Posted by Ben Nielsen
Monday 13th January, 2014

‘I reckon we’re a pretty good looking bunch, really.’ 

I overheard the middle of this conversation between two girls as I waited for my eggs and bacon earlier this week.

‘You know, I actually look forward to lining up for breakfast each morning, just to see what everyone wears.’

I immediately felt far more self-conscious. The morning is definitely not the most desirable time to be assessed on one’s personal appearance: eye bags, bed hair, it’s almost guaranteed that I will look my most haggard in the morning.

These girls obviously had a pretty keen interest in rating each other’s appearance, but it made me wonder whether we also judge each other on the instruments that we choose to play.

I decided to consult Lachlan Bramble, who has become an unofficial go-to source for many Words About Music interviews. When asked which orchestral instrument he considers to be the sexiest, Lachlan responded:

‘Definitely cello. I mean, isn’t it obvious? It’s an instrument that is both aurally and aesthetically pleasing.’

What eloquent reasoning. With such bodacious curves, the cello is indeed a particularly alluring instrument. Though, I can’t help but feel as though there is more to this conundrum. Liz2, resident NMC librarians, put my concern to rest. 

‘The instrument can’t be sexy if the player isn’t. But then again, the instrument can enhance the player’s sexiness,’ said one Liz.

Liz2 have the joyous task of meticulously erasing the quagmire of pencil markings that have been made in the orchestral parts. According to the two librarians (who unanimously voted the double bass as the most sensual  instrument), an instrument’s appeal is directly related to the markings that an instrumentalist makes in the score. 

‘We sometimes come across a score and think ‘did you really have to circle that?’ Generally, I’d say, the double bassists make markings that are logical and not too excessive. Usually it’s subtle bowings and other markings,’ said the other Liz.

The Lizs proceed to give me a ‘best-of’ selection of the most outrageously unsexy markings.

‘Liam smells good’ wrote one cellist on a Brahms score, ‘don’t weight’ proclaimed another, and one musician clearly had a hankering for ‘tasty cheese’.

As listeners heard during Saturday’s concert, Tchaikovsky beautifully evokes the romance between Romeo and Juliet. Fellow Words About Music participant Gabrielle Ruttico wrote in her program note, ‘the cor anglais and the viola section join hands to sing the famous love theme’. Clearly, instrumentation plays a huge role in the representation of romance, so how would our own young composers tackle the task?

‘It should definitely be something you play with your mouth,’ said Composition participant Lachlan Hughes.

‘My girlfriend is a flautist, so I’m a bit biased. But I think the bassoon has a sound that isn’t generic or typecast, it can have a very beautiful singing quality and is also really intriguing’ added Harry Sdraulig. 

‘Definitely not the brass though – their sound is just too proud. Maybe the harp or oboe? It pulls at your heartstrings,’ said Lachlan. 

What about a theme that evokes discord and divorce, then? Lachlan Bramble seems to think that the trombones would do a good job, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Even though I’m a trumpeter myself, the brass is definitely the most unsavoury of sections – there’s just too much spit and dribble.


Words About Music participants will be blogging daily.


– Ben Nielsen

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