According to most reports, it works. Figures from the British capital released in January showed robberies in the subway down by 33%, assaults on staff by 25% and vandalism of trains and stations by 37%. Sources in other locales have reported fewer muggings and drug deals. London authorities now plan to expand the playing of Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and opera (sung by Pavarotti) from three tube stations to an additional 35.
"Music soothes the savage beast," a Boston variety store owner told the Globe after light classical selections were used to squelch teen loitering near the Forest Hills subway stop. "They're leaving, and I ain't seen no fights." The pops-style music, said one of the teens, "makes you want to go to sleep."
Similarly, Police Det. Dena Kimberlin in West Palm Beach, Fla., recalls that after police there closed a bar in an area infested with drug dealers and began blasting classical music from the roof, "the officers were amazed when at 10 o'clock at night there was not a soul on the corner. We talked to people on the street, and they said, 'We don't like that kind of music.' " Subsequently, she says, her department received requests from other police officials to explain exactly what steps it had taken. Its musical selections were mostly Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.
What does it mean that classical music is being used this way? After all, it's more than just a strange, deeply literal updating of the Victorian moralist Matthew Arnold, who saw culture -- "the best which has been thought and said" -- as an inoculation against the "anarchy" of runaway individualism and democracy.
The melodious tube stop also represents a bizarre irony. After decades of the classical music establishment's fighting to attract crowds -- especially young people and what it calls "nontraditional audiences" -- city councils and government ministers are taking exactly the opposite approach: using high culture as a kind of disinfectant.