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Why the TTC is playing classical music in the subway

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 6, 2014

ttc torontoI'm huddling inside Main Street station waiting for a Carlton streetcar when the sound of violins wafts up from the subway. Unless there's a full orchestra busking down there, it's a recording. And then I realize it's playing over the station's internal speakers. But why?

The answer is nefarious youths. In 1998, a community safety audit conducted after a fatal stabbing at Kennedy station suggested piping in Bach, Sibelius, Schumann, and others would repel gangs. New lights, CCTV, and additional security patrols were also ordered.

7-Eleven convenience stores and Vancouver's SkyTrain had used the same musical tactic with mixed results. The thinking, according to the Toronto Star when the Kennedy pilot project began, was that youths would rather move than listen to "highbrow" music. Some kids in B.C. just shouted over the classics.

The London Underground also uses orchestral music for the same reason in some of its stations.

SEE ALSO: Our feature posts on Toronto's most prolific TTC buskers.

According to TTC spokesman Brad Ross, the idea has since been expanded over the last 16 years to Warden, Victoria Park, Main Street, Bathurst, Dundas West, Runnymede, Finch, and Greenwood stations, stops close to high schools or colleges.

Classical music, in fact any music the listener finds repellant, suppresses dopamine production in the brain, "souring their mood and making them avoid the music," according to a Seattle Times story on the concept.

The music isn't coming from an internal DJ, says the TTC's Danny Nicholson. A company called Stingray360 in Montreal that specializes in "sensorial marketing solutions" provides the music feed and covers the licensing requirements for about $14,500 a year. (Side note: they also sell "scent solutions," a "personalized ambient fragrance for your business.")

"A lot of dentists pay for it," he says. "If you're in a dentist's office you often hear recorded music that comes from the same sort of thing."

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Dan/blogTO Flickr pool.



CommonJerks. / March 6, 2014 at 10:54 am
Them thugs be wearing their over sized earphones as it is.
Listening to the hippity hop.

They cant hear no clazzical beatz.
Todd Toronto / March 6, 2014 at 11:01 am
Not everybody loves classical music, but who is actually actively repulsed by it?

It's probably the least divisive genre of music on earth.
zktxo / March 6, 2014 at 11:07 am
You learn new things everyday. I used to just skip through the subway station hearing that music and thought that they're just playing it because the TTC wants to be fancy.......
NativeTorontonianAl / March 6, 2014 at 12:14 pm
This isn't new. This was being done at some subway stations and their busbays going back to the late-'90s and early 2000s. It's good because it is proven to keep away those nuisances from loitering and creating trouble, but also that the classical music creates a more calming environment. One time that stands out for me was at the hectic and now-overburdened Yonge/Bloor station during rush hour, there was a busker, a solo-violinist act, who was first-rate and playing Meditation (Thais) by Massenet, and the entire station and the people were orderly, walking at a good pace, and patient. Mesmerized. Besides these examples, it's culture! Any society could always use culture and real music. It's neutral.
kevinn / March 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm
I can imagine listening to Katy Perry or Miley Cyrus would make TTC riders more violent.
the lemur replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / March 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm
I can't think of anyone who'd be repulsed by classical music, except maybe someone who's developed a Clockwork Orange-type aversion to it.

Opera, on the other hand ...

Also, classical music doesn't seem to have attracted band geeks either.

Bathurst alternates between classical music and bird noises (to repel pigeons).
Brent / March 6, 2014 at 12:28 pm
I have to wait for a connecting bus at VP station in the morning and I actually quite enjoy the music. Wish there was a way of posting a "now playing" at the bottom of the new "next bus" display.
ssss / March 6, 2014 at 01:43 pm
so dentists play the same music for waiting room patients (who they presumably DO wish to see) that the TTC plays for gang members they'd rather not have hanging around?
Frank / March 6, 2014 at 03:16 pm

Now write an article explaining why there are HUNDREDS of birds on the telelphone/hydro wires above the Bathurst St Subway entrance. They literally poop on everything, and stay on the lines even in -20 degree weather!!
Michael Prue's EY replying to a comment from NativeTorontonianAl / March 6, 2014 at 03:30 pm
It's new to all of these students who've come to Toronto for the first time to study poly sci at Ryerson.
Ash replying to a comment from NativeTorontonianAl / March 6, 2014 at 03:39 pm
Didn't they say 1998 right in the article...?
Tracy / March 6, 2014 at 03:55 pm
I really don't think it makes any difference when the youth of today have ear buds in their ears and are listening to their own music and cant hear the music at the station
InnerCityPressure / March 6, 2014 at 03:57 pm
They used to do this at my high school too when classes were over. Either classical or really old country music.
Rob / March 6, 2014 at 04:03 pm
I was sitting in Vic Park grooving to the classics... Maybe they are trying to calm people down
Ben / March 6, 2014 at 04:04 pm
I'm pretty sure that Summer's Eve douches also advertise themselves as having a "personalized ambient fragrance for your business."
Arax / March 6, 2014 at 06:51 pm
Over a month ago, I did send the TTC my compliments re the classical music at Kennedy st, not knowing the reason why. I still think it is very classy ;)) Bravo!!!
Holy Thundering Jesus / March 6, 2014 at 09:28 pm
they play the music to distract, so you won't notice the lousy service
the lemur replying to a comment from Frank / March 7, 2014 at 09:13 am
Because some senile old biddy keeps feeding them. It's not the TTC's responsibility, because that parkette in front of the station is city property, so file a complaint with 311 to get it taken care of.
Mitchell replying to a comment from Brent / March 8, 2014 at 04:39 pm
Download the Shazam app onto your phone if you want to find out what's playing.
mark p / March 9, 2014 at 03:26 am
what if those thugs suddenly take a interest in classical music... i can only imagine the fights theyd get into
"yo dawg, i love that mozart dude"
Peter Kropotkin replying to a comment from mark p / March 9, 2014 at 03:54 pm
Why is every youth (mostly black) that you don't like called a 'thug'? And what is this bourgeois idea about subway stations being a place where nobody can stay?
Rickshaw Mike / November 10, 2014 at 10:56 pm
I remember when they started doing this. It got rid of the little baggy panted shitsters right quick. Job done.
Chris / November 10, 2014 at 11:29 pm
About 20 years ago, in Rochester, New York, I was buying coffee in a mall before a very important rehearsal I had that morning. I heard Mozart coming through the sound system in the mall. Ironically, it was the very piece I was about to begin rehearsal on a few minutes later. I thought to myself, "if they only knew..."
Richard Underhill / November 10, 2014 at 11:54 pm
It has a certain colonial feeling to it.
wendy replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / November 11, 2014 at 01:28 am
the reason why they use classical music is because it helps calm the mind down... it will help neutralize the overly testosterone and aggressive folks from causing serious harm to innocent by-standers. classical music also expands the spatial mind so it can help induce logical and clear thinking for people.... when folks are angry they are less logical and clear, so classical music can help counter that effect.
The Chimp / November 11, 2014 at 08:11 am
Who hangs around a subway station?
G Money / November 12, 2014 at 07:02 am
They do this in the Copenhagen train station to repel drug dealers from doing business in their popular spot, and it was actually extremely effective. I legitimately thought it was a public space culture promotion when I first heard it in Main until I learned about the Danish case - and it seems like I'm not alone!
HK / February 11, 2015 at 01:20 pm
Been to Copenhagen. They like to play bubblegum pop music in public transit, and the airport. Not bad
Andrew / October 25, 2015 at 09:55 am
I'd like to hear them play Dr. Dre in the subway station.
Wendy / October 25, 2015 at 02:53 pm
Here's an idea.. why not just play classical music performed by Canada Orchestras and chamber ensembles.. and putting a little plug in for them!!
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