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“Choir Geek” is a Universal Concept

June 16, 2011 at 7:53 pm UTC

On my recent trip to Japan I was lucky enough to work with interpreter Tomoko Yokoyama. She was truly incredible, catching every dumb thing I said and translating it back at the speed of light.

She sent me this today, and with her permission I’m posting it. Priceless.

I noticed during your lecture that you were wondering why the audience did not laugh at the term “geek” when you said you became “a choir geek” on your way back from the very first rehearsal with your University Choir. Then you asked me if there was a Japanese word for “geek.” And I said yes. This word is typically translated into either one of two words, “マニア (ma-ni-a)” or “オタク (o-ta-ku).” I used “マニア (ma-ni-a),” because it is a slang word in Japanese for “somebody who is extremely (or excessively) knowledgeable about some specific area.” Some people may translate “geek” into “オタク (o-ta-ku),” but this one is a slang word for “somebody who is a geek AND lacks social skills.” My understanding is that “geeks” can be social. Therefore, I personally think “geek” should be translated into “マニア (ma-ni-a)” and “nerd” into “オタク (o-ta-ku).” When you used “geek” in the context, you were talking about yourself, and I definitely believe you are a choir geek but not a nerd.

So, I also wondered why nobody laughed. Then I thought, “Maybe they did not want to laugh, because they are well aware that they are geeks and are already ashamed of it.” But my husband –he was among the audience—later told me that he thought of the opposite reason. That those chorus geeks in the room were not at all aware that they are rather quite geeky! You don’t realize who you are if you only belonged to one community.

There was another interesting comment by my husband. He said that he felt really strange in the lecture room. “Because,” he said, “I normally feel I am with the majority and that those choral geeks are less than 1% of the general public. But in that room, 99% were choral geeks. It was so strange to realize that I was on the 1% side.”

The closing concert was a great inspiration for me. I often find choir concerts to be boring especially when choirs with great techniques perform not-so-lively music. But that evening concert was so full of positive energy and liveliness. I realized that choir geeks can bring unbelievable energy when they unite.

On behalf of choir geeks everywhere we thank you, Tomoko!

  • Amy

    How cool! I read that you had a great time in Japan. I've been there twice, it's an amazing place with amazing people. Awesome!

  • http://momtheintern.blogspot.com Jenna

    Wise words indeed. Proud to be a choir geek!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Zhaboka Aviel

    How do you find these people? I think you electromagnetically attract intelligent, insightful people to you through the static electricity of your subconscious.

  • Hitomi Yamada

    I felt really happy that the damaged people including excellent high school students could share how beautiful time with you.

  • http://www.sugarsync.com Laura Yecies

    Humor is so tricky cross culturally. The humor in self deprecation is cultural. The degree to which others will join in on that joke is cultural. This is on top of the subtleties of language especially colloquialisms. My favorite memory of cross-culture humor failure was when I was living in Brazil for a business project. I went to see "Wayne's World". The movie was in English with Portuguese subtitles. The theatre was literally packed – nobody was laughing and I was cracking up – the humor in the "not" lines totally did not translate.

  • Brandon

    This was a pretty awesome tidbit to read, as I am a music major who is also a bit of an "otaku" when it comes to my interest in Japanese culture and also spend a lot of time studying the Japanese language.

    Really cool stuff.

  • Scott

    That's awesome. Safety in numbers, but normality, too!

  • http://www.samusicteachers.co.za Francois

    Hahahahaha! I never ever thought of myself as a choir geek and when I read the term a few days ago for the first time I thought "OMW! I must be a choir geek!" All of which was confirmed after some good rehearsal time yesterday with the choir I coach.

  • Brian McAlea

    What a legend!

  • Christa

    Choir geeks are the only geeks that must have social skills… ;-)

  • Colette Halliday

    Fantastic! So much thought put into all that, you must have had a ball over there. Personally I’m proud to be a choir geek, long may we prevail!

    Thanks Eric x

About Eric

Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time, a distinguished conductor, broadcaster and public speaker. His first album as both composer and conductor on Decca/Universal, Light & Gold, won a Grammy® in 2012, reaped unanimous five star reviews and became the no. 1 classical album in the US and UK charts within a week of release... view full bio