Can we spice up the tunnel playlist?


I will add my voice to the many others singing the praises of Brockville’s recently opened historic railway tunnel. But while we’re on the subject of singing, can we talk about the music for a minute?

The subject came to mind with greater clarity for me on Thursday afternoon, as I was deep inside Brockville’s latest tourist attraction waiting to shoot a surprise photo.

A bunch of John Ballachey’s friends had gathered in the tunnel to sing a hearty “Happy Birthday” to the retired teacher and former community theatre performer, who marked his 76th by, among other things, getting wheeled into the tunnel for the first time courtesy of Carmen Gottfried and Terry James.

It was a wonderful, touching moment, all the more so because only a man of Ballachey’s erudition could ever tell this crowd of well-wishers he was “nonplussed” by the surprise.

Except that, in the buildup to this moment, and in fact during it, some pop tune or other could be heard blaring from the speakers.

It is at times like this in a conversation that my children will roll their eyes. But please, bear with me.

I have no particular objection to Great Big Sea’s “When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down),” or indeed to any of the other songs on the tunnel playlist. I am told they are all Canadian, which is a nice touch for Canada’s oldest railway tunnel.

But hearing those same songs cycled through, all of them along a narrow range of rock and pop, brings to mind the word “touristy,” as in boardwalk stroll, where one expects to find generic music in the air and shops selling trinkets.

For the sake of variety, cosmopolitanism and all the special moments this brilliantly-lit tunnel will witness, can we just vary it around a little?

I mean, sure, if this were the Ron Zajac Tunnel, the playlist would be limited to Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Sibelius for half the day (the Lemminkäinen Suite would be an amazing companion to that lightshow), then Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson and some Duke Ellington for the evening strollers.

And I’d be justly assailed for being to limited in my thinking.

In truth, I think the folks operating the tunnel should heed the advice of Dr. Denise Bowes, who, upon accepting her induction into the local arts hall of fame in 2011, challenged audience members to experience types of music they did not know.

Here’s my pitch, then: Let’s have special days for the tunnel. Let’s have Classical Sundays, Motown Mondays, Country Music Tuesdays (if you want to be cute, there are plenty of country tunes about trains), and others working our way to all-Canadian Fridays and Jazz on a Saturday.

If you want to dedicate a few hours to opera, Wagner might fit the bill for such a supernaturally-attired underground space.

And a steady diet of R&B might get strollers to consider the fate of the workers who toiled on those trains all those decades ago.

There are many kinds of tourist out there, with a variety of musical tastes, and, like John Ballachey, open to a nice surprise.

Let’s make the music in our tunnel as multicoloured as the waves of light rushing from one end of it to the other.

But please, no Christmas music.