During a recent foray into the mountain range to the west of Sydney that is geologically known as ‘The Great Dividing Range’, or sometimes, colloquially, the ‘Eastern Ranges’, but is in this particular region of New South Wales universally known as the ‘Blue Mountains’ (and readers unfamiliar with Australian geographic features should note that the feature in question is not technically a mountain at all, but an uplifted plateau, the highest point of which is a sandcastle-like 1,215 metres) I occasioned to stop at an establishment known as the ‘Loaves and the Dishes’ (a biblical reference, one assumes) to partake of some sustenance.

 As my rather large (and quite delicious) soup de jour (Moroccan Bean) was served, so too was a blast of sound served up from the café’s nondescript audio system. However, the music that struggled to find its way past an underpowered amplifier and possibly a torn loudspeaker cone or two was simply glorious: the unmistakeable strains of Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C Minor. Despite the total lack of fidelity, I couldn’t help but slow down (and quiet) my usual noisy soup-supping to ensure I didn’t miss a note. I’d only just managed to eke out the soup when one of my ‘desert island’ picks followed: Bach’s 5th French Suite in G major. I love the whole work, but to hear it in full (and in order that I did not miss the Gigue, which is indescribably beautiful) meant that after finishing my soup, I had to order and sit on a cappuccino for ‘way too long. This gave me plenty of time to observe that the café was fairly empty, and although this was no doubt mostly because it was well past lunch time, it did cause me to wonder if the type of music played in a café (or restaurant) has any bearing on customer satisfaction and therefore on return-visit rates.

For a start, it’s rare to hear classical music played in any shop, café or restaurant. And supermarkets, which have done exhaustive research into consumer listening habits, not only don’t play classical music… they don’t even play jazz. So far as I’ve ever noticed background music (muzak) is always ‘middle-of-the-road’. I also puzzled as to why I was lingering and listening to a sub-par sound system when I could have gone home and listened to exactly the same music in the very highest fidelity. I have no answers to any of these questions. As for me staying to listen, I suspect it was, in part, simply the novelty of hearing familiar music in an unfamiliar environment. Also, in part, that Bach always forces me to listen to his compositions… I need to hear them weave, turn, twist, invert and resolve. I need to hear them end. It may also have been that since I was away from my own home, I was totally relaxed, and more able to enjoy music because I had none of the normal distractions that can intrude on one’s enjoyment when listening at home. (The nagging feeling that perhaps you should be doing some cleaning, or washing or, in my case, some long-overdue home repairs…)

Of course, this is one of the beauties of concert-going. Not only are you hearing the highest-possible fidelity, in a familiar environment, you are also, for a brief few hours, freed from the distractions of day-to-day life, so that you can unguiltily enjoy music, glorious music…  greg borrowman

(This article first appeared in Australian Hi-Fi Magazine, Volume 46 No 4, published in March 2015)