A Little Christmas Goes A Long Way

I like Christmas.  I really do.  But when you’re at a conference, a little Christmas goes a long way.

Thursday night I found myself at a reception in the obligatory open atrium space at one of those colossal hotel-conference complexes.  I was having a perfectly pleasant time, chatting with other attendees, when suddenly there was a blast of music, strobe lights, and fog machine effects, and some kind of Christmas-themed program starting playing, at bellowing volume, over the sound system.  I think it may have been called “A Christmas Wish,” or something along those lines, and it seemed to involve a boy beseeching his Grinch-like grandfather to do something for the holidays.  People who love The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies no doubt would have appreciated its saccharine sappiness.  Me?  I found the kid’s voice incredibly annoying as I was trying to carry on a conversation, and I sympathized with the beleaguered granddad who had to put up with the irritating rugrat.

Eventually the program ended, and everyone at the reception breathed a sigh of relief at the very welcome silence.  Before we knew it, however, the program started again, and we realized with grim despair that it apparently was going to be broadcast every half hour.  I wasn’t the only attendee who then decided that it was time to exit the reception and get as far away from the imploring kid’s voice as possible.

Lights, trees, other festive decorations, and a little Christmas music in the background are just fine.  But forced exposure to some maudlin tale that is supposed to illustrate “the meaning of Christmas” is where I draw the line.

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Conference Room Music

Yesterday I was at a conference at one of those ginormous conference centers you find across America.  That means that, during breaks and when waiting for the meetings to start, I’ve been exposed to conference room music.

wasgn_meetings_breakout01There’s a spectrum of music played in public places in America.  At one end of the spectrum — and unfortunately, very rare in my experience — are actual, recognizable songs, whether it’s classical pieces, or rock music performed by the artists who made the songs a hit, or jazz from John Coltrane or Dave Brubeck.  As you move away from that end of the spectrum, generic elements are introduced — for example, by having a song that you know covered by some unknown band whose rendition sucks the life out of the tune and renders it inert, so that it takes a while before you recognize what you’re hearing as a dim, distant version of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is elevator music and telephone hold music — music that is specifically calculated to do nothing except provide soft and low background noise while you are unfortunately waiting to move on to your day.  Conference room music is a notch up from elevator music.  It’s never a recognizable song from a recognizable artist, because the music may have to cut off at any minute when the meeting starts, and they don’t want the meeting participants to be disappointed that they didn’t get to hear the guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s Mother.  So it’s inevitably some random piece, usually jazzy in nature with keyboard and horns, but more upbeat than elevator or hold music.  It’s designed to keep you awake and alert while you sip your generic coffee and glance around at the generic conference room fixtures and decorations, but leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

No one leaves a conference room humming a few bars of conference room music or asking the concierge what was playing before the meetings started.  You’ve utterly forgotten the music the instant the meeting begins, just like you immediately and irretrievably forget the wisps of the dream you were having when you wake up in the morning.

When you think about it, there’s some talent involved in being able to create music that is so consciously bland.  You have to wonder:  do musicians deliberately set out to write conference room music, and do they think with satisfaction that their creation will be the perfect complement to the metal coffee urn, the spread of breakfast pastries, and the always uncomfortable conference room chairs?