A cruel abuse of classical music

Life has begun to imitate life in the worst way. In Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange (written in 1962), authorities subject an unruly but music-loving youngster to “the Ludovico technique.” They force him to take nausea-inducing drugs and watch violent movies while listening to Beethoven. In the end, he is no longer able to enjoy Beethoven’s music. They stole his former love with that treatment.

Lately it has come to my attention that certain British authorities have reinvented “the Ludovico technique.” Apparently having eliminated exposure to classical music from the curriculum, they assume that young people will automatically find repugnant.

Combined with high-pitched noises, unpleasantly bright lights, and camera surveillance by unmanned drones, classical music has been drafted to serve as a repellant against loitering, graffiti, and other mildly anti-social behavior. It works like a charm.

It’s automated, too, so no adult need actually interact with the youth. It merely teaches them that they’re worthless, to be herded like sheep. It also teaches them, like Burgess’ young man, to associate the  most beautiful music ever written with punishment and unpleasant memories.

For years, I have heard stories of individual store owners who decided to play classical music to get loitering kids to leave. Never before have I encountered schools and governments across an entire nation seemingly bent on trashing a cultural heritage that was so carefully built up over such a long time.

In this country, many school districts have already cut music of any kind, not just classical music, from the curriculum. In times when the school budgets face cuts, even popular and highly successful music programs face the axe.

Put classical music stations on the endangered species list. That they face extinction is not because of any lack of people who want to listen to them. If the conglomerates who own most radio stations find it in their interest to limit format choices to what they find most profitable, no existing regulations stand in their way.

When I moved to the Chicago area I could enjoy two classical stations, WFMT and WNIB, the latter a privately-owned commercial station. When the owner decided to retire, he sold it to a radio station conglomerate.

Despite a well-organized campaign in favor of keeping WNIB classical, the new owners decided that one classical station was enough for Chicago and changed the format. They stole a successful, profitable classical music station from Chicago hoping to wring more  profit out of an already crowded format.

In many areas, NPR stations provide the only classical programing, but only at times not occupied by the network’s news and talk shows.

With diminishing chances for children to learn about classical music in school or stumble upon it while listening to the radio, we already have multiple generations that think “music” is whatever commercial interests serve up for them. One generation has little understanding of another generation’s music.

I certainly hope that the British experiment in turning classical music into a weapon for social control doesn’t happen here.


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