Foreground vs background music

What is the difference between foreground music and background music?

Foreground music: when people stop talking, the music begins.

Background music: when the music stops, the people stop talking.

“Play the familiar in an unfamiliar way,” I would tell myself when playing background music. It shouldn’t be so intrusive that people stop talking.

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The actual playing time was less than an hour, but it took me four hours the previous day to play through and select the music I thought appropriate for the Rotary Club charity gala dinner. My sight reading ability has improved since those early days as hotel pianist in London. It’s still necessary to go through my music to ensure enough variety.

Meanwhile, Robert Bekkers did not have to select any sheet music. It was all in his head.

Robert Bekkers on the way to a gig, photo credit: Peter Lie
Robert Bekkers on the way to a gig, photo credit: Peter Lie

What is the difference between foreground music and background music?

Foreground music: when people stop talking, the music begins.

Background music: when the music stops, the people stop talking.

My choice of music is defined by the familiarity index. “Play the familiar in an unfamiliar way,” I would tell myself when playing background music. It shouldn’t be so intrusive that people stop talking. I take a selection of flowing music from Einaudi and film music, intermingled with jazz standards and my own favourites. I consider myself successful if people continue talking. My background music is intended to fill gaps in conversation and fuel the interaction between people.

“Don’t pay attention to me please.” That’s the message I want to broadcast as I happily sight read the music and make transitions to avoid silent gaps. I don’t want people to listen. I just want to reassure them that they are not alone.

When Robert began to play, however, I noticed that a few people stopped talking. It was Albeniz. They recognised it. On his last tune, the Romance that every beginning guitar player aspires to play, I received a request. “Has he got this on CD? I’d love to buy it.”

Robert Bekkers at the Rotary Club Charity Gala Dinner, photo credit: Peter Lie
Robert Bekkers at the Rotary Club Charity Gala Dinner, photo credit: Peter Lie

Moral of the story:

When you play foreground music as background, people will stop talking and start listening.

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

4 thoughts on “Foreground vs background music”

  1. Anne,
    your background pianoplay was outstanding in itself. You couldnot notice that, although you claim your play was background music, that a lot of guests stopped talking for you as well.

    We loved the light touch on the keys and cheerfull music. thanks, we loved both the piano and guitar music.
    Peter & Joanne

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