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Sounds Grand

Sounds Grand

By llsa Jerome

Most of us expect our meals to be accompanied by music; sometimes live, usually recorded. In these situations, we have little control over the music we hear, unless we are eating at one of the few remaining establishments with a working jukebox. Or one of the very few willing to turn over the tuner dial, or Spotify password, to me.

When I sought to provide guidance and suggestions to Katrina and Josh for music to support the dining experience of Juliet, I wanted to select music that was consonant with the current theme. I also wanted the music to be warm and engaging without being overly fascinating or “difficult,” and in cases where a theme was not tied to a specific era, I veered toward music not easily tied to the nostalgic memories of a particular generation.

Mealtime music should not take center stage. Depending on the venue, that role is filled by food, conversation, or both. Musical accompaniment should make listeners feel welcome, lively or content, and should not draw too much attention to itself. It should not be showy or experimental, and despite how it is presented in some bars, it should not be so loud as to overwhelm all other noises within a space.

The music should not compete with the fine art of conversation, and it should, certainly, not turn people’s stomachs. It may even be wise to steer away from virtuoso pieces better suited to concert halls or nightclubs, since these pieces may demand too much attention of the people hearing them. Inner music is not there to impress your friends and clients with how sophisticated or edgy your tastes are. In fact, it’s not really there to be listened to, even if it will be heard. It is not there to entertain, but to enrich.

The music should either feel as if it belonged to that specific theme, such as French pop music or big band music to match the era of the steakhouse, or I wanted it to be difficult to peg in terms of time and place. I wanted material that belonged to nobody or to everybody. I also wanted to cultivate just a touch of mystery around some of the tracks, enough to pique curiosity without the piece grabbing people’s attention. I have strong musical preferences that include a preference for heavily distorted guitar and experimentation, but I also realize that much as I love this sound, it is entirely inappropriate for a high-ceilinged restaurant full of reflecting surfaces.

While fashioning recommendations for These Wild Apples, I discovered that, at least for someone unschooled in the esoterica of regional French folk music, a good sample of regional music from Normandy was hard to find on the internet. I was only able to find a single video on YouTube that looked more like a living room jam session recording than anything else. It was just a taste of a musical form that the sea changes of modernism and two world wars, plus the emergence of national and international pop music, likely erased. However, I could capture likely refractions in other musical styles and places, even inasmuch as picking up on the prominence of fiddle and strings in the music.

I offer musical advice as a suggestion. I am delighted when it is followed and not offended when it is not. What I hope I am able to manage successfully is the balance between a sense of adventure and homecoming, welcome and discovery, always at the service of the activity at hand, that of a good meal with good company.

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likes to feed her ears and taste buds in nearly equal measure. Other than a brief and delightful stint as university radio DJ, she cannot produce music. She works as part of a clinical research team. When not reading or writing about study findings, she enjoys crafting mixes from when these were stored on cassette tapes. She is fascinated by and attends to the sounds around her.

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