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A Boston doctor pleaded with CVS to change its on-hold music. Now his wish may be coming true.

A CVS pharmacy location in Manhattan.Bryan Anselm/New York Times

Dr. Steven Schlozman had had enough with the melody. He just couldn’t take hearing it anymore. Something had to change, or he was bound to lose his mind.

On the brink of a possible breakdown, he penned a tongue-in-cheek letter to WBUR’s CommonHealth in May, begging — no, pleading — CVS to change the music that customers and doctors are forced to listen to when they’re placed on hold by the pharmacy.

“Please change your hold music. Please. Do the right thing,” Schlozman, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote at the time. “I hear it in my sleep. I hear it when I go running. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night humming that melody. It haunts me, day and night. It’s not healthy. I know. I’m a doctor.”


Now, Schlozman’s dreams could be coming true. The nightmare, he hopes, may soon be over.

CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot told the Globe in a statement Friday that the company is in the process of updating its interactive voice-response phone system, including the on-hold music that Schlozman — he estimates he’s heard the music approximately three times per day for many years — and some others detest.

“We expect this work to be completed later in 2019,” she said. “Plans had already been underway to enhance the phone system, and the music is only one element of it.”

Lanctot did not clarify, when asked, whether the company was replacing the music, or merely keeping the same song but improving the sound quality. (The current version often comes in a bit crackly.)

“Nothing has been finalized yet,” she said, “including which on-hold music we will use with the new system.”

The announcement about the pending changes was first reported by WBUR on Friday, after the station decided to follow up on Schlozman’s original letter.


When WBUR published Schlozman’s cry for help last spring, it launched a nationwide debate, with people split on whether the piano tune that pours through phone receivers is soothing or flat-out irritating.

The Wall Street Journal jumped into the fray in July, calling the music “one of the most polarizing pieces of music in America.”

The newspaper went as far as tracking down the origins of the song, claiming it was composed by Harvard University-educated musician James Romeo, who died in 2002.

Later, the divisive music became prime-time fodder for “Good Morning America” hosts, and Schlozman was forced to hum it on air, he said.

Of course, not everyone hates it.

“We’ve kept this song as our on-hold music for so long because of the numerous positive comments we’ve received from customers over the years,” a CVS spokesman told the Journal in July.

Lanctot, the CVS spokeswoman, said the company purchased an interactive voice response system from Vertical Communications nearly two decades ago, and the song was included as part of the package.

Pharmacies have used it as the on-hold music ever since. It’s currently played for customers and doctors who call any of the company’s 9,800 locations.

Even though CVS officials say plans were already in the works to “enhance” the company’s phone system — including the classical music — Schlozman is pleased about the announcement.


“CVS says it was not related to the letter I wrote, so I cannot, in good conscience, take credit,” he told the Globe in a telephone interview. “But I feel great. It’s awesome. I was tired of that music, as I’m sure a lot of other people were.”

He said he hopes the words “updating” and “enhance” mean a new tune, or tunes, are on the way.

“If they asked what my opinion is, they should change the tune,” he said.

The Massachusetts General Hospital Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, where Schlozman is a codirector, also lauded the announcement.

“Some #FridayFun!,” the center tweeted. “Last May, our co-director @zombieautopsies wrote a humorous post for @commonhealth that went viral — including to @GMA & @WSJ — begging #CVS to change its hold music. Guess who’s changing their hold music?”

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.