From Schmaltz to Sublime
Callers on hold are treated to performances by Dickinsonians
by MaryAlice Bitts
February 9, 2010
It took a village to install pleasant, Dickinsonian-performed music for callers who are placed on hold. Above, from left, Robert Pound, Shirley King, Kirk Doran and Jerry Bower consider a musical selection.
Few things irritate a musician more than a schmaltzy arrangement. So it was for Shirley King, director of advising and adjunct organ and harpsichord instructor, who was dismayed to hear canned music when put on hold during an on-campus phone call.
King asked Robert Pound, associate professor of music and chair of the music department, to consider replacing the trite, factory-installed tunes that came with the college’s new phone system with music performed by Dickinson students, professors and visiting musicians.
The result? A satisfying and distinctively Dickinson on-hold experience.
The project was a group effort. Pound scoured the music-department CD archives for appropriate music and worked with Kirk Doran, technical services librarian, to narrow the choices.
It was a complex task. “We selected pieces that were immediately accessible to nonmusicians, that offered a variety of tone color and styles—but weren’t startlingly loud or bombastic or highly dissonant—and that were understandable even in short extracts, such as the average time someone is on hold,” Doran explained.
There were other considerations, as well. “The selections couldn’t be too intense in any way, and that’s difficult to find; emotional contrast is key in a lot of performances,” Pound added, noting that works that are not in the public domain—such as pieces performed by the jazz ensemble—also were off limits.
When final selections were made, Jerry Bower, network system analyst, acquired a CD deck and equalizer that allowed him to create a continuous loop of music. Bower then hooked up the equipment to the phone system, modified an analog port, and voilà! Callers could enjoy soothing mini-concerts as they waited.
Response has been positive. “It’s an ideal occasion for the college to showcase the works of students and faculty,” said Pound. “The music-department faculty are all enthusiastic about it, and we’ve heard good comments from callers.”
For King, it’s a sheer delight.
“You can only imagine my surprise one day when I was put on hold and heard our Dickinson performance of the Liebeslieder waltzes by Brahms,” she said. “I’m often sorry when someone picks up the phone and I miss the end of a piece.”