Weaponizing Mozart

The British nanny state is Weaponizing Mozart to control children, writes Brendan O’Neill in Reason Magazine.  West Park School in the English midlands uses Bach to Basics to punish misbehaving students: Students “have to sit in silence for an hour listening to classical music on a Friday evening.”  O’Neill writes.

In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure . . . classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable.

Across the UK, classical music is played in public places to get young people to move elsewhere, O’Neill writes. Tyne and Wear in the north of England was the first to use “blasts of Mozart and Vivaldi” to get rid of young people who were annoying other passengers. The “most successful deterrent music included the Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich.”

In Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess imagined a therapy using drugs, gruesome films and classical music to make a young prisoner feel revolted by violence (and Beethoven).  It was supposed to be a dystopia, not a model, O’Neill writes.

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  1. What a terrible waste of good classical music. The Mozart Trick is most appropriate when you want to repel some people (teen-aged vandals and thieves) but attract others (big-spending parvenus). Why not condition these no-goodniks by playing some the really lame music of the 40’s and 50’s? Stuff like “Bimbo” and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window.” A couple of hours of that dreck, and they’ll BEG for Mozart.

  2. Not just in the UK. Playing classical music in public areas is a widespread method of deterring loitering, and has been in use for decades.

    I first saw it in practice in Edmonton, Canada, in the early 1990s in a downtown park that had become a haven for dealers. But this was by no means the first; the method was already widespread by then.

  3. Don Bemont says:

    Finally, an educational breakthrough!

    So if I want to improve my test scores, maybe I should play some brainy music in my room the first week of school, to induce the non-brainy types to drop my courses.

    But then my administrators might play Britney Spears incessantly over the PA until I retire. 🙂

  4. Whatever says:

    Mozart would make me sit and listen, possibly air-conduct or play air-keyboard. If you want me to move along, break out “Girl from Ipanema”. I haven’t been a teenager in 25+ years, but I think the latter would still make them run away holding their hands over their ears.

  5. Or muzak. Even good songs when muzaked are unlistenable.

  6. There was an acoustic guitar instrumental that received a lot of air play in the early ’60s. I don’t remember the name of the song or artist, but it consisted of series of ascending and then descending notes, something like:

    “Da-da-doing, da-da-doing, da-da-doing!
    Da-da-doing, da-da-doing, da-da-doing!
    Da-da-dahhh, da-da-dahhh, da-da-dahhh,
    Da-da-dahhh, da-da-dahhh, da-da-dahhh.”
    (keep repeating)

    I don’t know if anyone will identify the song from this description, but it should be an easy one to splice into an endless loop. I’m guessing it would be more effective than either Mozart or Ipanema.

  7. This may be more descriptive:

    “Da-da-dwoing, da-da-dwoing, da-da-dwoing!
    Da-da-dwoing, da-da-dwoing, da-da-dwoing!
    Dit-det-dahhh, dit-det-dahhh, dit-det-dahhh,
    Dit-det-dahhh, dit-det-dahhh, dit-det-dahhh…”

  8. This makes me sad.

    My parents played classical music for me as a child because they wanted me to enjoy it. I still love it and still listen to it. It seems unfair to use it as punishment. Just another way of killing off classical-music radio stations or orchestras: train the up and coming generation to hate it.

  9. My parents played classical music for me as a child because they wanted me to enjoy it.

    That’s no guarantee. Similarly, playing it as a deterrent is unlikely to affect their preferences.

  10. My parents never listened to classical music, but it attracted me anyway. That Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 could ever work as a deterrent is a sad reflection on a society.

  11. Barry Garelick says:


    It was called “Anna”

  12. Are you sure that’s not the hamster dance? Now there’s some music to serve detention by.

    Actually, our detention hall monitor is fond of torturing the kids with long Shakespearean monologues from the more obscure plays.

  13. SuperSub says:

    I’ve always found drawing the window shades and blocking/taking down the clock to be an effective way to make detention seem more painful. Add to that ambiguous answers to the inevitable “What time is it?”

  14. I use classical music in my classroom as something of a treat. Quiet classical piano signals a time for independent, silent writing, thinking, and reading. Diana Senechal has made some wonderful points in her writing about the loss of solitude and reflection in the classroom; integrating classical music is one way that I try to carve out some space for them.

  15. Thanks, Barry *I think). Found it on YouTube:

    The Twangies – Anna (El Negro Zumbon) 1963

    I didn’t remember anything beyond the first few bars, but I was pretty young at the time. Zumbon must mean ‘earworm’.

  16. Diana Senechal says:

    Thank you, Miss Eyre! That is great that you are using classical music for quiet thinking and writing time. That brings me up another question: why is “reflection” so often treated as punishment? A kid is disruptive and is sent to a special area of the room to “reflect.” The reflection should happen earlier, before problems come up. Kudos to you for making room for it.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    I wouldn’t think you’d need Mozart. Enforced quiet would be an equally annoying requirement.

  18. George Larson says:

    In Junior High my detention monitor would play his bagpipes.