Appreciating Beethoven… while buying gas

(Graphic: JNews)
AMMAN — You might expect to hear classical music in a concert hall — not on the streets in inner city neighborhoods in Jordan. But gas trucks in Jordan provide an unexpected symphony to passersby and residents.اضافة اعلان

Gas trucks, with cargo beds stacked full of gas cylinder, are a ubiquitous site in Jordan. But so too is the song that blasts from each truck, announcing to the neighborhood that there is gas to buy: “Für Elise”, one of Ludwig van Beethoven’s most popular pieces.

Beethoven intended the song, widely thought to be written for a woman the composer pursued, to communicate love and romance — not cooking gas for sale.

“Für Elise”, or “For Elise” in English, is the nickname of the original Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor for solo piano. Beethoven wrote one of the most famous pieces of piano music in 1810, but it was not discovered and published until 1867, 40 years after his death on March 26, 1827. The beloved song is part of the Romantic music movement developed in the late 18th and early 19th century in Europe.

“There is no doubt that using music instead of using the honk or hitting on the gas cylinder is a civilized appearance,” said Haitham Sukkarieh, a composer and a conductor at the University of Jordan, in an interview with Jordan News. “We as specialists make a great effort to raise the artistic taste of the Arab audience in general and the Jordanian audience in particular, and we try to offer them doses of high-end artistic culture through lectures, seminars, media, and concerts.”

“Classical music is very sophisticated music, and it is the finest type of music in the world,” Sukkarieh said. He suggested that using such sophisticated music in a commercial context is “offensive”. He called for officials, “perhaps the Amman Municipality or the Ministry of Industry and Trade, to “allocate special music that may be composed for them. But not classical music, because using it in this way is an insult.”

The song is also commonly heard emanating from ice cream trucks. “In one of my lectures, I explained about the “Für Elise” song. One of the students told me that it is the music for selling ice cream,” the conductor went on. “It is of course the music of Beethoven, but they do not know that it is Beethoven’s, because it was presented in a distorted way to the audience.” The song is so distinctive that a Google search for “Jordan gas truck song” brings up almost a million views, including videos of the truck blasting its distinctive music.

Jordanian gas sellers had a more practical view on the matter. “I have been in this profession for 15 years, and people use this music, and at the same time use it for ice cream,” said Yazan, a gas seller. “I never knew that it is a world-famous music. In the past, we used to use the honk of the vehicle, or we hit the gas cylinder, and shout as an indication that the gas pick-up is in the area.”

Mohammed Zitawee, a musician and a composer at the University of Jordan, commented “The use of Beethoven’s music in the gas vehicles was meant as a comforting type of music and does not cause noise in residential neighborhoods,” Zitawee told Jordan News.

Zitawee explained that when gas sellers transitioned to using “Für Elise”, the song became inseparably tied to their business. In general, Zitawee described the effects of this music on the neighborhoods where gas trucks drive as “positive”. “In the past when the drivers used the honk of their vehicle, in the morning the resident used to feel nervous,” he said, “but the music had a very positive effect on the residents and has reduced complaints about gas vehicles.”

Amman resident Mohammad agreed with Zitawee’s assessment. He described the song’s association with gas trucks as “a unique and positive phenomenon” that “works to spread the spirit of comfort.”

“At least, this music is better than using the honk because the continuous usage of this sound causes audio and noise pollution,” Barakat, a Zarqa resident, told Jordan News.

However, Barakat also agreed that the pairing of classical music with cooking gas is incongruous and unpleasant.