Daily Archives: November 7, 2005 11:26 pm

Tchaikovsky & the pink oboe

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I’ve been chastised for the lack of recent updates to this weblog by a person I might describe best as an e-colleague, who I met again recently at the Sound Moves conference in Roehampton. In a perfect world, such a conference would have provided the perfect motivation for a weblog entry, but the world, or my particular idiosphere at least, is not perfect, and the needs of my cats, work & other loved ones have taken precedence.

It’s not just that, though. Weblogs are about minutiae – petty annoyances, nagging doubts, itches that need to be scratched; news that doesn’t reach the news, tierces de picardie which colour the cadences of everyday life. Sadly, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, there have been too many grandes lignes and not enough passing notes in my life of late.

Until Sunday morning, that is, when something petty enough to be bloggable occurred. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I overheard someone speaking in reverent, hushed tones about a comparative study of repressed homosexuality in a potential gendered reading of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration.

‘Gendered reading’ is academic-speak for “That’s so GAY!”. Click here for an insight into the kind of thing I mean. Academics don’t speak like this, of course, because a) it’s too obvious what you’re saying and b) because it doesn’t have the right tone to be taken seriously. One might even say that it’s not orchestrated properly. What one needs in order to make a remark like this is to take the rhythm, accent and large tessitura away, score it for flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon in octaves, and accompany it with light strings so that it sounds classical and austere, yet still a little cheeky. If doing ‘gendered readings’ of a symphony is ok, why not analyse the delivery of academic papers in the same terms?

Well, why not? The main reason, it seems to me, is because academics like to think of themselves beyond the reach of ‘performance practice’. Even though academics choose their words as carefully as a composer might choose orchestral colour, and cannot help but have those words modulated by their speaking voice, it’s only the content, not the delivery that gets evaluated. When they write a paper, or read one, there isn’t a gaggle of other academics waiting around the corner to pick over their sentence structure or delivery for signs of gayness

But yes, you guessed it folks, your taxpayer’s money is going to someone out there who’s looking for signs of gayness in Tchaikovsky’s orchestration, albeit phrased in a way that the taxpayer will be incapable of understanding, or at least find acceptable. Why? Answers on a postcard, please.