August 17, 2012

When opera folk travel in packs: a list of zoological terms

Photo by The Lilac Breasted Roller
The other night my wife and I were watching the Olympics and checking out our respective Facebook pages (we're multi-tasking whizzes, I tell you) when she suddenly piped up with a strange question: "What do you call a large group of zebras?" I quickly scanned the miniscule database which is my brain, and confessed that I had no blooming idea.

"A zeal", she said, "it's called a zeal of zebras".

"Gee", I cleverly retorted.

It got me to thinking, however. For one thing, would someone please explain to me who comes up with these terms? Is there a committee? Was it a single person? Was it Adam (you know, Eve's main squeeze)? I guess he was around when all the animals first came on the scene. The book of Genesis doesn't include that information. In any case, why does every single animal have to have its own unique term for when there's a bunch of them? (Sketchy grammar in that sentence, I know. Sorry, but I'm on a hard deadline here.) Shouldn't it be simpler? Here are my suggestions:

  • All animals with hooves are in herds. (No more "drove" of cattle or "crash" of rhinoceroses, even though there is an undeniable logic to the latter.)
  • All animals with paws are in packs. (Forget about a "pride" of lions, a "leap" of leopards - no, I didn't make that one up; these are all coming from the San Diego Zoo, if you must know).
  • All animals that live in water are in schools. (Thus dispensing with a "pod" of whales or [although I kind of like this one] a "troubling" of goldfish).
  • All animals that have wings are in flocks. (No more "mustering" of storks or "company" of parrots.)
See? Wasn't that easy? Glenn Winters: the man who put the logic in zoological.

NOW: what in the name of Usain Bolt does this have to do with opera? Keep reading. Or don't - what the heck, if you got this far I already have your page-view credited to my statistics, right? But I digress.

You may have noticed that at the bottom of each weekly blog post I discreetly put a plug for my book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates. Go ahead - scroll down to the bottom of this post and check it out. <waits patiently while reader checks out book plug> You're back! See? I'm just naturally in a zoological frame of mind.

So: if the denizens of the opera world can be compared to our friends at the zoo (I hesitate to use the word "animals" - there might be one of them reading this right now; gotta be PC about this...), then shouldn't we have appropriate terminology for large groups of them? Darn right we should. So I, Glenn "Dr. Doolitle" Winters, am proud to reveal:


  1. narcissus of tenors
  2. valhalla of conductors
  3. blocking of stage directors
  4. diphthong of chorus masters
  5. vamp of mezzos (See what I did there? Not only is "vamp" a musical term, it also kind of describes Carmen and Delilah, two biggie mezzo roles. Dang, I am GOOD at this!)
  6. wobble of sopranos
  7. delusion of unpublished composers
  8. hippocampus of prompters (Note: the hippocampus is also the part of the brain controlling memory.)
  9. growling of basses
  10. an ennui of pit musicians (I think we can all agree that the moldy old term "orchestra" has outlived its usefulness...)
  11. an infestation of critics (I suppose I could have gone with "intrusion" which, according to the San Diego Zoo site, is the term for a group of cockroaches...)
  12. braying of baritones
  13. castration of countertenors
  14. hunger of guild members (you can always count on them to show up for meetings that are catered)
  15. nanny of accompanists (in the opera world, a pianists' main role is to soothe agitated singers)
  16. sculpture of chorus members (most have the onstage acting ability of a...  well, you get the idea.)
THERE! Let's see now - is there anyone I've failed to offend or belittle?  No? Well then, my work here is done! Now remember, kids - I actually like opera people; it's all in good fun. Tell you what: you come up with a really snarky term for a large group of opera bloggers and then you'll have your revenge. <insert smiley face here>

My new book The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishing. Order online
at or by phone from the Customer Service line at 1-800-344-9034 ext.3020.

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