I boarded a plane flight. As I put my carry-on into the overhead bin and settled into my seat, I focused on the music that was playing during the boarding process and found myself wondering who made the music selection . . . and why.

The music–if you can call it that–was a kind of tinkly, tuneless, ethereal background noise. It was the sort of allegedly “soothing” and “relaxing” (but in reality, kind of annoying) music that you would associate with yoga or a massage, rather than boarding a plane. As music goes, it was worse than the kind of generic offerings you hear on an elevator ride.

Why would you choose this kind of music to facilitate the boarding process? Are airlines worried that passengers these days need to be calmed down as they are grabbing their seats? I would think that the opposite is true, and it would be better for all concerned if we jettisoned the dreamy music and went instead with some sounds calculated to encourage boarders to move with a greater sense of urgency and get their butts in their seats.

I’d like to see some experiments done on this. Which music produces the speediest, most efficient boarding process: the tinkly random crap they were broadcasting on my flight, or, say, some selections from the early Beatles, starting with Twist and Shout? Playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos might incentivize passengers to move with the clock-like precision conveyed by baroque music. Or if you really want to get people moving, how about the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive and K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight? And, just to make it interesting, why not test Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water or Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused, just to see how some heavy metal affects passenger movement?

It’s well past time to get a bit more scientific about airplane boarding music, and to make some selections specifically geared toward the ultimate goal: an on-time departure. Dreamy massage music just doesn’t cut it.

Harpsichord Heaven

On our last night in Maine we went to the St. John Episcopal Church in Southwest Harbor for a harpsichord concert by Gavin Black.  The concert benefited the Westside Food Pantry, which serves several of the surrounding communities.

Mr. Black played Bach’s Overture in the French style, which consists of an overture followed by a collection of short dances.  The piece allowed him to use both keyboards of his harpsichord and, through various minute adjustments in the position of the keyboards, extract all of the different sounds a harpsichord can produce.  Interestingly, he used a tablet device to display the music and “turned the pages” by means of a foot pedal.  The encore was a short piece by Couperin, one of Bach’s older contemporaries.

After the concert we went down to the basement of the church for a chance to talk with Mr. Black, who explained that a harpsichord is much closer, musically, to a lute than it is to a piano.  It’s an interesting instrument that produces lovely, distinctive music when played by an expert like Mr. Black.  It’s particularly well suited to the sinuous, complex compositions of the baroque era.

The little church, with a colorful (and sea-oriented) stained glass window above the altar, was a pretty spot for a concert, with good acoustics.  It was a treat to end our trip with some beautiful music and a chance to contribute to a good cause, too.

Like Clockwork

IMG_2887I like clockwork.  We have a bunch of old clocks, pocket watches, and wall clocks in our home, and I treasure every one.

I love the intricacy of the clocks.  I love the brass fittings, the old glass, the differently sized gears, and the precisely calibrated, finely polished pieces of machinery that allow you to accurately account for time if you just keep the clock wound properly.  I imagine the clockmaker and watchmaker sitting at a cluttered desk, wearing some kind of magnifying glasses, scrupulously putting the pieces together and carefully tightening the screws.

Whenever I see an old clock, I think of baroque music.  The intricacy and precision of Bach and Boccherini and Albinoni seem well suited to provide the soundtrack for clockwork.

Morning Music, Morning Mood

When I was in law school, I got into the habit of listening to Call Me The Breeze by Lynyrd Skynyrd the morning before every exam.  The high-octane music, mixed in with some clumsy air guitar, got the blood pumping and charged me up for the challenge looming immediately ahead.

Thirty years later, music still sets my mood.  I’ll thumb the iPod menu down to the Shuffle Songs setting for my morning walk, and the randomly selected songs I hear will stick in my head for hours, playing in a continuous loop during mental down time moments until a new song pushes them aside.  And I can help that process by selecting songs to match my appointments for the day.  If I’m going to be doing some careful analytical thinking, nothing can prime that high-end mental pump like the intricate melodies of J.S. Bach and his baroque music buddies.  If I’ve got a deposition that might be contentious, I’ll try to soothe things in advance with some Coltrane.  If I will be writing, I’ll look for something upbeat and flowing.  And if I ever needed to storm the barricades, I’d play Rage Against The Machine’s The Battle Of Los Angeles.

Lately I’ve been playing waltzes and similar music from my Vienna Evening iPod playlist in the morning.  As Stanley Kubrick recognized in 2001, waltz music goes well with motion and sunrises.  The swirling sounds mesh perfectly with a whirl around the Yantis Loop and then some crack-of-dawn watering of the flower beds, as I move the fine spray of water back and forth to the rhythm.