Seeking a quiet place other than the library to work, two University of Michigan alumni began a movement to raise awareness and promote the benefits of silence and noise moderation around the city of Ann Arbor. Gina Choe and Libby Hunter founded Quiet Ann Arbor with the hopes of reducing noise and piped music in public places around Ann Arbor. Quiet Ann Arbor is associated with the Pipedown campaign in the United Kingdom, whose general mission is “Freedom from unwanted music in public places.”
Piped music is light, pre-recorded music played in public spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops. Piped, canned or elevator music, like Muzak, piped music can affect one’s attitudes and has health concerns.
“Noise is a health concern for all of us not only for those with hearing issues,” Choe said. “Research clearly shows that constant loud noise has detrimental effects on our health.”
According to a Pipedown fact sheet, a survey of 215 blood donors at University of Nottingham Medical School in January 1995 found piped music made donors more nervous before donating and more depressed afterwards than silence. The sheet also describes other health concerns of piped music including triggering or aggravating those with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, tinnitus, hyperacusis and blindness. Choe discussed how noise pollution can decrease our immune system function and lead to higher risks of hypertension, stroke and heart failure.
Pipedown states there is an increase in prices passed onto customers of the stores and restaurants which play this music.
“Many people in our community have shared stories with us about their negative experiences with piped music,” Choe said. “People are really struggling with piped music and we really hope to alleviate some of that stress in our community.”
In research commissioned by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, now known as Action on Hearing Loss, 34 percent of the general public find piped music annoying. It also found that 86 percent of those who have difficulty hearing find this background music annoying, but 36 percent of the general public said they were “indifferent.”
The Quiet Ann Arbor founders debunked the belief they themselves hate music. Choe played the piano, the guitar and enjoyed performing. Hunter graduated from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and taught music.
“We don’t hate music,” Choe said. “We just want to make music special.”
Pipedown has spread to Australia and has been shared on the national Pipedown page in the United Kingdom. They hope to grow their website, write letters to local Ann Arbor businesses and collect and publish decibel levels. Quiet Ann Arbor seeks to have restaurants and shops hold quiet hours without piped music during certain days and hours of the week.
LSA senior Jessica Murray said she works in an autism clinic and understands the significant, various ways piped music can impact members of the Ann Arbor community.
“There are obviously pros and cons to it, obviously music is meant to create an ambiance and atmosphere. But at the same time it is still important to consider members of the community who are negatively affected or negatively impacted by the piped music,” Murray said.