Game Icon3-Cushion

Should we turn the music down? Or turn it up?


Published by bert van manen

© © Kozoom

You don't have to be an expert in politics to see that the best and brightest minds will not be found on the extreme right or extreme left. Both ignore valid arguments made by the other camp, which makes them part of the problem, not the solution. To think in black and white is easy, it takes an effort to see nuances.  

It's no different in the age-old debate about music at billiard tournaments. The simple souls are far left and far right. We'll call one flank Church Memorial Service, the other will be known as Carnival in Rio. 

The worshippers of silence are upset about ever candy wrapper, every word not whispered and every chair leg that scratches the parquet. Players' concentration is sacred, the audience needs to make itself unseen and unheard. If you have a cold, stay at home. If your phone rings, we will shoot you. We want full, solemn attention on our difficult, serious game of three-cushion.

The party-crowd thinks silence at billiard matches harms the sport, scares away the customers. Players should not act like sissies, concentration is inside of you. Some festive music during the matches will improve the atmosphere, and if it is loud enough, you will no longer be bothered by people who talk. Win-win, right? We want a room full of people talking and laughing and especially drinking, because the cash register has the last word.   

The truth is somewhere in the middle, as it usually is. Solemn silence, for two hours, you can't ask that anymore in 2016. The younger generation has the attention span of a squirrel. But loud music still is in conflict with the essence of billiards, as it has always been.   

The type of concentration that is required of a 3-cushion player is different from a dart player's, or a chess player's. The first thrives in a cauldron, the second in dead silence. One has an almost exclusively physical task, the other an intellectual one. We, billiard players, are hybrids: we need to make a series of smart decisions and then execute those with great precision, within 40 seconds.  It is tough to keep both engines running in sync, and the last thing we need is a distraction. 

Music (if all goes well) can be a great tool to help avoid distractions. It can drown out the conversations going on in the crowd, the staff can bring drinks and collect glasses without disturbing play. A mild "buzz" is like a carpet, and it's a much better  subsurface for billiards than a hardwood floor. Or silence.  

Music (if used clumsily) can be a major distraction. The wrong music, or music that is too loud can make it impossibly difficult for a player to focus.

- How loud should background music be played, during billiard matches?

No two rooms are the same, acoustics play their part, so trial and error will help. A good rule of thumb is: low enough that the referees remain heard by the audience, and high enough that the conversations in the crowd can't be followed by the players. The volume control of the music, in a way, is also the volume control of the spectators. The more quiet you make the room, the more quiet you demand the audience to be. The louder the music, the more freedom you give them. And they will always take it.

- Which music is unfit as background for billiard matches?

A lot, actually. Rule of thumb: everything that demands instant attention is unfit. It has nothing to do with the "quality" of the music. You don't look for a Salvador Dali in sharp colors. You want wallpaper. So: jazz, heavy classical music, house, rap, heavy metal, hiphop, reggae, it is all too specific, too aimed at a small portion of the audience. You will please 12 people and annoy 88. What does work? Easy listening, middle of the road, not too recent hits. That can easily be ignored or forgotten by everyone, and in the meantime do its job.      

- Any other pitfalls?

Yes. Rooms often have a very limited catalogue of (digital) music, and even the nicest song becomes annoying if you hear it for the sixth time that day. So if you have a four-day tournament, don't try to make do with a three-hour loop of music. 

- Is radio a good alternative, if you can find an easy-listening channel?

No. News bulletins (twice or four times an hour) are a bad distraction. The spoken word always is. But more importantly: radio commercials - eight times an hour - are annoying to the n-th degree, a crime against humanity.    

Times have changed, and the top players of today have thicker skins than they did thirty years ago. The recent LG-Cup in Korea was played in the middle of a busy mall in Seoul. It was noisy, crowds came and went,  but DKK, Caudron, Jaspers and Blomdahl dealt with it and played well.    

Athletics teaches us that the winner of the marathon usually crosses the line with a smile on his face, and the numbers 2 and 3 are more dead than alive when they finish. World Cup winners who make 40 points in 18 innings were never bothered by the music. There you have it: it's one more skill for them, one more weakness for us.