Music to work by

One of my pet hates is the music they play when they put you on hold. Once I was quick enough to ask them to not to play the “hold” music. There was a range of pieces of music to choose from I was told, but I replied that I did not want any music. The next question was more interesting: “what would you like to listen to?” Poetry, a play, the sea, birdsong were some of the possibilities that came to mind. Hopefully I would not have to wait long enough to hear a whole play and my contact said regretfully that they could not connect me to Radio 4.
Usually I am not quick enough to request that no music be played but it would make little difference. I presume the music is to remind you that you are connected and that someone is dealing with your call. Perhaps the background hubbub of a busy office would do the trick, but then you might hear something you were not intended to hear.
I have often come back to the question of what I would prefer to listen to and I wonder why I object so much to the music. I do not have music on in the background when I am working. I never even think about it. If someone is watching television in the next room it does not disturb me but if they start playing loud music I get really irritated. Why is it I can blot one out but not the other?
As a child I used to do my homework in front of the television. On Sunday afternoons my brother would be transfixed in front of some football match or other, while I wrestled with a Latin unseen or some appalling Physics question. Homework seemed to take an age but I was never persuaded by suggestions that it would be done more quickly in the dining room. I shunned the idea of retreating to the cold dining room to work while the rest of the family congregated together, because it seemed like punishment.
I know a lot of people feel the need to have music on in the background. I never have. I never play music for pleasure. It’s not so much that I don’t like music, but I often find it intrusive. I find loud music painful. When I find myself shouting to hear myself speak over the sound of someone else’s music, I give up and walk away. Music at an acceptable volume plays upon the emotions, requiring attention, demanding a response. Whenever I choose to play a piece of music I feel compelled to stop what I am doing and listen to it. I cannot just have it on in the background.
I live in a quiet rural town, where every sound has its place. Through an open window I hear children and their teacher on the playing field of the nearby school. The school bell occasionally punctuates the quiet. The rhythmical rumble and clatter as the boy across the road practices on his skateboard ramp is somewhere between tedious and sleep inducing. About a mile away the thud from the car crusher reverberates across the streets once or twice a day. Once in a while the magpies kick up a fuss when something disturbs them. At 3.15 the muted voices of the school children strolling down the street, subdued at the end of a long day, are sometimes enlivened by shouts and shrieks.
The cat on the cushion makes noises in her sleep. The hamster chews at the bars of the cage. The washing machine rumbles and the kettle roars encouragingly. Somewhere a tap is dripping, The dog barks frantically at the man with a delivery for next door that will surely be coming my way as she is out. The sycamore outside the window groans like a ship and the gate creaks, warning of visitors. Next door’s phone rings. Upstairs, the soft cries of my new grandson warm my heart. The percussion section of this domestic orchestra is provided by the relentless clack-clack of my fingers on the keyboard of my laptop.
I am aware of this discordant symphony, but it does not disturb me. I feel connected to my family, my community and my environment. It is all the music I need.
So, what would I like to listen to when you put me on hold? A recording of the sounds in the local park perhaps, but from a distance: a sense of open space, muted voices, perhaps there’s a cricket match going on, some people are playing tennis, behind a row of trees a train rumbles past, a bird is singing and a swan lands on the pond with a loud slap, all in balance, no one sound out-doing the others. That’s what I would like to hear.

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