You are no longer allowed to say ‘boy soprano’

You are no longer allowed to say ‘boy soprano’


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2021

These are the latest rules on musical terminology from the Music Library Association of America. We are now using George Orwell’s Newspeak:

The Vocabularies Subcommittee of MLA’s Cataloging and Metadata Committee would like to announce the approval of recent changes to the Library of Congress Medium of Performance Thesaurus (LCMPT) for voice and chorus terms. In discussions at the March 2020 MLA Conference, there was a broad consensus among members of the Cataloging and Metadata Committee that we should separate the issue of vocal range from that of gender of the singers, since the accuracy of these terms for contemporary and historical use is questionable. Although there are times when a gendered term may be more appropriate (scores calling for a “boy soprano”, for instance), there was agreement that we should have options for disassociating these concepts in the vocal and choral terms. A tenor, for instance, may be male, female, or non-binary, and the statement of range should not require limitation by gender.

The Vocabulary Maintenance Task Group moved forward with this project last spring, working with existing vocal/choral terms evidencing either implied or overtly stated gender that may be inappropriate or misleading, as well as proposing new medium of performance terms for ensembles or individual performers not currently represented in the thesaurus. In addition to scope note changes, these modifications required a restructuring of the hierarchy of terms. The Task Group intentionally placed two restrictions on its work: 1) The group did not address similar issues in the LCSH vocabulary, given the limited life span for LCSH medium terms, and 2) Guidance on when to employ the new and revised terms was left to the Vocabularies Subcommittee’s Best Practices for LCMPT Task Group. This will be provided in the next revision of MLA’s “Best Practices for Using LCMPT”.

The following are new terms, valid as of April 19, 2021:

transgender chorus; transgender voice; treble chorus; tenor bass chorus

The following are terms that were revised, either in scope or hierarchy, or both:

mixed chorus; men’s chorus, women’s chorus, girls’ chorus, children’s chorus, boys’ chorus, chorus changing voices, changing voice, soprano voice, mezzo-soprano voice, alto voice, tenor voice, baritone voice, bass-baritone voice, bass voice, basso profundo

For your convenience you can refer to this announcement on the CMC blog post, “Changes to the Library of Congress Medium of Performance Thesaurus (LCMPT) for voice and chorus terms” (May 19, 2021).

Anne Adams, Vocabulary Maintenance Task Group Coordinator

Beth Iseminger, SACO Music Funnel Coordinator

Anne Adams


  • Wimsey says:

    Why do they think italians say “il soprano”?

    • May says:

      Same in German: der Sopran
      So many people in today’s world get all worked up when the gender of a noun doesn’t exactly correspond to the gender of the person which the noun refers to, instead of focussing on real day-to-day problems.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Indeed. Also the French are in trouble: ‘Mon oncle oubliait sa valise’. ‘La fille, dans son développement social…’ And how decadent they were in the past: ‘Sa Majesté le roi a dit…’

        • M says:

          hey, german is about to get a lot easier! let’s cancel ‘die’ und ‘der’ and just ‘das’ everything!

        • Ashu says:

          [Indeed. Also the French are in trouble]

          What’s the trouble? Of course sa and son don’t refer to the human subjects.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Of course not, they refer to the disembodied genitals, which are connected to words.

    • a man says:

      I use “Phallically Challenged” in observance of feminist/sjw/D


    Reading this reminded me of a passage from the overture of the musical “My Fair Lady”: “…..there are places where English completely disappears: in America they haven’t spoken it for years!”

  • Marco van de Klundert says:

    Language police. I’m always in for a good laugh, would do so if it weren’t so worrying…

  • he/him/his/it says:

    i cannot believe people both get paid and spend time to come up with this shit. go plant a tree- and eat grass while you are at it.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      In the corporate world it’s common-place now when a woman signs a letter to append the “Her/She” designation next to the name. It’s sexist, just for starters, making an ostentatious display of your gender.
      It’s the corporate equivalent of the old Page 3 “centre-fold”. Progressives are generally too dumb to get that.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    The proper term is ‘treble’ anyway.

  • Adrienne says:

    I’m hearing the word “allowed” far too often.

    Go to hell.

  • christopher storey says:

    I would love to know what non-binary means ( if anything)

    • John Borstlap says:

      But that is simple: it means that you have become disembodied and neutral. Since that is not possible, it merely means you hide behind a wall of impenetrable speak. This is supposed to bring people closer together.

    • Wesley says:

      It’s posh for “bi-sexual”.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    I don’t think this decision should be made by a small anonymous committee. I would have thought a national or state referendum is more appropriate.

    • Herb says:

      The people behind this are heavily theorized and intentional, very dictatorial, consciously intolerant, and cowardly to boot, all of which makes for a very dangerous combination. They have no interest in acknowledging what a broad and diverse range of people think. Ultimately, they rule by fear.

      An insight as to how they think about their ideological opponents can be gleaned from perusing some of the foundational texts of hugely influential critical theorists such as Herbert Marcuse and his critique of tolerance several decades ago. They festered in the margins of academia for a long time, but fast-forwarding to the 21st Century, they are now in the position where they can dictate the most absurd editorial terms, and dictate they do. If you want to get published, you will comply.

      Perhaps, the time has come for satire, Shostakovich-like. In essence, use Saul Alinsky’s tactic of ridicule (Rules for Radicals) right back at them.

  • Bonetti Micaela says:

    I furiously would like to leave a very vulgar comment!

  • Tamino says:

    Idiots. It‘s not only about tonal range. It‘s about timbre first of all.
    How stupid can these US academics be?

  • sam says:

    at the other extreme, in France, the education minister has forbade the use of gender-inclusive spelling in schools on the grounds that it would confuse students with dyslexia.

    yes, language police, of whatever political stripe, are a curious bunch

  • Stuart L. says:

    My reading of this otherwise rather sad document is that it is excepting the term ‘Boy Soprano’.

    • Julian Elloway says:

      Exactly – the document says ‘there are times when a gendered term may be more appropriate (scores calling for a “boy soprano”, for instance)’ – the opposite of the headline!

  • John Borstlap says:

    It reads like a Monty Python spoof.

    If such nonsense would really spread through the whole of the educational system, including universities, that would mean that almost ALL texts from before newspeak would become unreadable and would have to be translated. Maybe that is behind such initiatives, to provide welcome work for the countless academics tired of the past, creating an entirely new field of action.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    They invented a new term, “treble chorus”. So we should be grateful.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      And here I thought “treble chorus” meant a group singing praises of football teams that win three trophies in a season.

      • John Borstlap says:

        “Trouble chorus” would be a fine definition of the wokes.

        • Will Crump says:

          Yeah, except anyone would immediately be able to notice the SUPERIOR QUALITY of a choir made up EXCLUSIVELY of BOY TREBLES. Listen to Libera sometimes!

  • Alexander Hall says:

    The politically correct mafia are winning everywhere. I’m amazed they haven’t yet excised the idea of Hosenrollen (trouser roles). By definition that alerts the moderately well-informed to the notion of disguise and deception in opera. Oh, but we couldn’t allow that in our enlightened 21st century now, could we?

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      They’re winning because institutions everywhere are taking the knee in the face of this puerile drivel.

      • Will Crump says:

        Amen! When is a group going to have the testosterone to stand up and say “Enough is enough! Take your garbage elsewhere!”?

        On the subject of boys’ treble voices: Look how many of the once-great Cathedral Choirs of England took the knee to rabid feminists within the C.O.E. and adulterated these once-great all-male choirs with female voices!

  • Andrew says:

    Whenever they’re looking for cuts in arts and culture funding there always seems to be a bountiful supply of money around to pay for the professional offence-taker organisations that dream up this fashionable cobblers.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Gender neutrality is put into practice in Vienna’s public space, where traffic lights show same-sex couples and transgender crosswalks can be seen. I’m not making this up:

  • David G says:

    My daughter recently informed me that I’m cis-gender. I had to look up the definition. It means that I identify with my birth gender. There’s a whole lexicon of useless terminology out there!

    • James Weiss says:

      There’s already a term for “cis-gender.” It’s called “normal.”

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Wow, five people have given you a thumbs-down so far. The freaks walk amongst us on Slipped Disc.

      • Herb says:

        The word you are looking for is heteronormativity. One mustn’t use two syllables when eight would do just nicely.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Maybe we could call it ‘majority-backed heteronormativity’ to make sure people stop worrying about the future of the species.

    • John Borstlap says:

      With the invention of new names comes the labyrinth of identity puzzle, while very simple terms would suffice and everybody can go-on with their work.

  • marcus says:

    could anyone explain to me why and how these champions of diversity and inclusivity are the most intolerant load of bullshitters since Mao’s Red Guard?

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      Diversity = Uniformly being what we find acceptable.

      Inclusivity = Not questioning the above.

  • Ricardo says:

    394 words

  • Occasional commenter says:

    This isn’t a “rule” – except to those who professionally need to follow it. To the rest of us it’s not even guidance. You are still “allowed” to say “boy soprano” in almost all circumstances

    It operates in a very specific domain – the cataloguing of music – where absolute consistency is important to enable researchers and performers to find the item they are looking for. It’s logical and sensible guidance that merely reflects the reality of the world – that vocal ranges do not map neatly onto biological sex or gender identity.

    Just imagine if a music picture library was inconsistent in how it catalogued its photos. How would a journalist looking to illustrate an article on woodwind playing know where to find the perfect picture of someone playing the big brother of the oboe if some pictures were catalogued as “cor anglais” and some as “English horn”?

  • Bonetti Micaela says:

    I am mezzo-soprano = twice masculine? Even worse when singing a Hosenrolle???

  • bgn says:

    You people must be really desperate for your daily dose of culture-war red meat. The whole point of “separating the issue of vocal range from that of gender” is to make describing a boy soprano specifically as a boy soprano (as opposed to a girl soprano, male soprano, female soprano, all of the above soprano) possible. As an experienced music cataloger, I can tell you that being able to make those distinctions is very welcome in my work, and long overdue. (I do object to the term “treble chorus” in this context–it implies that all the singers are children (see Dominic Stafford above); I would have suggested instead “soprano-alto chorus” to parallel “tenor-bass chorus”, but I wasn’t on the committee.)

  • Stuart says:

    The Vocabularies Subcommittee of MLA’s Cataloging and Metadata Committee, the Vocabulary Maintenance Task Group, Vocabularies Subcommittee’s Best Practices for LCMPT Task Group and the SACO Music Funnel Coordinator. Products of useless bureaucratic minds that are bereft of any talent. Everyone gets a prize (fancy committee titles). This is what they do all day and this is what they produce. Who writes like this? Of no use to anyone. Who is paying for this crap? (Hopefully not taxpayers.)

  • mary says:

    And “castraltos”?

    If teens, and even prepubescent children, are allowed to have gender reassignement surgery,, because they identify with a different gender, can prepubescent male singers who wish to remain male but maintain their high voice, ask for a voluntary castration just for the sake of art and career?

    (Anyway, modern medical technology must have figured out a way to stop the change of voice, without having to go all the way to “castration” or loss of natural erectile function. But I digress.)

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Surgeons carrying out gender reassignement surgery on prepubescent children should face criminal prosecution for maiming wards of court. (Wait for thumbs downs)

      • Saxon says:

        It has, basically, been declared illegal in Britain. Even if no-one is facing prosecution for those that have already occured.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    ‘Boy soprano’. There, I’ve said it.

  • Alexander T says:

    They should be banned full stop regardless of what you call them.

  • FrankInUsa says:

    We all knew this would get a lot of comments. That was the purpose. All of you fell(actually jumped) into this trap.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    OK. Out go the words ‘soprano’, ‘tenor’ etc. Vienna Boys’ Choir won’t give up that brand without a fight, I can tell you.

    Social engineers would have been right at home with Dr. Goebbels. And they’ve got the matching jack-boots now, too.

    • Bill says:

      Congratulations. You’ve continued your long-running streak of not having the slightest clue about the subject at hand. The Wiener Sängerknaben are not affected in the slightest by this.

  • PFmus says:

    Clickbait, disingenously presented. At no point does the preented article say you cannot use the term boy soprano – it says quite the opposite, that there are times when it IS more appropriate:

    “Although there are times when a gendered term may be more appropriate (scores calling for a “boy soprano”, for instance), there was agreement that we should have options for disassociating these concepts in the vocal and choral terms.”

    How much money is to be made stirring up animus for nothing?

  • Perry Townsend says:

    Your headline “You are no longer allowed to say boy soprano” is a flat out lie, judging from the text contained within your own article, which states, <>. Use of such headlines is the kind of sensationalist, cynical nonsense we would expect from Fox News, not a classical music publication. Please stop using cheap shot tactics like this.

  • Michael Cook says:

    It’s worth pointing out that it is only Norman Lebrecht who is claiming that you are no longer allowed to say ‘Boy Soprano’. The article quoted from the Music Library Association of America says nothing of the kind.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      I know I won’t please all of the literalists all of the time. What this headline does is poke gentle fun at those idle librarians whi have nothing better to do than reoragnise our language on gender neutral lines.

      • Michael Cook says:

        These librarians are not reorganising our language: they are simply reorganising the categories in their catalogues. This is something they need to do from time to time in order to react to changes in society. It’s no different from adding a category for a new instrument.

  • Gustavo says:

    In Germany, girls are now officially “banned” from boy choirs – for artistic and cultural reasons of course.

    If singing in boy choirs were the only possibility for a girl to receive a musical and social education the judges would have decided in favour of that girl who wanted to join a boy choir.

    • Saxon says:

      Girls haven’t been “banned” from boy choirs. What has happened is that the choir can decide to exclude girls and have an all-boy choir as long as there is some alternative for girls. But they can also accept girls if they want to.

  • Douglas Cairns says:

    Has the “Vocabulary Maintenance Task Group Coordinator” discussed the position of the sopranino recorder?

  • Bill says:

    The snowflakes are out in force today!

  • CMW says:

    So if I am an alto, can I also say I am a countertenor?

  • Zachary Binx says:

    Stop trying to make “fetch” happen, it’s not going to happen. How’s about genderf***k tenor?

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    The MLA is perhaps the least-respected of professional associations.

  • Will Crump says:

    More PC bullsh*t! A boy treble is just that and I will NEVER alter my vocabulary to mollycoddle gender dysphoric libtards who knowingly turn their backs on biological facts that have been in force since God created Adam then Eve.

  • Peter Martin says:

    nonsense there are boys, girls men and woman male and female He created them