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CLASSICAL 101 | A Guide To Classical Music Slang

By Michael Vincent on July 4, 2017

MT Guide to Classical Music Slang

Like any vocation, those working in the field of classical music love to use their fair share of rather colourful slang terms. Some are nearly universal, while others are hardly known at all. For those working in the trenches, let us know some of the ones you’ve heard in the comment section.


Axe: An endearing term for a musician’s instrument. “Don’t forget to bring your axe tonight.”

Barihunk: A handsome baritone with exaggerated masculine features. Especially, but not exclusively, one who removes his shirt for the sake of opera. The closer they look like Fabio, the better. “OMG! Barihunk alert!”

Bi-sectional: Someone who plays more than one instrument. “No worries I’m Bi-sectional… two for the price of one.”

Bones: Trombones. “Never look at the bones. You’ll only encourage them.”

To Clam: Miss a note. “Darn it! I keep clamming that last 32nd note.”

Classive Aggressive: Delicate/soft classical music played at a high volume, or someone who speaks indignantly about non-classical music.

Colognetanger: A man or woman who wears an obnoxious amount of perfume at a classical music concert. “There’s a Colognetanger in the parterre box. It won’t take you long to find them.”

Driftwood: A nasty term for concert patrons who walk incredibly slowly, especially around aisles and doorways, effectively blocking the flow of traffic making their way to their seats.

To Elgar: To get drunk and start playing piano at a party. “The party never really starts until someone Elgars the piano.”

Foot Ball: A whole note. “I can’t wait for my big entrance at foot ball on measure 133.”

Gelb: After Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera. A history and classical music buff, who also paints and dabbles in cartography; a genuine Renaissance (wo)man who is so well-mannered that they apologise excessively. “That guy is a real Gelb, in more ways than one.”

Gravy Gig: A performance that requires little preparation or effort.

Hairpin: Crescendo/decrescendo mark. “Remember to hairpin the opening of each phrase.”

Head-bobbers: Audience members who fall asleep during concerts. “Hey, Bob. Check out the head-bobber in the front row.”

Hummer: A musician lacking classical training. “I hate to say this, but she’s a bit of a hummer.”

Idiot Check: The act of going back into the venue after everything is loaded out and packed up to ensure nothing was forgotten. Should be performed by two different people.

Maestrobate: The act of pretending to conduct an orchestra while classical music plays, often in a grandiose and exaggerated fashion.

Monster: A really, really good musician.

Mozart Boobs: In the Opera World, terminology referring to breasts which fit neatly into a corset, therefore looking good on the Opera Stage.

Nickelbach: The name for an amateur ensemble that only performs the most well-known, least adventurous repertoire.

Octaviate: A term used when playing a musical instrument, normally the trumpet, when a player goes into the extreme upper register.

Opera Water/Symphony Water: Water obtained from the lobby drinking fountain during intermission at an opera house or concert hall.

Orch Dork: A person who loves playing an instrument in an orchestra (usually a school or youth orchestra). They often have a very strong opinion about their conductor.

Orchestra Shock: The moment when someone hears a full orchestra for the first time, and has their mind blown.

Paino: The instrument of a disgruntled pianist. “I don’t like practising paino, it’s so hard to play!”

Pianoob: Someone who had just started playing the piano. Every known pianist in the world started out as a pianoob.

Pianowned: Often used when someone playing the piano mucks up the piece due to the unwanted involvement of a third person.

Pipes: A singer’s voice. Only used when they are very good.

Practice Mark: The marks left on your fingers, lips, or neck from practicing your instrument for long hours.

Prima Donna: A musician, typically a singer, who acts entitled.

Purple Hairs: A derogatory term used to describe older folks at classical music concerts.

To Rach: To play in an intense and impressive manner.

Stringy Paddle: Musical Toronto’s favourite term for a violin.

Subway Effect: The act of ignoring a public performance unless they are on a concert stage.

Vamp: To kill time speaking to the crowd while the musicians prepare.

Vertical: A weekly gig that happens on the same day.

Violin Hickey, aka Violin Chin: A mark on violinists/violists located under the jaw. It is formed from the chinrest rubbing on the neck and looks like a little hickey.

To Woodshed: To practice.

The Zone: The place where time stands still, and the music is felt most deeply. This is the most cherished conscious state sought after by musicians and listeners alike.

Read another CLASSICAL 101, HERE.


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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent has worked as a senior editor for La Scena Musicale and web editor for Norman Lebrecht. On January 21, 2014, he went to lunch and left as the publisher of Musical Toronto. Later that year he found himself as a freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star, the former employer of his favourite author Ernest Hemingway. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
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