Takahiro Ohya, a student currently at OISE Cambridge, has found an excellent and unusual way of practicing his English (or forgetting about, it’s not clear to me which): he has brought his French horn to England and has joined the Cambridge Concert Orchestra, an amateur orchestra based in Chesterton in the North of Cambridge, but playing in many local venues.Takahiro tells me he has been playing for about ten years. He is here for four months or so and joined the orchestra just for fun, he says, not for the extra English. But the benefits are obvious – using the language in a real situation – any situation – is an essential adjunct to any course of study.
No doubt Takahiro gets his share of social English – no bad thing; but he will also be exposed to a specialist register in a real context. Conductors rehearsing orchestras have their own polyglot shorthand, their own descriptive habits, as well as a specialist musical vocabulary to draw on, in order to communicate their peculiarly non-linguistic requirements to an orchestra in rehearsal. Here, for instance, is the great Sir John Barbarolli, desperately trying to wring some alertness and response from his beloved Hallé orchestra in Manchester.
Takahiro would perhaps be lucky to get a conductor of this calibre – or indeed music as interesting to play for a brass player as Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (he tells me the repertoire for the orchestra’s upcoming concert is mostly light and stage music); however, the point holds: there is really no substitute for the combined focus and misdirection generated by using language to achieve a common purpose.