'Conservatoire vs. 'conservatory'

June 28, 2012 at 04:45 PM · Can someone guide me through the linguistic shoals of "conservatoire" vs. "conservatory"? Are they used in exactly the same way? Can you substitute one for the other simply to reduce the number of times you use a particular word? Is there an understood difference of class or prestige between the two? Is there a difference between British and American English? Ignoring the issue of the actual official name of a music school, are there particular sorts of schools you would only use one or the other for? Do people show a personal inclination toward one or the other - and what does that tell us about the person in question?

Replies (34)

June 28, 2012 at 05:42 PM · "Conservatoire" is just the French word for "conservatory".

June 28, 2012 at 06:00 PM · But neither is concerned with conservation!

June 28, 2012 at 06:27 PM · I thought they are interchangeable in American English, but I don't claim to know for sure, as English is not my first language...

I guess it may indicate the person's background. For example, people with French or Russian influence (Russia has been strongly influenced by the French culture) are probably more inclined to use 'conservatoire'.

June 28, 2012 at 07:23 PM · French-English. Like repertoire-repertory. Take your pick.

As the song goes:

You say "legayto" and I say "legahto"

You say "staccayto" and I say "staccahto"...

June 29, 2012 at 03:23 PM · The words are denotatively equivalent, but not always connotatively so. That is, you may label yourself a snob by using 'conservatoire' in a context where people think French is snooty, or a hick in a context where they believe English is low-class.

Ever since the time I, as a VERY ignorant music student, pronounced the pianist Robert Casadesus as "Robert Casa-dee-suss" I've been very humble about language and its social uses.

June 29, 2012 at 06:48 PM · John, perhaps there is some confusion between Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania (not the tiny village called Pennsylvania on the A46 in Gloucestershire, UK) and Brynmawr in South Wales? :)

Anyway, in my book, a conservatory is a glass-covered enclosure where you grow plants, and a conservatoire is a place where you grow musicians.

June 29, 2012 at 06:53 PM · Marjory, also the names of composers and pieces - my teacher often has to correct my pronunciation. But sometimes I would try to pronounce a name in a way that's closest to the pronunciation of the composer's native language (within my ability), and would be corrected with the commonly accepted American pronunciation. Those arrogant Americans! ;)

For those who don't know: Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the U.S., and it's for women only (not very common in the U.S.).

June 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM · Margery and Trevor are getting closest to the type of thing I am interested in - whether in English, conservatoire is "higher class" than conservatory - or whether conservatory is simply not correctly used for a music school.

There is a pair of words in my business - incunabulum and incunable - which mean the exact same thing: a book printed in Europe before Jan. 1, 1501. The one is 17th-century Latin; the other is an anglicization of the first. Rare books folks are generally divided on which is a better word to use, and the reasoning for either choice limns linguistic and class borders; concern for historical precedence; knowledge of Latin and its history of neologism, and one's tolerance for late Latin; etc. In short, as soon as you choose one of those words, you have taken a stand on many issues.

So - how much of that applies to conservatoire and conservatory when used in English? Is Trevor correct?

John, Noswaith dda!

June 30, 2012 at 12:11 AM · Well, Trevor does say it's in 'his book' so, yes, it's true--for him!

We have the New England Conservatory of Music, and I can't think of any music institution in hte U.S. called 'conservatoire,' off hand. I'd say the U.S. has less interest in the Frenchification of the language now than previously: I've not seen an etiquette book/column discussing 'serviettes' instead of napkins for several decades, as an example.

Is the person who plays flute a flautist or a flutist? that's the same issue between German and English.

The French have always tried to maintain strict control on their language--that's what the French Academy is for. [A side note: one of my professors, James Anthony, wrote what was then the seminal book on *The French Baroque.* The French Academy insisted that when it was officially(!) translated into French, the title had to be changed since the French didn't acknowledge they HAD a 'baroque' period (the word being derogatory in French) so in French, his book is titled "French Classical Period."

The U.S. has nothing similar to the Academy, and words seem to enter (at least online) dictionaries faster here than in any other Indo-European language with which I'm familiar, except maybe border Spanish, which is fast developing into a pidgin unique to the culture.

Sorry for the ramble; it's something I am interested in.

June 30, 2012 at 09:37 AM · Not to mention specialist use of common words (e.g. pressure, weight,..aaargh)!

June 30, 2012 at 01:03 PM · Speaking of French pronunciation and music, if anybody knows French well:

1. The conductor, Pierre Boulez - I've usually heard his name with the "z" pronounced. But a couple of people have told me that they think it should be pronounced "Boo-LAY" If his name were spelled "Boulet", I'd have no doubt of that. But with the "z"?

2. Perlman's Strad is known as the "Soil". Few people pronounce it as you would potting earth. But I've heard suggestions ranging from "Soy-EL" to "Shwah". Anybody know for sure?

June 30, 2012 at 01:27 PM · If it was "Boo-LAY" I don't think he would've been so quick to come up with his quip about the "joli navet" in 1959! (talking about Jolivet, of course)

June 30, 2012 at 06:03 PM · It's pronounced 'Boo-lehz"...

June 30, 2012 at 06:19 PM · Even though Boo-lay would seem a valid pronunciation on paper, Boulez is actually pronounced Boo-lezz. I don't know how to pronounce the Soil in Soil Strad, though. In Great Britain, conservatoire is a standard form to mean a music college, conservatory not being used in the same sense. As has been posted above, conservatory over here usually means a glasshouse which is part of a house and which is used for growing hothouse plants and suchlike.So we stick to the original form of the word over here (much as library incunabula are always so called here, not incunables, which I've never heard before).

June 30, 2012 at 06:42 PM · Thanks. I suspected that sounding the "z" was correct if for no other reason than on the classical radio station in New York, WQXR, it's been repeatedly pronounced so. Those folks are trained to get these things right. Being human, of course they can goof, but the inevitable phone calls would correct any consistent such goofs.

Marjory made a good point about connotative vs denotative. In the US, a "conservatory" can also be used for plants. But the meaning is clear in the context. And while we're at it, "cello" or "violoncello"? "Violin maker" or "luthier"? "Vibrayto" or "vibrahto"? OK, maybe not!

Still waiting to solve the pronunciation of the "Soil" Strad.

June 30, 2012 at 07:02 PM · The only French word I can think of that ends in "oil" is poil, then there's toile with the "e" on the end, and those are pronounced pwahl and twahl (as far as I know, living in France and always trying to improve my French).

June 30, 2012 at 07:30 PM · For what it's worth, Wiki pronounces the 'z' and calls it the "French pronunciation" in IPA: [pj?? bu.l??z] ... but that's wiki (that the author knows IPA is something!

The luthier/violin maker is a good one, since technically a luthier makes lutes! (I chuckled when I realized that the German for 'luthier' is, naturally, "luther"--the Reformer certainly was not one)

June 30, 2012 at 07:39 PM · As to luthier/violin maker, I still stick to luthier because it remains in quite frequent use. OTOH, I see archetier/bowmaker as an altogether different choice. I would say archetier but am not confident that it would be understood, so feel constrained to opt for bowmaker instead.

June 30, 2012 at 09:33 PM · Hmmm...Swilly or Silly? You somehow just reminded me of Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks"!

July 1, 2012 at 05:22 AM · Definitely Boulez, with a Z! It's been pronounced that way too many times in front of him without correction, so "Z" it is. This is the conductor who, at age 85, corrected the cowbells in a Mahler symphony, saying, "these cows are forming diminished chords!" OK, last Boulez story. We were playing a thorny world premiere, and he stopped and asked the harp to play several measures again. Several attempts later, it still wasn't to his satisfaction, so the harp player thought perhaps he was reading the wrong clef. She said, "Maestro, I'm in treble here." Immediately, in his strong French accent, "Madame, it appears we are all in treble here!"

July 1, 2012 at 12:23 PM · Lol! That reminds me of this story: I was once engaged by a certain local Opera company as Concertmaster for "Madame Butterfly". It was not my first rodeo, CM-wise or MB-wise, and if I say so myself, I did a very good job and got a lot of good feedback.

However, at the first rehearsal, at my first solo (there are a number of CM solos in that Opera) it did not go very well. I said to the conductor: "Could we try that again? I was in the wrong clef." He said "Sure". The scary thing is that I don't think he got my joke re the clef!

July 1, 2012 at 01:25 PM · The "Soil" Stradivari of 1714. Named after Amédée Soil, a Belgian industrialist and consul to Moscow. His name was French, not Flemish, so "Soil" should evidently be pronounced "swahl" in this instance.

Source: Wikipedia (and my Belgian family connections)

July 1, 2012 at 01:45 PM · Raphael, the "clef" joke can resonate if you've been a cellist all your life and have fairly recently come to the violin! Even now, after 11 years of violin playing, my mind can very occasionally slip into cello mode for an instant and I realize I've just played that A on the G-string (two bar lines below the stave) as an open string - on the cello a note on those two bar lines would be the open C. Thankfully, as my cello playing is now getting pushed more and more onto the back burner, these embarrassing little episodes are getting rarer and rarer.

I've often wondered how violists get on if they are also cellists - they both use the C-clef, but it is on different lines of the stave. My cello teacher was a professional symphony player on both the cello and the viola, but I never thought to ask him how he tackled it, or whether it had ever been a problem for him.

July 1, 2012 at 02:44 PM · Yes, but you'd think that a conductor who presumably has had score-reading training would realize that the violin only uses one clef, and wouldn't tend to suppose that the CM has doubled on something else. But I guess that with a conductor, we should not presume anything!

July 4, 2012 at 05:17 PM · So, from the posts that are on the original topic, I am getting the feeling that the major difference is whether you are a US or a British speaker of English. The Americans accept both words and are inclined to use "conservatory." The Brits reject "conservatory" utterly. Is that correct?

July 4, 2012 at 05:36 PM · There's also "conservatorium" that tends to be popular in Australasia.

July 4, 2012 at 09:09 PM · Yes, Marianne, for practical purposes your last posting is correct. I suspect that 'conservatorium' may be taken from German but I am not sure of that.

July 5, 2012 at 01:22 AM · Yes, Nigel - a conservatorium is for studying music, a conservatory is for growing plants, and a conservatoire is for studying music in France.

Interesting how these word uses become so ingrained. Like Students in the US who are still going to school, when they are in college or uni. I remember as a child being quite confused by that terminology.

July 5, 2012 at 04:59 AM · My daughter has been at Trinity Laban Conservatoire - in London. Renamed in 2005 from Trinity College. Better to imitate the French than be seen growing plants...

July 8, 2012 at 07:06 PM · "Anyway, in my book, a conservatory is a glass-covered enclosure where you grow plants, and a conservatoire is a place where you grow musicians."

Yes! haha

I go to a conservatoire, and in the UK no-one ever calls it a conservatory, you'd get some very funny looks if you did. My dad sometimes jokingly says I go to a conservatory, then I found out in America it is actually a conservatory!

Here a conservatory is only known as a glass type extension that tons of people have on their houses :D

July 10, 2012 at 10:35 AM · Greetings,

Has no one tried one of those old-fashioned things called a dictionary? My "New Oxford Dictionary of Engish" (admittedly the edition is 14 years old by now) says,"conservatoire" is British English, "conservatorium" is Australian, and "conservatory", when it's not one of those glass houses is "chiefly U.S. another term for conservatoire."

I checked all this ages ago, because reading American and British publications about music, I got confused. I think I have been woefully inconsistent in my own manuscript about the violin in Japan, but I guess I might as well wait until I know who'll be publishing it and then make the changes accordingly. Would "music college" be a suitable copout, or will that cause even more confusion and postings on violinist.com?

July 15, 2012 at 07:48 AM · We can't win!

In France "école (primaire)" goes from 6 to 10 years old, "collège" from 11 to 14, and "lycée" 15 to 17.

"Conservatoire" is sometimes replaced by "école de musique", or even "académie" in the private sector.

July 16, 2012 at 06:09 PM · I found like that before I put in my teesh!

Once complete, I can sing madrigals about bees..

July 17, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Looking at a few US websites, it's New England Conservatory, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Colburn Conservatory, etc. Then there's Eastman School of Music, Curtis Institute of Music, and so on.

I've never heard anyone in the US refer to having attended a "conservatoire." I have a hunch that the French pronunciation would result in uncontrollable giggles from everyone else, and an immediate reputation as a bit of a, well, . . .

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