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Miss Manners: Background music comes to the fore

Mon., Dec. 24, 2012

DEAR MISS MANNERS: It has happened again. Once more, my wife and I attended a lovely catered party in a reception facility, where the company was interesting and the hosts gracious and welcoming – and the “background” music was so loud that all the guests had to shout to be heard.

In this case, it was simply one guitarist/singer, but his amplification and the acoustics of the hall made it impossible to carry on any sort of normal conversation while he was playing. I am certainly not alone in this complaint, as several others at this otherwise pleasant affair also mentioned the unpleasantly excessive level of the music.

I should stress that I am not an old fogey, and I do like music of a considerable volume to dance to, but when there is no dancing, why can’t guests appreciate one another’s company without bellowing?

It is our experience that many, if not most, hosts seem oblivious to the fact that the musician they hired is making it difficult for people to enjoy themselves. This seems to be especially the case at wedding receptions, when the music is at “dancing level” during dinner.

Is there any polite way to ask a host or hostess to have the volume lowered? I have long ago given up asking musicians to tone it down; they simply ignore the request as an outrageous intrusion on their craft.

GENTLE READER: “Background music” is something Miss Manners has never understood. If it is good enough to listen to, it should not have to compete with conversation. If it is not good enough to listen to, it should not be played.

As for amplification, the problem is only going to get worse as the level deafens people who will then require even higher volumes.

But no, you really cannot tell your hosts that you are not enjoying their party. At most, you and someone with whom you want to talk can ask the hosts if there is someplace quieter where you can do so.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,

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