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The story of Oh: the aesthetics and rhetoric of a common vowel sound

Authors
Publisher
Intellect
Publication Date
Keywords
  • W310 Musicianship/Performance Studies
  • W400 Drama
  • W300 Music
  • Q131 Phonetics
Disciplines
  • Communication
  • Design
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Musicology
  • Philosophy

Abstract

Studies in Musical Theatre is the only peer-reviewed journal dedicated to musical theatre. It was launched in 2007 and is now in its seventh volume. It has an extensive international readership and is edited by Dominic Symonds and George Burrows. This article investigates the use of the ‘word’ ‘Oh’ in a variety of different performance idioms. Despite its lack of ‘meaning’, the sound is used in both conversation and poetic discourse, and I discuss how it operates communicatively and expressively through contextual resonances, aesthetic manipulation and rhetorical signification. The article first considers the aesthetically modernist work of Cathy Berberian in Bussotti’s La Passion Selon Sade; then it considers the rhetorically inflected use of ‘Oh’ to construct social resonance in popular song;finally, it discusses two important uses of the sound ‘Oh’ which bookend the Broadway musical Oklahoma!, serving to consolidate the allegorical and musico-dramatic narrative of the show.

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