December 2007 Archives

This is day 25 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

One of the highlights of my Desert Island First Notes would be the opening top E natural (and of course the C in the bass that accompanies it) that the solo piano plays in the slow movement of Shostakovich's second piano concerto (the one in Macmillan's Concerto).  When the movement opens, Shostakovich envelops you in a world of C minor muted strings, getting lower and lower, sparser and sparser, sadder and sadder, until you are left with a unison low G.  It's like night falling.

And then, just when you'd forgotten that there had ever been a piano in this piece, that major keys or high notes existed, in comes the piano with a single note whose appearance is so beautiful and unexpected, it's like one of those evenings where the sky is so cloudy, you think you won't see the sun until tomorrow, and then suddenly there's a break in the clouds just as the sun hits the horizon, and you go all biblical on yourself. It doesn't matter how many times you've heard it, that moment is prepared so carefully and cleverly, it never loses its effect, just as that feeling of seeing the sea for the first time when you drive to the coast is always a magical moment. The whole of that opening section is a preparation for that single note; yet the preparation is also a musical episode in itself, so you don't sit there watching the arrival boards to see what time the tune is due to land.

That's also why the waltz from the second act of Prokofiev's Cinderella is so unusual, special and lovely to put on a CD of music for ballet classes.  Introductions in class usually serve the function of setting a tempo and giving time to get ready; a necessary but essentially meaningless routine. Prokofiev cleverly subverts the routine: you get what graphically looks like an eight-bar vamp, but is in fact a delicate harmonic kaleidoscope of chords that sets a scene and tells a story and establishes a mood. When the first note of the tune comes in, it's been so carefully prepared it's like threading a needle; it's the only note that the tune could possibly begin on, but also feels completely unexpected. It's an introduction, Jim, but not as we know it.

When a piece of music for class can convey so much wide-eyed wonderment and expectation before the exercise has even started, I think it probably deserves to sit at the top of the table.

Happy Christmas!
This is day 24 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

poppies.jpgThe way I've been banging on about trying to avoid the waltz for class, you might think that I've got something against waltzes.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I love them, and in fact yesterday I spent a lovely morning playing class for Christopher Hampson and his happy band of dancers for the Raymond Gubbay Strauss gala, and stayed to watch a bit of Chris's choreography for the exquisite Sphärenklänge by Josef Strauss. If you want to know what I do when I'm on holiday, that's it. My point about avoiding waltzes is that they're gorgeous for waltzing to, or to listen to, but it's rarer than you'd think that a waltz is really a good choice for an exercise, particularly in grand allegro.

It's Denzil Bailey that first made me aware of this, coming over to the piano during allegro in an ENB class and saying very diplomatically and helpfully that what I was playing would be nice for pirouettes, but not really for allegro. I was quite
surprised, because until then, that's what teachers had always seemed to ask for.  But at the risk of being shot down by my teacher colleagues, dancers are often much better than teachers at saying what works and what doesn't, because they're the ones actually doing the darned exercise, and they're the ones you're doing it for, so their feedback is rather more urgent & expressive.

You won't be surprised, after all this, to hear that the reason why "Valse des Bluets & des Pavots" from Glazunov's The Seasons works so well is because it does a lot of things that waltzes don't normally do.
  • Principally it frequently displaces the accent off of the first beat, which has the effect of steadying the tempo, and offering a natural prophylactic against becoming one-in-a-bar with a Viennese swing.
  • The harmonies often change significantly on each beat. This tends to push the melody in a forward, narrative direction rather than bouncing it up and down on a metrical trampoline.
  • It has all kinds of chromatic and dynamic journeys & diversions, which lend drama and emotion to even the simplest repetitive movements
  • Through a variety of means, it retains a nice fat accent on every bar, should you want it, rather than every other bar.
But this is ridiculous - valid and true though all those reasons are, the main thing is that it's one of the most sumptuous, glorious waltzes I know, and in just three pages, it goes on a musical journey that makes you feel you've gone round the world to get home. The turnaround from the middle section into the reprise would be one of my first choices on Desert Island Modulations. Far from thinking 'Oh god, how many more groups are there?' during the exercise, you hope that there will be enough groups to allow you to do the whole thing, favourite modulations included. And if you can, it turns what is superficially a repetitive exercise into what seems like a wonderful story. 
This is day 23 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Christmas picture quiz: What London landmark is pictured left? Click on the pic for answer.

Waltzes for ballet class have a number of inherent problems (see? I told you this would be a recurring theme).
  • They are nearly all one-in-a-bar, so if anything steppily significant happens on any other beat, the chances are the beat won't be there in the music to support or give impetus to it
  • They are nearly all effectively in 6/8, and hence tend to waddle and sway (which is why people in Bierkellers sway inanely from side to side). Not much use if you want something to happen on 2, 4, 6 & 8 as well as 1,3, 5 & 7.
  • They tend (and indeed, are intended to) convey the kind of Gemütlichkeit you'd feel if you were an upperclass Austrian in the 19th century. Not much use if you want to be a swashbucklng pirate or contemplate a crime passionel while you jump.
  • They are subject to so many formal constraints that it's difficult to depart from well-worn harmonic paths
That's why this dance with mandolins from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet is such a wonderful piece. It's in 3 and in 8 bar phrases, but it avoids all of the problems I've noted above.  Best of all, Prokofiev's harmonic language creates moods and emotions which (excuse the pun) strike a chord, but at last, after all that waltz schmalz, it's a different damn chord.

There's something so clean and edgy about this music, to play it is like opening a window, or taking off a layer of clothing on a hot day. Suddenly, a sissonne isn't just a sissonne, it's a gesture, part of a story. This music gives dignity and style to steps, and to the dancers dancing them - and what more could you ask of dance music?
dawn_in_tooting.jpgThis is day 22 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

By the end of this Advent calendar (sorry to jump back to the barre, by the way, but I forgot this variation ealier), I think there'll be a recurring theme of 'things which are in three but aren't waltzes are much better than waltzes, most of the time'.

This is a prime example.  Instead of just lumbering from one oom-pah to another, this gorgeous, magical variation writes its tune in the air like sparklers swirled by  invisible hands on firework night.  It's so rhythmical and stylishly articulated, you can't help but feel impelled to do things on the music (like a rond de jambe en l'air or two, for example). And yet the metre is all implied by the rhythmic gesture, not by chords which serve the function only of establishing metre (i.e. an 'oom-pah-pah').  It makes your average waltz look like a building where the builders never turned up to take the scaffolding away.

There are a hundred other reasons to include this: it's another example of a piece which is so well known you're tempted not to play it for class, but when do, you wish you'd done it before.

But I have to own up that Coppélia is also a score that I love unconditionally and eternally, as it was one of the first records I ever heard as a child.  I could listen to it and play it every day for the rest of my life, and I wouldn't tire of it. The mazurka happened to be in my  Standard Album of ballet tunes as a child, and I played it so many times that I can still play it from start to finish from memory today. In Music & Movement at school, we had to jiggle around being washing machines to the 'musique des automates' in Act II, which I thought (and still think: I can't help it) was the most thrilling and magical music I'd ever heard, even though it was coming out of a mono speaker on the school radio at 11 o'clock in the morning. There were fleeting chords in the Dawn solo which seemed to express everything I wanted in the world at that age, and if I had to choose eight chords to take with me on Desert Island Chords, I'd be happy if six of them came from this piece.

Medium jump: The Hole in the Wall

This is day 21 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

In my kitchen cupboard I have, or have had, a set of Hungarian chocolate moulds in the shape of hazelnuts; some individual Madeleine moulds, a coconut scraper, an iddly steamer, a packet of petits fours cases, a julienne slicer, a melon baller, a pasta machine, a džezva, a hot-water crust game pie mould, an easter egg mould. Whenever I'm in the kitchen section of a foreign department store, particularly a central European one (they are by far the best), I get an uncomfortable yearning to buy every strange mould, device or implement I can see, just in case.

I'm a bit like this with music for class, too.  When you find something like Purcell's 3/2 Hornpipe from Abdelazer (recorded in the 9th edition of Playford as 'The Hole in the Wall'), you snap it up and put it in the cupboard for those occasions, however rare, when you want to make iddly, bake a Gugelhupf or eviscerate a fresh coconut.

Through lack of use, we have become unaccustomed to the metrical and rhythm patterns of this kind of dance, so you scrabble around trying to make do with ill-fitting polonaises or triple jigs. That's when it's great to be able  to open that bottom drawer, dust off your 3/2 hornpipe and say 'There. I knew I had one somewhere'.  The other way of looking at it is that having a muffin tray is an incentive to make muffins - and having a 3/2 hornpipe to hand (on this CD) might inspire someone to make an enchaînement in 6 on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

It's a pretty tune with an infectious rhythmic bounce, but it's the metric/rhythmic design that I love. It's like the rose window of Winchester Palace in the picture above, which is essentially a triple structure (a star of David) but it seems to conceal its own tripleness the more you look at it. Put that structure with an enchaînement in a six, and you have a little formal miracle in front of your eyes and ears.
This is day 20 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

Medium jumps are, for my taste, the most difficult things to accompany in class. While a medium sized jump for a dancer requires considerable effort, skill & preparation, 'medium' in music is a potentially deadening adjective. Moderato, moderation, moderate, it's like someone saying 'I think we'll just order a small glass each, shall we?' when you're ready for at least a bottle.

Worse still, when it comes to things in triple metre, a 'medium' waltz is just about the worst thing you could play for allegro. It will, quite literally, never get off the ground, and why should it? Waltzes are about turning and gliding, not jumping.

Look in the opera-ballet repertoire of the 19th century, and you find what we were looking for all the time - a nice, bouncy dance in triple metre, at a moderate tempo, but with the same kind of strength & elevation as the jumps that it accompanies.  It's a combination of a lot of factors. Look at this one from I Vespri Siciliani and you see, for example:
  • A solid floor (pedal note in the bass) for the melody to bounce off, rather than the 2-bar shuffle between tonic & dominant you get in a waltz
  • A leaping melodic contour with a large tessitura & and an anacrusis that has considerable welly
  • Occasional implied or real accents on the second or third beats of the bar, which prevents the bass from 'walking'
  • Lots of little acciaccaturas to spice up the melody line
The second half (which no-one ever seems to play) is very ingenious too - the 'cadence' of the first part becomes the beginning of the second tune, so that you feel as if you've suddenly lost a beat, but it all gets paid back in the end, and once you've heard the whole piece, that bar becomes a kind of trompe l'oreille - you can never say whether it's the beginning of something or the end of something - and as it happens, the piece never ends, because it goes straight into

Batterie: Tentação

This is day 19 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

prague_window.jpgTentação by F.L. da Silveira is one of many terrific musical discoveries that happened through force of circumstance. The circumstance here was that I originally wanted to record one of my favourite tangos ever, El Firulete, by Jose Basso in the place now occupied by Tentação. I first heard El Firulete on the The Story of Tango (it's fantastic - still one of my favourite tango CDs), and spent a long time, as always, taking it down by dictation from the CD ( in Prague, summer of 2004 - mid-dictation I noticed the sun setting on the church outside my window, and took the picture you see on the left) and working out a version on the piano, trying it out in class, until I was happy.  It works brilliantly for the kind of batterie that needs what Chris calls 'hot potato' music - in other words, everything just off the beat, or barely touching it; edge of the beat, edge of your chair.

When it comes to a recording, although there are variations according to genre, you need a score, otherwise you run into problems of potential copyright infringement. Weeks before the recording, I located a shop in Buenos Aires that had the sheet music, and ordered it over the internet. It didn't come. I emailed them, they apologised, said they'd send it again, it still didn't come.  Tragic - one of the only internet transactions I've ever known that didn't work out. 

So only days before the recording, I needed to replace this wonderful piece with something similar. But where from? The whole point about El Firulete is that it's got a tempo and a character all of its own, and I'd chosen it out of hundreds.  But then, as I described under Herminia, I found this book of Brazilian Tangos, and a whole world opened up that I didn't know existed. As it happened, it was a world full of pieces like El Firulete to the point where it was difficult to choose at first, though Tentação soon became a favourite.

I'd never quite got the connection between ragtime, tango & quadrilles until I saw this book, and nor had I (to my shame) encountered the terms cinquillo & tresillo until I read them in the introduction; and that opened up yet another wonderful avenue of research.  I still love El Firulete to bits, and will keep trying to get the score in time for the next recording, but I have to be grateful to the postal service for failing to deliver this time, because Brazilian Tangos was such a fantastic find.

Petit allegro: Czerny etude

karlovmost.jpgThis is day 18 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Riisager's Etudes, a gorgeous, colourful orchestral score based on Czerny studies, and composed for Harald Lander's ballet of the same name, has come to be one of my favourite ballet scores.  I don't think I know a single dancer who doesn't love this music, and I think I'm probably right in saying that if there were such a thing as the perfect music for class, this would probably be it. Hearing dancers talk about why Etudes works, and why they like it has been one of the most instructive experiences as a ballet accompanist.

It's also helped me to appreciate Czerny as someone who's a lot more fun than I used to give him credit for. That's the genius of Riisager's score. He unveils Czerny as someone with a sense of humour, with dance and fun bubbling through his musical veins even in the most gruelling technical exercises. 

One of the reasons that Czerny works so well for class is that once he's started a rhythmic pattern, he's like a child on a spacehopper, lurching around the place bumping into things and setting off in another direction, gaining dangerous momentum until he comes to some crashing finish.  As good as other music might be for class, most composers think that there's a virtue in avoiding repetition, and hence go off in new directions which might be interesting musically but doesn't help for a dance exercise.

The Etude Op. 335 Book 1 No. 19 (E major) is a perfect example. It does in music what feet do in little jumps, and so you get a hundred little landings on the piano keyboard just as you do on the studio floor. I don't know any other music that works quite like this. The glorious thing is that Czerny wrote enough of this stuff to make another 100 ballets like Etudes, as I discovered when I dug out four volumes of studies I'd never seen before at the University of London a few years ago [see previous entry  'The joy of libraries & My mate Czerny']
This is day 17 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Some enchaînements, particularly pointe ones, seem to need music which is potentially rather dull -  carefully articulated, restrained and with a constant feeling of being 'under tempo'. This little mandolin number from Prokofiev's Romeo  & Juliet saves the day, because all those qualities are part of what makes it special.  Hot and sour Thai chicken soup is delicious; a hot and sour milkshake is a catastrophe.

There's something endlessly satisfying and engaging about playing music like this. It's so simple that any minor carelessness - lapses of timing, articulation or dynamics - show up immediately, like trying to eat spaghetti bolognese in a wedding dress. In fact it's a lesson in the value of simplicity and understatement, and waiting for the right moment to slip in something unusual; in having the courage to write E major chords if E major chords are what works (rather than thinking 'E major's so last year'). There is such clear, pure, cool air in this music that you can feel yourself creating the atmosphere Prokofiev wanted after only half a bar of the introduction.

That's what perhaps makes this music most effective for class - it has the capacity to create instant magic and atmosphere, like stepping outside on a winter's day and taking your first intake of bracing cold air.  So much in class conspires against that happening, that when you find a key to that door, you use it.
daria_nutcracker.jpgThis is day 16 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

I first heard this piece on an LP that I bought from a mechanical music museum in Cornwall when I was a teenager.  Having a passion for the music made by pianolas, reproducing pianos, orchestrions, fairground organs and so on, I listened to it over & over again, until I knew every section of every song - including this one - by heart. In those pre-iPod days, if you had one album like this you were lucky, and you listened to it until you'd worn the grooves into a trench.

And so whereas most people only know how to shriek the 'RAOUL ART THE BOWEL' bit of the chorus, I'm afraid that right from the start, I knew the entire preamble, which is in fact about three times the length of the chorus, and just as worth listening to. The truth is that it originally never was a chorus, and never was a cockney pub song, but the final section of a brass band piece by the Czech composer Jaromír Vejvoda  called Modřanská Polka (see my earlier entry for a history of the song).

The motoric jollity of Vejvoda's music makes for good diagonal turn or fouetté music, and for UK dancers has the additional comic effect of being the kind of thing they sing around the piano at Christmas in the Queen Vic. I might have thought twice about putting it on this album were that the only layer of meaning attached to it, but it so happens that a few years ago I played this for a company class at the National Theatre in Prague and all the Czech dancers who'd been relatively quiet and focused for the barre suddenly turned round with a huge smile. 

It was Daria Klimentová who explained that the reason for this was not because they'd all got satellite TV and tuned into the Eastenders Christmas special every year, but because Škoda lásky (as Roll Out the Barrell is known in Czech - though the Czech song, about 'wasted love', isn't the barrel of laughs that the English lyrics portray is a very famous Czech song, and indeed, in 2000, was voted the most popular Czech song of the 20th century. You play this music with a different kind of love and attention when you know that. It turns out the Daria knows all the Czech words, too, which is one of the less obvious reasons why her picture graces this blog entry.

Pirouettes: Souvenir de Bal

souvenir.jpgThis is day 15 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

For another story behind this piece, see a previous entry.

At first glance, this is just another Victorian salon piece, plucked from obscurity when it was used as an alternate variation in the Corsaire pas de deux (for a history of how it got there, see Mr Lopez's wikipedia page on the subject).

But only at first glance. Either I'm suggestible, or this piece really does do what the title says.  The simple three-note rising melody is one that appears as a countermelody, rising or falling, in probably thousands of waltzes. Nearly every Piaf waltz-song has one, the waltz from Tchaikovsky's Evgenii Onegin has one, Marlene Dietrich songs are full of them.

So when that generic countermelody becomes the tune, it might remind us of any number of half-remembered waltz fragments without necessarily remembering what the actual tune was, which is just what a 'souvenir de bal' should do.  It's also stated in a harmonically unstable form, beginning on a 2nd inversion of the dominant, quietly, and with a long anacrusis. It quite literally drifts in to our consciousness.  And that first chord is rather lovely, isn't it? If any chord said 'warm, wistful smile', that's the one.  Add all this to the fact that hearing the music will bring back memories of the Corsaire variation done by someone you admire at a performance that you really enjoyed, and the whole souvenir de bal(let) thing becomes even stronger.

Beyond that, it's also a waltz that bears playing slowly, because it's supposed to be a memory of something rather than the thing itself.  It's also just very, very simple in construction, and leaves space for dancing, which is one of the biggest compliments you can pay dance music.

Pirouettes: Schön Rosmarin

This is day 14 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

One of the most enjoyable jobs I've ever had was working with Wayne Sleep on his Dash to the Coliseum which ran for a week at the Coliseum in August 1998.  I'd just finished a 44-show tour with him (Wayne Sleep's World of Classical Ballet, which one dancer quickly nicknamed 'Wayne's World', of course); we got off the bus and threw on a 50th birthday gala at Her Majesty's, and then it was straight into rehearsals for Dash.

The show included impressions of some of the early variety ballet numbers - the Wilson Kepple & Betty Sand Dance, a Lois Fuller solo, a comedy routine by Little Tich & Anna Pavlova's  "Dragonfly" solo, created - as in the original - to Fritz Kreisler's waltz 'Schön Rosmarin'. It was one of those ideas of Wayne's that make you think 'You want to do what?!" until you see it - and then you don't know how you lived without it.

I have never seen anyone - even Wayne - work so fast. We were in the old Urdang studios after lunch, with just 45 minutes to put the Pavlova number together. Gary Harris ('Fido'), now AD of Royal New Zealand Ballet was standing in the corner, notating Wayne's steps in Benesh faster than a PA does shorthand. After 44 minutes, Wayne said 'Have you got that? OK, gotta go...' and he was off to create another number upstairs, leaving Fido to then teach & rehearse the solo again from his instant Benesh. I'd never seen anything quite like it before, nor since. The combined talent, genius, comedy & speed was overwhelming.

Both Wayne & Fido are extremely musical, and so they wove the Kreisler-ish rubato of Schön Rosmarin into the solo in a way which made it possible to play the music with as much expressive timing as you wanted - a wonderful but sadly rather rare experience - probably down to the fact that people so often choreograph to recordings where tempo - even free tempo - is fixed.

I've since discovered that if you pick your exercise carefully, this waltz, with all it's tempo give-and-take, makes a wonderful piece for some pirouettes for the corner.  It's warm & charming, and just dances itself off the page. It has an infectious rhythm & bounce, but you can entwine all the wayward quavers around the dancer in a way which is beautifully musical; it allows them time and freedom to breathe, but measures that freedom imperceptibly; the fact that the quavers never stop means that there is also always a forward momentum which impels them into the next movement. There are enough notes in the melody that you can fashion each phrase for dancers individually, making it a joy to accompany them. This is just one example of many where dance can look 'unmusical' until you find the right piece of music. 

Pirouettes: Redowa from l'Étoile du Nord

This is day 13 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

One of the worst experiences in playing for ballet classes is when a teacher has set an exercise for which you can find no suitable music, but as a pianist, you can't just say 'It's OK, I'll sit this exercise out, if you don't mind'. No, you just have to play whatever bad rubbish you've got, hating yourself, the music & the exercise as you go. It's like being stuck in a queue behind someone who can't find their Nectar card, but feeling as bad as that person at the same time.

Top of my list of audio nasties is the excruciating slow but butch waltz for pirouettes that some (particularly male) teachers sometimes use - imagine the male solo from Don Quixote slowed down to half speed. How on earth do you maintain any kind of rhythm, momentum, interest, vigour, elasticity in music at that tempo? If you slow a waltz down, it sounds ghastly; yet the exercise is too fast to be replaced by a polonaise, too slow for a mazurka, and even La plus que lente wouldn't be lente enough, and has completely the wrong feel.

Well, just as Herminia solved my fondu-tango problem, so the Redowa from Meyerbeer's l'Étoile du Nord, featured in Ashton's Les Patineurs, solved the 'waltz' problem. The problem is that what's required isn't a waltz, so as soon as you start thinking 'waltz', you're already on the wrong track. The 'redowa', polka mazurka and ländler are what Zorn calls 'three step waltzes', and don't figure in most people's musical education at all - how can you know that a redowa would fit an exercise when you've never come across one or see how they work?

Such things - elaborate, filigree melody lines strung tautly between the main beats of the bar, creating strength and  resilience without the need for force or extra weight - like lily pads, perhaps - are difficult to improvise off the cuff, because there is just too much detail at high speed. The Redowa from l'Étoile du Nord is a wonderful piece, with such variety in each section that it makes a long exercise a pleasure to play for because you can look forward to different parts of the musical landscape. It gives pirouettes much a more interesting dynamic and feel than a bog standard waltz. I only wish I'd discovered it earlier.

 * Zorn, F. , trans. B.P. Coates (1970) Grammar of the Art of Dancing, theoretical and practical. [Burt Franklin research and source works series, 543] New York: Burt Franklin. [Translation of Grammatik der Tanzkunst]

Friedrich Zorn (1820-1905) was a dancing master, who lived - as you can see by the dates - right through all the significant dance crazes of the 19th century, and is therefore an expert eye witness, as well as a methodical and detailed documenter of dances and styles. The Grammatik der Tanzkunst was first published in 1887, and is a fantastic source of just about anything you want to know about 19th century social dance and its music - in other words, the huge gaping hole in most music texts books, despite the enormous influence of these dances on our musical life.

museeinsel.jpgThis is day 12 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

I count the day that I first saw this variation as a curious kind of watershed in my experience of ballet.  Given that I'd been playing for dance for about 10 years before I saw it, the shock was on a similar scale to discovering that your partner liked cross-dressing and having cream buns thrown at them when your back was turned.

It was the dancer Yoko Ichino in Berlin who first introduced me to it, and that rehearsal stands out as one of my favourite and most memorable times in a studio. I played a few bars of it (on paper, it's just a fairly straightforward looking 2/4 in C minor - but that should have been a clue: how many 19th century female variations can you name in a minor key? And what are they?).  Yoko smiled cheekily and said 'It needs to be....' and I can't really remember what she said - stretched? Rubato? Free? Camp? I thought she'd brought the tambourine in for a joke. But then I realised it was part of the solo.

If you haven't seen it, I promise you it's the silliest campest, weirdest variation you're likely to see, and once I'd seen it, I was convinced that every pianist should have to accompany this solo in the first week of working in dance so they know just how much fun ballet can be. I felt like they'd kept this variation hidden from me (and it's true that you hardly ever see it in England). If all you've ever done is accompany Swan Lake pas de trois or Lilac Fairy attendants, you get a very skewed view of what 19th century ballet is, like a history of 20th century film that doesn't include the Police Academy or American Pie movies.

Ever since I saw the effect that playing this has on a company class (without fail, someone somewhere does ballet comedy - big butch boys do the solo, or the girls add imaginary tambourine slaps to the exercise, for example) I've had to restrain myself from playing it for every class. As it happens, it works terribly well for a lot of exercises, because it's got so much elasticity and weight without being heavy, and it's one of those solos where the musicality of the interpretation is so important, it makes everyone focus on that whatever you play it for.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought like everyone else that it was by Drigo. The magnificent Mr Lopez who's done all the excellent work on Petipa & Minkus at wikipedia has shown otherwise - it's actually by Marenco, of 'Excelsior' fame. I might have known....

Stretch (or whatever): Gymnopédie No 1

jo.jpgThis is day 11 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

[Picture: Josephine Jewkes in Les Sylphides, Photo: Elizabeth Pacey]

When we made the very first Studio Series album back in 1999, we had to arrange two short recording sessions after the main one to add some extra tracks that we hadn't foreseen at the start. At the end of the second one, there was still some time left, both in the session and on the recording. On impulse, I said 'Let's put the Prelude from Les Sylphides on bang in the middle, as a kind of musical transition from barre to centre'.  It was a kind of statement - ballet class albums are so much about 'functional' music - music to use, music to do stuff to, music for something, in a prescribed order using long-standing convention;  why not, while we've got the chance, throw something in there that will just be there for what it is, that defies 'usage' in the normal sense? It might be the track that no-one knows what to do with except listen to it or waft around to, but that would be No Bad Thing.

Although Les Sylphides is one of the ballets which defines ballet for most people - lush orchestrations of Chopin waltzes, wafty tutus and moonlit glades - it achieves this effect through means which are far less conventional than might appear at first, and nowhere more so than in the Prelude. I've been worryingly obsessed by this solo ever since I had the privilege of playing it in performance with former ENB & Rambert dancer Josephine Jewkes (see photo above), who, in the words of Woytek Lowski, regularly 'ruined' performances of Les Sylphides by doing it so well that it made the rest of the show look pants. It's not about technique in the traditional sense, it's about embodying the mystery and other-wordliness of the ballet and drawing an audience into it.  Jo did this so well, that the image of the Prelude was still resonating long after the finale had finished. She very kindly agreed to come to the RAD to teach the solo to my second year music students a few years ago, and that class counts as one of the most fascinating insights into dance and music that I can remember.  Boy, does she know her stuff.

So on to the CD it went, with no explanation, no introduction, and no prescribed usage, and at a speed and delivery that you could only waft, choreograph or dream to.

And in the same spirit, when we came to record Studio Series 4 this year, I decided to put on Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 in the same place (between barre and centre), for the same reason. There are times when you want music to just be music. If it weren't for those moments, no-one would ever choreograph or be inspired to dance, so it seems fitting that in the midst of all those exercises, there should be a chance to dream. And if you want music to stretch to, it ought to be something like a Gymnopédie, whose phrases hang in the air like mist, seemingly never beginning or ending, but with an intoxicating rhythm that is both regular yet pulseless, measured yet free.

Adage: My Way

cheese_shop.jpgThis is day 10 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Playing for class is so easy if you just listen to what dancers tell you. They've been doing class since they were knee-high to a rosin-box, and if they can't tell you a few things about what works for them and what doesn't musically, who can? 

When I first started learning my trade (at the RAD, as it happens) I used to find it difficult to know what to play. For one thing, there was a mass of specially written music for class that fell into no genre or style I recognised which I imagined one had to imitate; but then if you did imitate it, you might just as well have been generating white noise for all the effect it had on anyone (including yourself).  Then there were some teachers who put on their best 'inspired' look (gazing aspirationally at an imaginary dress circle. like Elizabeth Schwarzkopf on a record cover) and say 'Adage. One and a 2. Three and a 4. Five and a siiiiiiix, seven. Eight. Thank you Jonathan. AND.', as if those numbers were so replete with meaning, emotion and musical clues that you could not fail but to pluck some appropriate piece from your musical hat.

What a relief, then, when the (then) Laban teacher Michelle Groves walked into the studio, and with a laid-back Australian directness that I have got so used to, I've probably forgotten to appreciate it properly, said "Ok. Tendus. [Singing] 'Old McDonald had a farm, ee-i-ee-i-oh. And on that farm he had some...".  It was the first time that I realised that class didn't have to involve mental torture while you fished around for music that sounded like 'ballet class' music.

I didn't see Michelle again for about another 14 years when I finally I returned to the Academy, and by chance, she returned the same year.  One day, we were talking about adage (probably about a mutual hatred of it, or of adage music) when she said 'I like setting adage to My Way'.  It's odd that I'd never really thought of this before - but again, it's one of those things that is so popular and well known, you don't even consider it: blindingly obvious.

What I like about 'My Way' is that for anyone who doesn't 'get' opera, it's the nearest thing to an aria that everyone knows. It has all the characteristics of an aria without actually being one, so it's a brilliant way of introducing lyricism, vocal expression & phrasing and drama and the whole concept of adage without really feeling like you're doing it.  It has a direct connection to all the 19th century arias, balletic adages, Chopin nocturnes and other things that people play for class, but has none of the historical baggage.  In common with other popular ballads it does its whole emotional display in 32 counts, which is what you need for class.  The trouble with serious music (think of the Liebestod, for example) is that as beautiful as it is, you can't wait that long for the climax when you've only got a minute and a half to do the whole exercise.

So there it is, on the CD, for all those reasons, and also as a little tribute to the person who gave me the idea in the first place.


This is day 9 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Elizabeth Sawyer, in her book about dance accompaniment Dance With The Music tells a story about Antony Tudor disparaging a pianist who dared to play the theme tune to 'Around the World in Eighty Days' in his class. To paraphrase, it was a case of 'play that vulgar stuff again once more mate, and you're out'. 

The story doesn't endear me to Tudor, and if it's as bad as it sounds, in my view it's the Shibboleth that refuses him (and others like him) entry to any league that includes Balanchine, Mark Morris, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Shostakovich and the friends and colleagues that you'll find in these advent calendars.  All these people seem to have an easy, earthy connection to the popular - what Constant Lambert, in Music Ho! called 'healthy vulgarity' , while being able to create and appreciate the most complex, esoteric and sublime art. My own friend & composition teacher Malcolm Williamson (see previous entries) was a perfect example.

Ich wollt' ich wär' ein Huhn is the heartening proof, I think, that you can't get too serious about music for class exercises. It's a silly song - silly tune, silly lyrics, silly speed, silly rhythm (all those things need to work together for the full comic effect), but for all that, it usually matches a typical petits battements exercise 'word for word'.  My point? If you want music for an exercise that goes that speed, with that phrase structure, that articulation, those dynamics and that rhythm, then don't blame me if you end up with Ich woll't ich wär' ein Huhn. Or Stick A Deckchair Up Your Nose. Or My Old Man's A Dustman. Or Officer Krupke.

If you want anything more subtle or serious, you've got a bit of a problem, because everything that implies comedy and popular song is already in the exercise itself. Likewise, Tchaikovsky's Mirlitons from The Nutcracker was just waiting for someone to write 'Everyone's a fruit and nut case' because everything about that tune suggests 'comic song'. The fact that people still sing those words to that tune is not proof of 21st century man's shallowness and lack of respect for art, it's evidence of Tchaikovsky's humanity and understanding of the genre he was writing in.
This is day 8 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

I hate being asked who my favourite composer is. For one thing, the kind of people who ask the question usually won't have heard of the likely contenders. In any case, as a working musician, it's your duty and pleasure to love whichever composer you're playing at the moment (see footnote), like an arranged marriage that works out for the best.

But if I had to choose one, I suppose it would be Shostakovich.  He does comedy, tragedy, irony, melody, harmony, structure, pathos, vulgarity and everything that lies between with a voice that feels so direct and familiar, it's as if this was the music that I would write if I only could.

When I discovered a few years ago that Shostakovich had written, of all things, a musical, I was as overjoyed as someone might be to discover that Shakespeare had written a bodice ripper. Moskva Cheryomushki isn't exactly a musical, 'operetta' or 'review' might be nearer, but that's immaterial - it's the fact that you could get Shostakovich distilled into a popular stage work that was exciting. 

I thought I'd never get the chance to hear it, but as it happened, it was only a couple of years later that the first recording came out (the one in the picture above) and I bought it immediately, and fellow Shostakovich fan Christopher Hampson & I cracked open a bottle or three of something and played our favourite bits over and over again, one of which was the 'Excursion Around Moscow'.

A few years later, Russian music expert & composer Gerard McBurney re-arranged it for Opera North at Sadler's Wells, and I think that counts as one of my favourite nights out in the theatre ever (and I don't often enjoy them, to be honest).  From the moment the curtain went up, you were just swept up in a whirlwind of Shostakovich madness. Neither Rozhdestvennsky's recording or the Kirov's semi-staged production at the Coliseum last year come anywhere near.  It's what you would expect, really - I'd worked with Gerard on his ballet for ENB, White Nights, and knew him to be one of the greatest experts on Russian music. Go and listen to his programmes on Sleeping Beauty and The Rite of Spring on BBC Radio 3's Discovering Music - they're brilliant.

The extract of 'The Excursion Around Moscow' on Studio Series 4 must be the longest frappé exercise in the history of ballet (though you could use it for loads of other things too), but the whole point about this piece is the way it just carries on and on and on, unstoppable in its momentum, energy and humour. It's musical madness. It's too fast, too long, and to play feels like doing ballet on a trampoline. And Shostakovich's command of popular music is breathtaking - you bounce happily up and down the scale once, then twice, then all of a sudden, you find yourself thrown into a harmonic double back-flip at the end of the phrase, and crash land back in the tonic to start again. But then you're thrown into another key, and so on until you're exhausted; and then there's more, and more and more. The few times I've played this in class, it has an equally exhilarating effect on the dancers, and that's why it's on the CD.

Footnote: 'Herr Still,'  a conductor once said to me with a puzzled sideways smirk as  he conducted me through waved his hands dismissively (like a customs controller who doesn't want to see the contents of your bag) through  the finale of Paquita in a dress rehearsal one day, 'You play this music as if you enjoy it. Why?!!'
'Because it's my job', I said under my breath, but the irony would have been lost on him.  It's strange but true that 'serious' musicians think that playing popular music in a slapdash, bored way will reflect badly on the composer, rather than on them. Minkus and his ilk has had this treatment from most academics and critics for a long time (by coincidence,  Chris Hampson's blog entry for today touches on this very point).

Fondu: Herminia (Tango)

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dontdance.jpgThis is day 7 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

There's a wonderful bit in Russell Brand's My Booky Wook (which I couldn't put down, and read in about a day and a half) where he talks about the delightful, unconsciously strange speech of kids who've been bought up by their nan - their turns of phrase have skipped a generation, so they come out with things like 'we're in for a cold snap'.

I've come to believe that something similar happens in the world of ballet teaching with music - some of the rhythms and tempos of the music that  ballet teachers choose for exercises are part of an unconscious oral tradition. How else do explain that even the youngest teachers almost naturally incline, when setting a pirouette exercises, to the musical attributes of the old ballroom mazurkas or polka mazurkas, even though these are no more part of their immediate experience than gaslight or farthingales?

I used to get annnoyed with ballet teachers who asked for tangos for fondu exercises which were slower than any tango they or I had ever heard. I wanted to say "Go on, find me one like that, and I'll play it! Bet you won't, though!".  But after I discovered things like the Redowa which matched the equally impossibly slow 'waltzes' that some teachers wanted, I began to wonder whether somewhere, there was a historical instance of the slow tango which was the basis for the 'fondu tango'.  I had a theory that  perhaps it was all down to  Godowsky's  arrangement of the Albeniz Tango (if ever there was a case of 'hard cases make bad law' in the world of music, this is it!).  I had another theory that maybe what they really meant was a kind of Czardas (like Monti's Czardas) - which does work equally well, as it happens.

But then, in the middle of last year, I was in Kensington Chimes, and happened upon a book called Tango: An Album of Brazilian Dances, and in there was the delicious Herminia by the extravagantly named Julio Cezar do Lago Reis, a tango which would bear playing as slow as you like, without losing any of its innate slinky charm. The whole book, in fact, is a revelation (as you'll read when I come to Tentaçao later), as exciting for me as a new set of Parish records turning up for a genealogist.  Could it be that this is the missing link that connects the 'fondu tango' of the ballet class to a real musical tradition? And if so, how did it happen?
This is day 6 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.
I like this piece for two reasons.

Firstly, it's another illustration of the Keep It Simple principle - this is one of those pieces that I spent years (nearly decades) avoiding for class because it is so well known.  But it's precisely because it's so well known that it's a good choice.

When you happen on a really good invention (like those mirrors in Japanese hotel bathrooms that have a face-sized rectangle in the middle that never steams up after you've used the shower) you tut-tut and say 'Now why didn't I think of that?!' Well, famous bits of famous bits of music are a bit like that. They're so deeply and clearly etched in everyone's brain that it's invigorating. This particular one is so darn simple, it's almost ridiculous - but it takes courage and flair to be that simple. Think 'Vindaloo' or 'I'm a Barbie Girl' - they didn't get to the top 10 because of their retrograde inversions or metrical dissonance.

Secondly, I like the fact that this Galop is a perfect example of what the 19th century galop is, and that those kinds of galops are just wonderful for exercises where other music simply doesn't do the trick. True galops have a little 'kick' on the first beat (diddy-DUH DUH DUH, diddy-DUH-DUH-DUH) which create a forward propulsion at the same time as a very compulsive but steady beat. If you hold the Giselle one up like one of those ultra-violet banknote checkers and test other examples (Gottschalk's Tournament Galop, for example) you begin to see the family resemblance. And the funny thing is, even though these are little dances from 19th century ballrooms, they still get people going because they have the all the right ingredients of dance music. 

This was just a vague feeling & unformed thought in my mind, until I read a brilliant paper called From Refrain to Rave: The Decline of Figure and the Rise of Ground' by that wonderful musicologist Philip Tagg   which gave me some clues as to why, possibly, those funny old galops, polkas and other dances still get your juices going. I admire Tagg's work so much because he studies the things that people spend the most time listening to (which most academics think are too simple, popular or uncool to be worthy of study). We could do worse than adopt the same principle with ballet music - and study Pugni or Minkus, for a change, rather than Tchaikovsky.

Glissés: Don Quixote overture

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This is day 5 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

There's a certain kind of a 6/8 which doesn't grow on trees. It's not exactly a jig; it's quadrille-like, but maybe a bit slower, and more articulated. It's simple, but not simplistic; it has space for dancing, but a driving rhythm nonetheless. It's repetitive, but in a good way.  It will be old-fashioned, because this rhythm belongs to the social dances of the 19th century, but it will retain it's fun and vigour, and it will sound like a dance, rather than a twee piano piece. But it will also sound balletic or operatic, and have a sense of drama.

Enter Minkus, the composer the critics despised until jollity became fashionable again. Minkus is another composer that Suki Schorer says was favoured by Balanchine for class - because he's simple & appropriate.  I was quite surprised to read that at first, but it makes perfect sense - Balanchine knew what he was talking about when it came to music.  So it didn't come as any surprise when Christopher Hampson, another choreographer of musical genius, suggested the overture to the second act of Don Quixote for a glissé exercise - I didn't know it (who but a choreographer listens to an overture?), but once I did, I found it was the magic answer to many, many exercises that had seemed problematic before. It is the finest example of that elusive  6/8 I described in the first paragraph. It's interesting that Prokofiev got this feeling so right for the Ugly Sisters quadrille-like dance in Cinderella. I think he knew who to parody.

Incidentally, you might like to read Chris's own Advent Calendar over on his blog. Each day, he reveals one of his favourite ballets, and explains how it got on to his top 25 list. Fascinating.

Tendu: Giselle pas de deux

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This is day 4 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

I used to think Giselle was a stupid  score - boring, sub-Beethoven, too slow, harmonically dull, and childish.  It only took me 20 years to love and cherish it, and to understand just how hard it is to play effectively.

It was Nina Brzorádová at the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague who first suggested to me the famous D-major pas de deux music for, of all things, a tendu exercise.  Very Balanchine, very articulated and very musical.  It had never occurred to me to do it before, but it works like a dream. Space, elasticity, different articulations, expectation; it's well known, and well loved.  You can play with it, the dancers can play with it. It's quiet, it's controlled, gentle, with boundless possibilities for phrasing and tempo changes. 

It's the space, above all. Like most musicians, I came to ballet wanting to play as many notes as I could to show that I could play and to keep my fingers occupied. It took years to realise that you have to leave space for the dancing to happen. This is the perfect piece - there's more space than notes! -  and that's why Adam knew what he was doing when he wrote it.

Pliés 3: Mon Dieu

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This is day 3 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.

It took me quite a while to work out (and I'm grateful to the dancers who explained it to me) that the reason that dancers look so pissed off during pliés is not because you're playing so badly (though it could happen) but because they've got worries of their own, like a hangover from the night out after the show; the fact that they hate class, or at least starting it; they're sore; they've had an argument with the director. Basically, that sour-faced look is to do with everything except the music or the pianist.

That's why plié music has to be so full-on in one way or another - funny, sad, aspirational, glorious, famous, too loud (no, actually that's not on, think of the hangovers), too soft  - if it's going to lift anyone out of their stupor. 

I always promised myself that I would one day record Mon Dieu (written by Charles Dumont and  Michel Vaucaire and sung by Edith Piaf) as a tribute to my friend and mentor Woytek Lowski, who of all people would have appreciated the choice.  It's so completely bursting at the seams with helpless, hopeless passion verging on madness, that it's totally 'wrong' for an exercise so traditionally associated with creaking knees and rolling eyes. Which is why it's so totally right, too. It took me nearly 10 years from having the idea to getting it on CD, not least because I could never quite tell whether it was in 3 or 4. 

There's an odd rider to the story. On a recent trip to Tokyo, they were showing the recent film about Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose. As a gushing Piaf fan, I fully expected to be a heap of jelly by the time the opening credits had finished, but as much as I enjoyed the film, it wasn't quite the tearful apotheosis of my Piaf-adoration that I had expected.  Searching through the other films on offer, there was one I was certain I wasn't going to watch, Flying Scotsman, about the cyclist Graeme Obree.  But then I ran out of things to watch, and so I started to give it a go because it had Jonny Lee Miller in it.  And strangely, Flying Scotsman, this bizarre film about a Scottish cyclist that promised so little on the page moved me to tears and goosebumps more than any scene or song from La Vie en Rose.

Pliés 2: Night & Day

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dancing_beccles.jpgThis is day 2 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Intuition Vol. 4, published by RAD.

In my early struggles to play for ballet classes, quite a few people told me about a pianist called Cyril Addison, who was the brother of a teacher called Errol Addison, saying that I reminded them a bit of the way he played. I later discovered that this must have been quite a compliment, since by all accounts, Cyril was adored as a pianist by everyone.

A lot of people would reminisce about his classes, and usually there was a hot tip in there. Cyril would, as far as I could determine, find more interesting ways to accompany class than the usual fare of Schubert ländlers and Brahms waltzes, and played a lot of things that people actually liked; he also found alternative rhythms to the usual waltzes & polkas.

It was Brian Loftus who told me (funny how you remember such things - I even remember where: it was in a car going down Baker street towards Marble Arch) that Cyril would make suggestions to the teacher (for pliés) like 'Now how about trying a beguine for this? You just do what you were doing, and I'll make it work' [that isn't verbatim - I never met Cyril & I'm recalling a conversation 20 years old, but you get the idea].

So, I thought I'd give this a go. And sure enough, a beguine works brilliantly for pliés, because it's a way of getting yourself through a bar of slow 4/4 without losing the will to live. That's the whole purpose of rhythm, but traditionally, ballet classes seem to eschew it as if it were the work of satan.  The other thing about beguines (and a lot of other things like them) is that the melody moves nice and slowly, with long sustained notes, while the accompaniment carries you through the phrase. 

I love Cole Porter's Night & Day because it's got juicy words and juicy chords. It's seductive, charming and graceful, and you feel like you're singing even though you're just doing musical typing at the piano.  It makes everyone  rather glamorous and slinky first thing in the morning, and there's not a lot you can say that about.

Pliés 1 - Edelweiss

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This is day 1 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Intuition Vol. 4, published by RAD.

There are so many reasons why I love Edelweiss for pliés that I could devote an advent calendar to 25 of them. But here's a few:

  • Nearly everyone knows it (except for one friend, who as it happens is an inhabitant of the very country where the story takes place, but I guess The Sound of Music  wouldn't be in a list of the top ten Austrian musicals, would it...
  • ....and because people know it, they sing along, even if only internally, and this makes them breathe & phrase naturally, elastically and musically
  • The 2+2+4 structure of the 8 bar phrases is perfectly matched to the demi-demi-full structure of so many plié exercises
  • Because the tune is so simple, it means you can concentrate on things like controlling your breath, shaping a note, and expressing something through the phrase, rather than trying to remember the tune - and that applies to musicians as well as dancers
  • Unless you're a heartless cabbage or allergic to musicals, it brings back warm, happy memories that are nicer than the exercise. That's what music is for.
  • It was, according to Suki Schorer in her book on Balanchine technique, one of Balanchine's favourite pieces of music for pliés. I love the fact that man who did stuff to Stravinsky before anyone else, could be as unpretentious and practical as to choose the best music for the job, rather than something that was 'clever'.
  • That's enough reasons for now.

Advent calendar 2007

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If you can call three years running a tradition, then I'd like to welcome you my traditional 'Advent Calendar'.  This started in 2005 as a little project to acknowledge the people of the dance world that I variously admire, love, or owe something to, and want to push up in the Google stakes - as I've said before, it's a terrible and misshapen world where people think that if they can't find you on Google, you don't exist, or don't matter. In 2006 the advent calendar took the form of a ballet class, with each piece of music relating to one of my dance heroes from the year before (and related to the Christmas Day Menu).

This year, I've decided to give a guided tour through some of the music that I've selected & played on the Studio Series CDs that I've contributed to at the Royal Academy of Dance where I work. Someone once told me that I wasn't like the dance musicians she knew, because most of them tended to be quite quiet, insular people who kept themselves to themselves whereas I was more talkative.  It's a terrible habit for a ballet pianist, but I just can't help myself. When Susie Cooper asked for something from Coppélia the other day, I couldn't help myself saying 'Did you know that St Léon lived with Minkus in a flat in St Petersburg?'  I even had the cheek to delay the start of one of Mark Morris's exercises to tell him that Meyerbeer's Le Prophète, part of which I had just been playing, was the first opera to incorporate roller skates (although I note that they were used in a ballet in Berlin in 1818).  It's one of the reasons I love playing for him and his dancers that they found this interesting.

But not everyone does, and so in an effort to shut myself up and let people get on and dance, and for those who like the back-story to what they're dancing to on some of the CDs I've made, here it is, Advent Calendar 2007.

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