I used to like Vivaldi. I always considered the venerated Venetian one of the more accessible of the classical composers. Snatches of his Four Seasons have graced TV adverts and cookery programmes for years, and I once had a cassette tape of the concerto in my car. These days I cringe when I hear Vvaldi, and here’s why.
An unforeseen circumstance forced me to put my latest publishing venture on hold (without music) for the time being, and I have had to sign on at the local job centre. With unemployment currently standing at 2.52 million in the UK, it’s only natural that the switchboards of the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) will be busy. And when they are busy, customers (we are called customers) get a message along these lines:
I’m sorry, all of our advisers are busy right now. Please continue to hold, or you might like to try again later. We are normally less busy between eight and nine a-m, or when The Jeremy Kyle Show is on.
After this comes Vivaldi, and the opening of Spring (La primavera), with its unmistakable der derr der der de de derrr. To these over-exposed ears, La primavera has metamorphosed from a wonderful piece of music into the scraping accompaniment to the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho. When I am put on hold and that opening plays, it’s as though Vivaldi himself is standing behind me, sawing at the back of my neck with a violin bow.
We have all experienced the frustration of being kept on hold. When a phone call relates to a sensitive matter, like an excessive charge being made, or the non-arrival of money that was due, there’s a good chance that the caller will be somewhat het up. This is where Vivaldi steps in, like that Gaviscon fireman; cooling and soothing the raw nerves of the person on the other end of the line. In the same classical vein, Pachelbel’s Canon is another soother that switchboard operators fire at irate callers (see what I did there?). I find it sad that a masterpiece that was created in an age when music recoording didn’t exist, has been cheapened into a universally used, tinny sounding means of keeping someone entertained while they wait. I wonder what Vivaldi would have made of it all.
No doubt there are researchers out there who can produce statistics to show that playing soothing music to callers on hold has a calming effect. This may be so, but it would be interesting to see how it would work the other way around. What if switchboards that get a lot of angry callers (DVLA, HMRC and the DWP to name three) played a less soothing track to those on hold? I reckon that Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight by the Rezillos would produce an interesting reaction from callers who were already fired up.
And so it goes. Unemployment continues to rise, and, the swollen ranks of the jobless familiarize themselves yet more with the work of Vivaldi as they wait on hold. But who knows, there could be beneficial results from this sustained period of subliminal education, and the day may come when we see the following exchange on BBC’s Mastermind.
Your name, please?
And your specialist subject?
The work of Antonio Vivaldi, from 1725 to 1730.
The DWP has a phone number for the public to report benefit fraud. I wonder if I could shop Vivaldi for fiddling.