Issue Commentary Back Next

by Chris Younkman

Musician comparison is based on talent and dedication in Con

Mr. Barker makes some interesting points in his letter to the Editor rationalizing the Talcott Formal betting pool. Find a copy and let's read through it, shall we? His first move, diversion, isn't particularly effective. An analogy we could use would involve my telling J-Board that my, say, cheating doesn't matter because it pales in comparison to the evils of Rush Limbaugh or, say, Richard Simmons. This argument makes oversight of the fact that there's little any of us can do about the North Korean situation (maybe Mr. Barker could write another letter to Kim Jong-il) and it affects only a very few of us on a personal level. This little betting game has created an atmosphere of tension in the Conservatory and the College, and, more importantly, has engendered a furthering of the somewhat widely-held view in the College that Connies are a bunch of Neanderthals blissfully unaware of any of the twentieth century's social revolutions. And, unlike North Korea and poor prison conditions, it was entirely within the power of Barker & Co. to have prevented. I'm happy Mr. Barker is up on his current events (keep us posted on 'the world beyond the conservatory'), but that doesn't relieve him of responsibility for his conduct. The inclusion of the Latin plural ('foci') was very erudite, though.

Mr. Barker obviously put a good bit of time in on the logical framework of the reasons he cites. So I'll tackle them one at a time.

'Objectification' refers to the practice of treating a person's body as an object. Dressing well for performances is not an function of objectification, but of professionalism. Is a corporate CEO objectified because he or she dresses well? I think not. What the audience's 'prostrated' (?) seating arrangement or expected silence has to do with objectification is not clear.

'Competition and Comparison' are indeed an integral part of Conservatory life. But when a musician is ranked for orchestral seating, the comparison is based on talent and dedication, and is entered conensually. Grading physical attractiveness is demeaning. It is not based on merit, severs the body from personhood, and, in this case, was intended to be non-consensual. 'Negative judgments of other music students' are a function of the ongoing process of peer critique that constitute, in large part, the Conservatory's professional atmosphere. Professional musicians are subjected to such negative judgments all the time-but it is based on the merits of their performance, not on how well their dress fits.

'Money.' Ok. Money, shockingly enough, is indeed a part of the 'conservatory environment.' I personally use it to buy refreshments. We buy instruments with it. Many Oberlin grads will earn it playing music professionally. The author is right on top of this. It's a good point. So it's OK to bet money on who's girlfriend will look the sexiest at the Formal. I concede.

Barker's letter concludes with the suggestion that we do a little word substitution to enlighten us as to the innocence of the betting pool. To return to the J-Board/cheating analogy, I'm sure I would have gotten off easy had I suggested as part of my defense that the members of the Board substitute 'studied' for 'cheated,' 'intelligence' for 'dishonesty,' and 'Letter of Commendation' for 'Academic Suspension.'

Conservatory students don't come here to suck. They come here to be good, so they have a shot at a career. 'Judgment and discrimination' are how peers and faculty interact to figure out what's good and what's not. I'd be surprised if any of us would pay the sums we do to come here if our teachers eschewed judgment and discrimination as teaching tools. But this is far removed from being discriminated against because someone doesn't think you're spending enough of your time getting beautiful.

'Why have we placed ourselves in an environment where judgment and discrimination are taken for granted daily and viewed as totally acceptable?' This question didn't strike me as particularly useful in making his point, but I'm game anyway. What's left of the classical music audience in this country are judgmental and discriminating, or read journalists who are. The conservatory environment is how we are supposed to prepare for life in that professional arena. I don't see boys playing junior high-school games as a particularly helpful part of that.

-Chris Younkman (Conservatory junior)

Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 25, May 23, 1997

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