by cheri sabraw

I stood at the counter at Nordstrom Department Store, waiting to pay for two wallets I was buying for gifts.

In the background, digitized music pounded out a syncopated rhythm that was undeniably nothing recognizable.

It was…just…there…filling the space. A hollow uninteresting beat, some sucking crescendos, repetitive whistles and counter-whistles—in short, a perfect medley of nothing, which reminded me of the music played at Valley Vista Roller Rink at the heyday of my roller-skating days. Ah, yes the organ music which seemed to emanate from a real person sitting in tails, pounding on the pipes as I laced up my roller skates.

A stylish young Indian woman came to the same counter, waiting for service.

“I wonder what Nordstrom would sound like if the manager turned off the music?” I asked.

“ You don’t like music?” she asked with an incredulous flare. (Such a leap of thought reminded me of the miserable critical thinking skills that have been allowed to compost in high school government classes.)

“Oh, I love music; but I don’t care for a digitized robotic sound, if that’s what you meant. I miss the piano player, which Nordstrom scratched several years ago when its market research told the CEO that shoppers preferred the loud hip-hopping slop to Beethoven.

“How do you feel about the quiet?” I asked her.

“The quiet what?” she asked, pursing the space between her lovely heavy brows.

“Oh, the quiet store, the quiet car, the quiet bedroom, the quiet theater. You know, when no music permeates the background of everyday business and life? When our thoughts and buying decisions are left to the recesses of our interior selves instead of a frenetic pounding and pumping and squealing?”

“What are the recesses of our interior selves?” asked the Persian clerk.

“The places in our souls where there is room to imagine and create, small tunnels of perfect silence in which we can feel free to think under the influence of only ourselves.”

“I like background noise,” commented the Indian woman, edging her way into my place at the counter.

“Most Americans do,” I said.







About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Life, Places and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Quiet

  1. Cyberquill says:

    If I were to grade your post, I’d say it leaves the reader confused as to what exactly it is you’re making a case for — Beethoven at Nordstrom’s or silence at Nordstrom’s?

  2. Cheri says:

    I agree upon reflection. I would rather have Beethoven than quiet in Nordstrom. If I cannot have the piano player, and have to be subjected to irritating and loud music, then I would rather have quiet. You are a musician. What do you think?

    Also, I would give myself an A- for written expression and a C for clarity.

  3. ShimonZ says:

    Don’t agree with your harsh self criticism. I think you raised a very important subject for thought. Even if one loves Beethoven (and I do), one can drown in a sea of sound if it never stops coming. Silence is a precious commodity. We need time to think and appreciate what we see and hear and smell and experienced. This is a wonderful column.

  4. I give you an all-inclusive A. I happen to love silence. But I too miss the piano player. The composer Richard Rogers, never allowed background dinner music. He believed music should be listened to not just noise to dull the sound of eating.

    • Cheri says:

      I did not know that about Richard Rogers. How interesting! I suppose I was really railing against what I perceive to be NOISE that is billed as music.

  5. Christopher says:

    What you appear to be inveighing against is Muzak. But, hasn’t Muzak always been around, in department stores, elevators, and suchlike? Is it only recently that you’ve come to dislike it?

    Or maybe you’ve always disliked Muzak, from when you were very small, but you hadn’t brought this feeling to consciousness? So it’s only now, in your sunset years, that you’ve become conscious of how you really feel about Muzak? Hence you now feel free for the first time to publicly confess your feelings about Muzak?

    If so, this is wonderful. And so emotionally liberating. Perhaps other unresolved issues may now make themselves conscious in your psyche. Should this happen, you can now dissipate their pernicious effects just as you’ve done with Muzak.

  6. Cheri says:

    Here we get into semantics and perception. As you well know, after reading this blog for 9 years, I can be a purist about art and music. Digitized “music” I label as noise. I resent noise while shopping or trying to eat dinner out at a restaurant. We really cannot go anywhere in the SF Bay Area, especially out to dinner, without having to hear loud streamed in “fake” music. And thank you for your psychoanalytical approach to my post. I have been publicly confessing my likes and dislikes since I was three so not much as been repressed or suppressed.

  7. shoreacres says:

    In fact, Muzak hasn’t always been ubiquitous since its beginnings in the 1930s: not in department stores, not in elevators, and not even in suchlike.

    I still remember the days of department stores with white-gloved elevator attendants who would murmur “Floor, please” as you stepped inside. In the tearooms, the only sounds were the ebb and flow of conversation and the clink of glassware and silver on china — and this was in Des Moines, Iowa, not New York City. Now and then, there might be a pianist, but the music always was appropriate: the “Moonlight Sonata,” or “Claire de Lune” come to mind.

    I’ve been thinking about this, and it occurs to me that one difference between then and now is that we listened to music more intentionally in the 1950s, just as we watched television. I suspect the adoption of muzak might have been aided and abetted by the television. Instead of tuning in for a particular program, people began leaving the tv on. I don’t remember that happening with the radio, although it might have. In any case, we began to accustom ourselves to noise, and the downward spiral began.

    I found on a page devoted to the history of Muzak that, in 1986, Ted Nugent offered to purchase Muzak for ten million dollars, with the express intention of shutting it down. Unfortunately, the offer was refused.

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you. I found your link interesting and informative.
      Until Christopher used the term Muzak, I hadn’t thought of it. (Thank you Christopher.)

      I watched a Netflix documentary last year titled ” A Year on the Ice” about people who volunteered to work at the American station in Antarctica. The producers used time-lapse photography as well. One of the segments has the narrator commenting on the silence there in Antarctica.

      It was a that moment that I paused to consider how precious silence is (almost a commodity) and now in current society, how rare it is.

      I admit to becoming resentful of the noise in stores and (as mentioned above) in restaurants.

      As you observe, Linda, perhaps all of this intrusion has to do with filling the space. Thank you for such a thoughtful and robust comment.

  8. Richard says:

    A silence I forbore to break
    Lest speaking thus were a mistake
    Where words alone, though writ,
    In superfluity an equal wrong commit.

    Some say of Ludwig they would rather he
    Than pregnant quiet, and so to be,
    Yet Wolfgang urged that silence reigns
    The highest music God attains.

    Within the hubbub’s world it is our fate to dwell,
    As daily chores and duties weigh, to buy and sell.
    Point to the motions of the clashing till
    As manufactured noises wreck the still.

    Select, though, from the coarse cacophany
    Tones of some harmonious symphony,
    For there are those the fates assail
    With inner sounds, and they prevail.

    When eyes across the levels gaze
    To mountain peaks within the haze
    We do not then bemoan the mists
    But glory that it all exists.

    • Cheri says:

      This is the most beautiful poem you have written on this blog, Richard. I have printed it out. I find it comforting.

      I am thinking of sending it to the Nordstrom CEO.

      Most of all, thank you for taking your precious time to offer such a quiet literary antidote to me.

      • Richard says:

        Glenys reckons it’s my best poem too, which just demonstrates the poverty of my previous efforts.

        Send it where you like, but keep it anonymous to preserve my reputation.

    • Richard says:

      … cacophony …!

  9. wkkortas says:

    It is my studied opinion that all department stores should play the Count Basie version of April In Paris on a never ending loop, but that’s just me.

  10. Cheri says:

    Ahhhh….yes….wk….let’s add Begin the Beguine, The Very Thought of You and Stardust. Were those songs looping at Nordstrom, I may have spent a great deal of money.

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