The lift in our hotel in Cardiff has music playing in it. It’s not the radio or actual commercial music, but the kind of stuff that’s referred to as elevator music. I’ve not heard music in a lift for a long time. When I was a child I remember music in lifts, but nowadays it is rare that lifts have music. It seems a bit pointless. In most cases you are in the lift for no longer than thirty seconds. And a good amount of that time is punctuated by a voice announcing, “doors opening,” “doors closing,” “lift going up,” “first floor,” “second floor.” The music is only really audible for about ten seconds of your time in the lift. The music wasn’t particularly loud. It was only audible if there was no conversation going on. So really it does seem like a completely pointless feature.
I wonder who makes elevator music, and who created the piece of music that was playing barely audibly in the lifts of this particular hotel in Cardiff? Are they proud of their work? Maybe they deliberately bring their family to holiday at this specific hotel in order to impress them. Maybe he/she doesn’t tell their family beforehand, wanting it to be a nice surprise for them, relishing the look on their faces when the children realise that their parent is responsible for the music that is played on loop in the lift.
The family check into their hotel, and the dad (the lift music composer) is trembling slightly with the excitement. They will be so proud of him when they realise that he is the man behind the lift ambient music.
“OK everyone, to the lift,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant, not wanting to bely his excitement. He marches towards the lift, but then deliberately slows down his pace, realising that he’s in danger of losing the nonchalance. He turns his brisk walk into a casual stroll.
“Excuse me sir,” calls the receptionist, “your room is on this floor. There’s no need to take the lift.”
Damn, why hadn’t he checked which floor his room was on when he booked the hotel? Now he would have no reason to take the lift, as looking around he could see that all the hotel’s facilities – the pool, the gym, the restaurant and their room – were all located on the ground floor. Well that was it. The game was up. This entire holiday was a pointless waste. They’d travelled all the way from Edinburgh to come here. His wife had been furious with him. “Why have you booked a hotel in Cardiff, when there’s so many options closer to home that would be much less stressful to get to, and wouldn’t involve hours in the car with moaning restless children?” But he had tried to placate her by showing her all the things they could do once they got to their destination. Obviously it hadn’t been about that for him. All he wanted was for his wife and children to understand what he’d been doing with his life for the last two years.
His wife knew he was a composer, but she hadn’t seen much money come in, and had never been invited to see any of the works he’d composed being performed in any theatres or music halls. That was because he didn’t compose for the theatres or the music halls. That wasn’t his thing. He was a lift music composer, and proud of it.
He’d dreamed of being a lift music composer since he was a small boy. He remembered his career advisor and teachers at school laughing at him when he told them. “You might have to rethink your dreams a bit,” they told him. “I mean, I really don’t think you can make a living simply from composing music for lifts. You’d probably have to branch out into ambient music for shopping centres, airport lounges, hospital waiting rooms and the like too.” But he was adamant. He didn’t want his music to be played in hospital waiting areas, airport lounges or shopping centres. The music that he could hear buzzing around his febrile brain all day everyday was clearly music designed ultimately and exclusively for lifts. And one day he’d prove them all wrong.
Then one day, ten years ago, he met the love of his life. They started dating and he fell head over heels for her. He’d never ffelt this excited about anyone before. The only thing he’d ever cared about was his lift music. Then one day, six months into their courtship, he finally revealed to her his dream, that one day his music would be featured in a lift. And she laughed. She laughed! He had been crushed by her laugh, but he vowed to himself that one day he would prove her wrong and that she would hear his music played in a lift and she would be so overcome with emotion and love him all the more. He hadn’t quite imagined it would take another ten years for his dream to come true. He kept sending out demos to thotels, but he never heard anything back. He didn’t know how to go about advertising himself and his music. How did people get their music in lifts? He knew that it was possible, for he had heard music in lifts before. It always filled him with anger and loathing whenever he was in a lift and he heard lift music. It was never right. It lacked the spirit and the commitment that his music had. He could tell that it had merely been churned out half-heartedly by someone who was obviously not remotely interested in how it sounded. How could someone be awarded such a coveted and esteemed role, to compose music that would be played in a lift, and then waste the opportunity by producing this kind of nondescript, redundant bilge? It made him sick, it made him angry, but it also made him even more determined. One day, he kept telling himself, one day!
“I thought we’d go to the top floor and appreciate the view,” he said to the receptionist and to his family, who had wondered why their dad was marching to the lift, when their room was on the floor they were currently standing on.
“It’s been a long journey,” said his wife, exasperatedly. “Let’s go straight to our room and freshen up before heading off to the restaurant over there for something to eat.”
“There isn’t really a view to admire from in here sir,” explained the receptionist. “there are no windows in the corridors.
You’d get to see a really nice view if you went outside the hotel and walked up the steps.”
Steps?! Bloody steps?! Damn them all. He was starting to get fidgety. He didn’t give two hoots for the sodding view, he wanted to take the lift and show his wife and his children what he’d been painstakingly working on for the last two years. He wanted to vindicate himself to them, and demonstrate why he’d been so detached from them all for the last two years. He’d essentially kept himself cooped up in his studio, experimenting with musical ideas and perfecting his composition. He’d not made much money from that venture, but it wasn’t the money that was important to him. But of course his wife and children could never understand that. But if they only heard his music in that lift, then they would see, surely then they would see?
“Is there another restaurant to eat in on another floor by any chance,” he asked, praying that they would be.
“No sir, all the facilities are on your floor sir, so it’ll be really convenient for you, you won’t have to get the lift at all sir.”
Her words pierced him, and he had to fight to stop himself flying into a rage.
“Perfect,” said his wife, and started heading in the direction of their room, and the kids followed. But he just stood there. He couldn’t believe it. They’d travelled all this way, and for nothing.
His wife turned back to him and irritatedly enquired as to why he wasn’t following. He told her that he’d be with them soon, and to go ahead without him. His wife, reaching the end of her tether, having seen the man she’d once loved become more and more detached from her and the children, turned away and walked with the kids to the room, and disappeared inside.
He turned to the receptionist. “Would you do me a big favour,” he said to her.
“What’s that sir?”
“I need you to change our room to one on the top floor.”
The receptionist was nonplussed.
“Could you pretend that there’s something wrong with our room booking and that there’s been a mistake, and say that we have to move to a room on the top floor?”
The conversation went on for nearly half an hour. The receptionist explained that all the rooms were fully booked out on the top floor, and on all the other floors, and as there was actually nothing wrong with their room, there was no grounds for moving them. Eventually after much remonstrating, he resorted to bribing the receptionist to do his bidding, giving her all of his money that he’d earned from the lift composition work. All the money for two years work had just been spent bribing a receptionist, but the money wasn’t what was important here; he needed to get his wife and children in that lift so that they could hear his music and finally understand. And this was the only way of achieving that. The receptionist agreed to call the customers staying in one of the rooms on the top floor, and tell them that there’d been a mistake with their booking, and that they were actually meant to be staying in a room on the bottom floor, and then he and his wife and children could move to the room at the top floor. He thanked her profusely. He was so excited he nearly kissed her.
He hurried to his family room on the bottom floor and broke the news to them, trying to keep his excitement hidden. His wife was not particularly pleased, as she had literally just got undressed to get in the shower. But she put her clothes back on and she and the kids followed her husband out of their room and towards the lift. Fiannly!
The lift seemed to take an age to arrive. The kids were growing restless, and one of them started making for the stairs and shouted to his brother, “I’ll race you to the top.” His dad’s heart sank, as his children disappeared from view and began to run up the stairs. He tried shouting them back, but his wife told him to leave it, the exercise would be good for them. Damn! He’d wanted his children to share in this special moment, and to understand why their dad had been so distant and cold for the last two years. But at least he still had his wife with him. The moment wasn’t entirely ruined.
“Actually, I think I could do with the exercise too, plus it’ll beat standing here like a lemon waiting for the slowest lift in the world to grace us with its presence.” She began to make for the stairs. He grabbed her arm.
“No,” he shouted. His wife was stunned. It had come out more aggressively than he’d wanted. “Darling,” he added, a bit softer, hoping that that would help placate her. “The lift will be here soon.” His wife protested against his arm grabbing and aggressive shouting. Their children would be at the top floor now waiting for them. She began to head for the stairs again, but at that moment the lift arrived.
“The lift!” he cried, his voice an octave higher than usual. “Look darling, the lift!” She was still heading for the stairs. He ran towards her, and almost rugby tackled her, then grabbed her arm again, and dragged her, as nonchalantly as he could, into the lift. She was both flummoxed and fuming at this, and spent the first two floors berating him for his strange and aggressive behaviour. He wasn’t listening to her, for underneath her words he could hear the faint sound of music, music which he knew only too well, for it was his music, his composition, his pride and joy. This is the moment he’d been waiting for all his life, the moment that he’d been desperate to share with his wife, and she was just shouting over it, completely oblivious. Whenever he’d dreamt about this moment, it had always been romantic, beautiful and poignant. As his music played in the lift, he would softly and tenderly tell her and his children why he’d been so cold and detached all these years. He’d explain that he’d been busy in his studio all day, creating the very music that was emanating from this lift, music that he had fixated on and pawed over in immense detail, considering every nuance, every chord, every intricate melodic motif, to create the best possible lift music experience that he could. He would watch his wife and children’s faces glow with emotion, tears welling up in all their eyes, as they finally realised what kind of a man he was. And finally, they would understand him, and he’d feel at peace, at last.
But it was all going horribly wrong. They were now at the third floor of ten, and his wife’s barrage of words hadn’t abated. He made to press his hands to her lips to stop her noise, desperate to make her hear. This was driving him insane. But then the doors opened and two people got in. Excellent, he thought. He knew that his wife would be too embarrassed to shout at him now that there were others in the lift. He’d not counted on there being others in the lift. It wasn’t ideal. This was to be a hugely emotional and poignant moment for him, and he didn’t really want other people present. But then, on the plus side they were keeping his wife from shouting at him, so in a way he was glad of their intrusion.
“Doors closing,” said the lift. Damn, he’d not accounted for the fact that his beautiful music would be ruined by the sounds of an automated voice. It did nothing to add to the beauty of his creation. He made a mental note to ask the hotel if they could remove the automated voice from the lift, as it was getting in the way of the lift music listening experience. He’d mention it to the receptionist later that …
“Lift going up.” Bloody hell, there it was again. And that was a really good bit of the piece as well, a crucial part of the composition that tied the whole thing together , and it had been completely desecrated by that stupid voice. He’d definitely say something when he …
“Lovely day?” came a big, brash, confident sounding American voice. It was the man who had just entered the lift on the second floor.
“Yes, very nice,” replied his wife. He couldn’t believe it. His music was playing in their midst, and they had seemingly not been affected by it in the slightest. It was those bloody announcements. They had completely obscured his masterpiece and …
“So, how long are you staying for?” asked the man’s partner. There must be a volume control on this lift somewhere. He needed to discretely get the music louder. It was far too quiet. You could barely hear it above the announcements and the sound of the lift’s motor.
My goodness, I have written over 2500 words. As much as I am enjoying myself, we have unfortunately arrived at our gig in London. When I started writing this Dollop, I hadn’t intended to write a story about a harased and misunderstood lift music composer. I was merely intending to muse for a bit about how much a lift music composer gest paid, and whether they take pride in their compositions or just churn them out with scant regard for artistic merit. Do they bemoan the fact that there isn’t a lift music programme on BBC Radio 3, or that they never get asked to feature their creations at posh arts centre evenings? But I’m sure you’ll agree that my lift music composer drama has massively exceeded all your expectations.