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Classical music still effective at dispersing loitering teens

April 4, 2011 |  9:00 am

Loitering

With all sorts of the funding cuts hitting orchestras during the recent recession, there is still one aspect of classical music that local governments find valuable -- the music's unfailing ability to disperse loitering teenagers from public areas.

Whether its Handel piped into New York's Port Authority or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice. Private institutions also find it useful: chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.

In the latest example of classical repulsion, the regional transit department in the Portland, Ore., area has been playing orchestral and operatic tunes over speakers at light-rail stations in an attempt to prevent vandalism and other crimes that result from teens having too much free time on their hands.

At one station, an aria from Bizet's "Carmen" serenaded commuters waiting to board. "There's no one that just hangs around," said one passenger to the Associated Press. Before the music "they wouldn't get on the train, that's how you'd know they were [loitering]."

There are different schools of thought on what makes classical music such an effective crime deterrent.

Some people believe that classical music acts as a soothing agent, neutralizing aggressive and destructive impulses, and creating a more peaceful atmosphere.

The Seattle Times reported in 2009 that its effectiveness might have something to do with "people's neurobiological responses to things they don't enjoy or find unfamiliar." When people hear music they don't like, their brains suppress the production of dopamine -- a neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure and other emotions -- which puts a damper on their spirits.

It should be noted that the connection between classical music and crime can be more sinister in nature, especially at the movies, where the classics often serve as the soundtrack for the psychopathic mind. In "A Clockwork Orange," the protagonist has an obsession with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and goes on a rape and murder spree during which the music of his beloved "Ludwig van" plays in the background. The movie also features a gang rape scene scored to the overture of Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie."

In "The Silence of the Lambs," Hannibal Lecter meditates to the sounds of Bach's Goldberg Variations after he has viciously assaulted two police officers who were guarding his cell.

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Classical music to get a second radio outlet in L.A. area

Music review: Kurt Masur and Sarah Chang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Concert Hall

 -- David Ng

Photo (top): Loitering youths at Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Photo (bottom): Ludwig van Beethoven. Credit: Associated Press

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