Thoughts on Britain’s “Weaponization” of Classical Music

By , March 7, 2010

On Thursday, I read a disturbing article: Great Britain is using classical music to punish unruly youth. Days later, I’m still thinking about it.

Ironically, I found and read the article while listening to Mozart. I hadn’t chosen the CD—Aly had. My teenage daughter was listening to the very music the United Kingdom is using to punish her peers and chase them out of public places.

Aly doesn’t listen to music because she thinks she should. Like anyone else, it’s purely for enjoyment. We like many styles of music, classical among, if not above others.

As a long time rock’n’roll fan, I’m used to my favorite songs getting weaponized. The military blasts some of them when going into battle, as “shock and awe”. Some are used to drive off garden pests. Perhaps most insidious, some of them have become elevator music! Rock’n’roll is at heart—or at least ought to be—outlaw music. The fact that it’s being used to annoy is perhaps a tribute to its power and heritage. But classical music?

Part of what bothers me about this policy is what it says about Britain’s attitude toward her children. The working assumption seems to be that kids hate classical music. Do they have such a poor opinion of their children that they count on them being repelled by music that is generally regarded as sublime, perhaps the height of man’s musical endeavors? What does this say about the British? It raises questions about their understanding and valuation of their young citizens.

The U.K. ought to teach her children to appreciate the classics, not avoid them. Or, if not teach them, at least expose them to it in ways that cultivate appreciation. I firmly believe that they are impoverishing themselves in this process. A generation of teenagers who have been punished or deterred by the same music that has uplifted the hearts, minds, even souls of their forebearers will become an adult society that will not pass on to their children an enjoyment of the music. Within a few generations, Britain will become a poorer place as a result. I feel it’s very shortsighted to forget that today’s “typical teenager” is most likely tomorrow’s upstanding member of society.

Of course, Aly’s not a typical teenager by any means. She is not the kind of girl who misbehaves to the point where someone would punish her, nor would she be likely to loiter threateningly in a public place. However, there will inevitably come a day when someone will assume she is precisely that kind of teenager—simply because she is a teenager—and will treat her accordingly. If that day comes, I only hope they try to drive her off with Mozart, or Schubert, or Beethoven. I imagine her smile, and predict she’ll identify the piece for whoever else might be listening.

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