The idea of weaponizing classical music as a deterrent against loitering and crime is nothing new. Toronto’s subway stations have long used the music of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach as a deterrent to those who would find classical music incompatible with their musical tastes. The same can be said for a 7-eleven in Edmonton, which last May 2018 started piping classical music through a special outdoor sound system aimed at deterring panhandlers from loitering.
The latest use of classical music to discourage delinquency comes from 10 Dundas East located across from Yonge-Dundas Square. First reported by Ryerson University’s student newspaper The Ryersonian, sound speakers have been installed near the entrance outside the Cineplex theatre to play an endless stream of classical music.
“They had mentioned they had a bit of a problem with people loitering or hanging out,” said Kevin Whyte from Musicworks, the company hired by the building owner Entertainment Properties Trust to provide the deterrent. “…They just wanted some type of deterrent that wouldn’t be favourable to people hanging out, which could lead to crime or whatever.”
In the video report from The Ryersonian, Peter Johnston, a sessional instructor at Ryerson with a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, is quoted as saying:
“…Classical music is kind of an elite kind of taste, there’s not that many people who hear it who think, ‘I belong here, this is for me, these are my people.’”
While classical music may not be as popular as genres like rock and hip-hop, research shows classical music is still one of the most universally enjoyed music genres.
According to a study by the University of Notre Dame, classical music is disliked by only 15 percent of the population, leaving 85 percent who expressed that they enjoy it. The same can’t be said for genres like Country, Folk, and Religious music which are more likely to be disliked by the general population.
While one may argue that the 15 percent who don’t like classical music may be the same group with a proclivity to loiter, the evidence is not yet clear.
One study done in Ohio found there was no conclusive correlation between musical preference and delinquency. Another study published in the journal Pediatrics, found that there was a slight correlation. It also noted teenagers who preferred jazz or classical music showed declining delinquent tendencies as they grew older.
According to the Independent, the results of playing classical music in the high crime London Elm Park tube station in 2003, resulted in a 33 percent decline in robberies, and a 37 percent cut in vandalism. But like the studies involving music genre and delinquency, not all cities have seen the same results. Police in West Palm Beach, Florida, decided to abandon the program designed to deter loiterers, vandalism and disorderly conduct after they the speakers were repeatedly destroyed.
The Seattle Times reported that classical music might deter crime due to the effect it has on dopamine production in the brain. “When people hear music they like, it stimulates dopamine production and puts them in a better mood. But when people dislike the music, their brains respond by suppressing dopamine production — souring their mood and making them avoid the music.” Either way, both phycological effects lead to the desired effect. If you enjoy the music, you’re less likely to commit a crime, and if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be less inclined to hang around.
The idea behind the area is to provide a place for people to congregate, which seems at odds with installing classical music as a type of defensive urban design. From the perspective of a classical music aficionado, it might see it as an insult to the genre, or a chance for the music to be introduced to people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to be exposed to it. But if the studies are anything to go by, and judging by the people featured in the video, the answer is far from clear.
[Update: Feb. 22, 2019. A previous version suggested that the building was part of Yonge and Dundas Square, which is not correct. 10 Dundas East is located across the street from the square.]