Co-op’s attempts to drive Cove teens away with classical music backfires

Posted on June 17, 2009


“Gie’s some more Liszt!” “Hey mister, gonnae play us a bit of Bach?” Unlikely as it may seem, managers of a food store in Aberdeen have seen their plan to drive away groups of young people with soothing classical music backfire on them.

Usually, the Co-op’s proven method of dispersing unruly teenagers from the front door of their stores is foolproof. Play a few hours of Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty and they run screaming for the hills.

Teenagers in Cove, a quiet suburb of Aberdeen, have enjoyed the music so much that when the managers of the local Co-op store switched it off they came into the store and asked for it to be turned on again.

“That’s a first,” said a startled spokeswoman for the Co-op. The company has been discouraging teenagers from hanging around its more than 200 stores with classical music for about three years. It has drawn up a list of pieces that have proved most effective at dispersing gangs; it is fortunate, perhaps, that a notable absence from soothing works by Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Liszt is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which aroused young men to mayhem in A Clockwork Orange, the Anthony Burgess novel and Stanley Kubrick film.

In Cove, as in many suburbs and small towns, youngsters with little to do tend to congregate outside the local shops. Trouble generally seemed to follow them — Cove’s community centre windows were recently smashed, as were the windows of the community minibus.

When groups of youngsters, aged 13 to 19, started to hang about outside the Co-op, intimidating customers and annoying nearby residents with their noise, staff initially resorted to calling the police.

Then they implemented the company policy of installing a loudspeaker at the door to play a medley of calm orchestral sounds.

Craig Singers, the duty manager, said: “It was all classical stuff and a world away from what the kids would usually like. We hoped they would hate it so much they wouldn’t come anywhere near.”

In the beginning, it worked. Staff put the music on in the early evening and left it playing for at least four hours. The young people, horrified by such old-fashioned harmony, went elsewhere seeking a bit of peace and quiet.

Eventually they were drawn back to the shop and, remarkably, started to warm to the music. They stunned staff when they began making requests and complained when the music was turned off.

“It had the opposite effect. On nights when the music wasn’t playing the kids would come into the shop and ask why it wasn’t on. They grew to like it,” Mr Singers said.

“That wasn’t what we wanted to happen. We’ve decided to stop playing the music now because there was no point. It didn’t work.”

Happily, Cove’s teenagers are now causing fewer problems, their spirits apparently soothed by the music.

“The music may have calmed them down a little bit. There’s not so much hassle as there used to be,” Mr Singers said.

Andy Finlayson, chairman of Cove and Altens community council, said: “I’m impressed that the kids got into classical music. It’s a good thing that they can appreciate something like that. But it shows that sometimes there is no chance of winning with them. The police are on the case and things are generally quite calm — with the odd explosion at weekends.”

A spokeswoman for the Co-op said that its classical music scheme had been a success, so much so that several stores no longer had to play it — the unruly teenagers now having dispersed.

“We had a trial in England initially at a small number of stores and it was so successful that it was rolled out wherever it was needed,” she said.

“It isn’t just about troublemakers. Quite often it’s young people with nowhere else to go and they gather outside our stores, because they are open late and are in the middle of the community. While the teenagers may have no intention of causing trouble, it can be quite intimidating for customers and staff.

“Playing the music makes our shops ‘less cool’ as places for youngsters to hang out, and can make life much easier for our customers and staff.”

The Co-op’s top ten pieces for dispersing gangs
1 The Preludes (Les Préludes) Liszt
2 Scene (moderato) from Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky
3 Concerto No 8 in A minor (3rd Movement) Vivaldi
4 Symphony No 40 in G minor (Molto allegro) Mozart
5 Largo al factotum from The Barber of Seville, Rossini
6 Casta Diva From Norma, Bellini
7 Nocturne From Deux Morceaux, Tchaikovsky
8 Violin Concerto in E (Adagio) Bach
9 Winter (1st Movement) from The Four Seasons, Vivaldi
10 Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf From Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky

The Times, 6 June 2009
Melanie Reid

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