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Jack Smith

Amplifying on the Noise at Public Places

February 08, 1988|Jack Smith

From time to time I have raised my voice here in protest over the deafening amplification of music in public places.

I am not complaining about the loudness of rock 'n' roll, loudness being its essence, but about the equally pulverizing amplification of popular music, old and new, at hotel banquets and other public gatherings.

Abetting the television set at home, it has simply destroyed conversation.

Because my fulminations have produced no diminution of this oppressive custom, I suppose there is no point in laboring the point further. However, I have a letter from Dawne Wesson, a teacher at Frontier High School in the Whittier Union High School District, which so eloquently indicts loud noise in unseemly places that I think it may help the cause.

Ms. Wesson recalls with unabashed nostalgia the movie "Casablanca," with its piano, quiet conversations and pleasant ambiance. It was the little upright, you may remember, on which Humphrey Bogart ordered Dooley Wilson to play "As Time Goes By."

"I grew up on this scene and others like it during the 1940s and 1950s," she says. "I always thought that having a drink with an attractive man in a romantic, dimly lit and quiet bar seemed the best of all possible worlds. This is no longer possible in 1988. Why?"

Ms. Wesson answers her own question: "Now quiet interludes have been replaced by Oprah Winfrey and date rape, incest or female slavery, not on just one low-volume set in an inconspicuous corner, but on four sets producing quadraphonic sound. Quiet, favorite restaurants of mine have also been taken over with blaring game shows, hosted by inane morons and gushing air-head contestants. . . .

"All I ever wanted from these establishments was a brief respite from the world, a chance to relax from the stressful, fast-paced life I lead in Southern California. Alas, like the red cars, orange groves, Sunday afternoon car rides on quiet country roads and dark, quiet bars, all are gone."

I sympathize with Ms. Wesson--a young woman who grew up in the best of all possible worlds expecting to meet her dream man in a quiet bar where they could whisper sweet nothings and touch each other's inner cords while in a distant corner a sensitive pianist discreetly caressed the keys with some appropriately romantic song like "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" or "Penthouse Serenade."

I believe there are many bars and restaurants in town where the music comes only from a piano bar; and some of them thrive, because people who want to engage in titillating dialogue against a background of old favorites keep coming back, until they get married; and then they keep coming back for nostalgia.

As I say, I doubt that much can be done about the pervasive sound of music at rock levels. It is no worse than smog, trash or traffic jams. But the one place where it ought to be stopped and can be stopped is at large dinner dances in big hotels such as the Century Plaza and the Sheraton Grande where the crowds are likely to be people of all ages. It is not rock music that is the culprit in these settings. Appropriately, the hired bands do play a few soft rock numbers, to appease the young (though I imagine they play them very badly, much as if they were playing "Cheek to Cheek").

What I object to is that they play everything at a decibel level appropriate to rock music. If you are trying to carry on an amiable conversation with your friends at a table for 10 you must do it over the ear- splitting background of "Cocktails for Two" played at the magnitude of an airplane crash.

I suppose this is not the fault of the hotels, or of the bands, but of the people who hire them. If those who are in charge of dinner dances simply told the band director, "Look, just leave your amplifiers at home. OK?" I suspect it would revolutionize such occasions.

There is usually little enough reason to go to banquets. One can count on the programs to be dull. The only pleasures that one can hope for is that the food is not inedible and that one can enjoy an amusing conversation at one's table.

I don't expect to bring about any changes.

I just thought that Ms. Wesson ought to be heard from.

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