For some reason, the gym I belong to has recently started playing classical music on a regular basis in the locker room. This happened after five years of never hearing any classical music at this gym at all. At first I thought it was a good thing, but now I'm pretty sure it's not.
Two weeks ago I arrived at the gym in a very good mood, and headed into the locker room. As I put on my workout clothes, and tied my running shoes, I started feeling very unsettled. I had no idea why my mood had changed, until I tuned in more closely to the music that was playing: the "Andante moderato" movement of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, his so called "Tragic" symphony. This is very intense, confessional music, where Mahler captures to perfection the balance between innocent feeling and the reality of life's hard edges. There are soaring, sweeping climaxes, and lush string melodies, but it ends quietly with a sense of hard-won but tenuous acceptance (here's the second half of it, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach).
"This music is so depressing," was one comment I heard from the next bank of lockers. That's one thing this music can be! And at the right time, and in the right setting, it can also be one of the most transcendent experiences anyone can hope to have. But one thing it definitely isn't is great music to hear when you're in a locker room!
I wiped away a few tears, something you simply shouldn't be shedding at the gym (unless your yoga teacher is really that good), and headed out for my workout. As I left, the next track had come up: the ball movement from Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Was it Pandora that was coming up with all these brilliant suggestions?
A few days later I noticed that the music had been turned up in volume, but this time it was playing a Mozart Flute Concerto. As I put on my running shorts, I thought that donning a pair of 18th-century breeches and a ruffled shirt would be more appropriate (NB, I adore Mozart's music, so no hate mail will be accepted). I heard another random comment from around the bend: "Jesus, what's with the music!" (In all fairness, someone was whistling along on the other end of the locker room).
I don't mind classical music -- indeed any kind of music -- being played in the background in public spaces. If it's done right, I absolutely encourage it. But nothing is quite the buzzkill that poorly selected music is. And it seems to be an epidemic in New York City!
Besides the gym issues I've been having lately, I've had '80s power ballads blasted at such high decibels at a trattoria in Hell's Kitchen that it ruined my pizza-eating experience (note to owners: you'd be surprised how well Neapolitan songs work in a family-style Italian restaurant sporting red and white checked tablecloths). And I was fairly depressed when I took my other half to a cozy French bistro on the East Side and found the usually romantic atmosphere there mostly undone by a steady stream of random classic rock (some piano music by Debussy, Ravel and Satie next time, please, or at how about some Edith Piaf?).
So, I'm pleading with business owners everywhere: the next time you're thinking of playing music for your customers, please put some thought into it. You might even consider asking someone who actually knows something about music to program what you play (I'm prepared to put together a classical music playlist for just about any type of location, including locker rooms).
To sum it up succinctly: along with oversized sodas, mindlessly-selected background music should be relegated to the ash-heap of New York City history as soon as possible.
Some additional free advice: If selecting appropriate, atmosphere-enhancing music is just too difficult, or time-consuming, for you, then get yourself an internet connection and pipe in the Groove Salad stream from SOMA-FM. That's just about the only music I know that never seems out of place no matter what people are doing.