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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. 
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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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. 
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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....




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.



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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.
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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?
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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.

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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.


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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.


Happy Christmas 2006

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251206.jpgHappy Christmas. That's the end of the 2006 Advent Calendar. I'm delighted to say that my aim in starting it last year has been achieved - if you search on Google for many of the names on here that are precious to me, but were only sketchy web presences last year, the Advent calendar entries are now frequently the first results that Google returns for the person in question.

There's another side to it this year, though. As all the blog entries are necessarily but uncharacteristically (for blogs) anachronistic, I decided to do a parallel blog-without-words (as Mendelssohn might have put it), keeping a miniature photo diary of whatever caught my eye or occupied my heart or mind each day. I also intended to do the same with music - since blogs are often off-the-cuff thought pieces, sometimes improvisatory and unfinished but timely, I also started musiblogging, throwing together tiny mood pieces which reflected exactly how I felt at the moment I did them. This was an antidote to the self-enforced rubric of the advent calendar.

advent2b_small.jpgI kept up the photoblogging every day with the exception of 13th & 14th December, when I was just too tired & pre-occupied to get round to a photo before midnight, so I recycled two from 10th December. The pictures are the ones you see to the left of each entry, and if you hover over them, you'll get a small clue as to what they're about.

The musiblogging lasted about a week before my time ran out. I'd love to have carried on, but if you want to hear some hurriedly sketched bloggy musical ramblings, click on the question marks (?) at the bottom of the extended entries for 1st - 8th December 2006. They generally go with the pictures as a kind of scratch-and-sniff effect - in other words, the music tells me (and perhaps you) what I was feeling when I took the picture, or on the day generally. Alternatively, you could (if you've got 8'26" to spare) listen to those first 8 days compiled into a single file (MP3, 6.1MB)

All this may seem an odd thing to do, but I'm as fascinated by the 21st century blog-form as others are by the nineteenth century novel; fascinated by its apparent simplicity, directness and immediacy, but aware as a writer of the technical and writerly hoops that one has to go through to achieve the effect, and of the discipline it takes to do what you say you will do. I'm intrigued by the fact that we effortlessly and involuntarily perceive structure, form, unity and meaning into collections of disparate things which were assembled using routine, piecemeal operations, even when it was we who assembled them.

Lastly, I like the number 24. 24 days from Advent to Christmas Eve, 24 hours in a day, 24 Preludes and Fugues, 24 semiquavers in a 24/16 bar, and of course, 24 pictures on an old reel of 35mm film (plus that extra one you usually get at the end if you're lucky). It's the curious and satisfying paradox of blogging, enormous literary freedom within the most rigorous of forms.

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas 2006

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251206.jpgHappy Christmas. That's the end of the 2006 Advent Calendar. I'm delighted to say that my aim in starting it last year has been achieved - if you search on Google for many of the names on here that are precious to me, but were only sketchy web presences last year, the Advent calendar entries are now frequently the first results that Google returns for the person in question.

There's another side to it this year, though. As all the blog entries are necessarily but uncharacteristically (for blogs) anachronistic, I decided to do a parallel blog-without-words (as Mendelssohn might have put it), keeping a miniature photo diary of whatever caught my eye or occupied my heart or mind each day. I also intended to do the same with music - since blogs are often off-the-cuff thought pieces, sometimes improvisatory and unfinished but timely, I also started musiblogging, throwing together tiny mood pieces which reflected exactly how I felt at the moment I did them. This was an antidote to the self-enforced rubric of the advent calendar.

advent2b_small.jpgI kept up the photoblogging every day with the exception of 13th & 14th December, when I was just too tired & pre-occupied to get round to a photo before midnight, so I recycled two from 10th December. The pictures are the ones you see to the left of each entry, and if you hover over them, you'll get a small clue as to what they're about.

The musiblogging lasted about a week before my time ran out. I'd love to have carried on, but if you want to hear some hurriedly sketched bloggy musical ramblings, click on the question marks (?) at the bottom of the extended entries for 1st - 8th December 2006. They generally go with the pictures as a kind of scratch-and-sniff effect - in other words, the music tells me (and perhaps you) what I was feeling when I took the picture, or on the day generally. Alternatively, you could (if you've got 8'26" to spare) listen to those first 8 days compiled into a single file (MP3, 6.1MB)

All this may seem an odd thing to do, but I'm as fascinated by the 21st century blog-form as others are by the nineteenth century novel; fascinated by its apparent simplicity, directness and immediacy, but aware as a writer of the technical and writerly hoops that one has to go through to achieve the effect, and of the discipline it takes to do what you say you will do. I'm intrigued by the fact that we effortlessly and involuntarily perceive structure, form, unity and meaning into collections of disparate things which were assembled using routine, piecemeal operations, even when it was we who assembled them.

Lastly, I like the number 24. 24 days from Advent to Christmas Eve, 24 hours in a day, 24 Preludes and Fugues, 24 semiquavers in a 24/16 bar, and of course, 24 pictures on an old reel of 35mm film (plus that extra one you usually get at the end if you're lucky). It's the curious and satisfying paradox of blogging, enormous literary freedom within the most rigorous of forms.

Happy Christmas!

This is day 24 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

241206_small.jpgIn March 2002, Wayne Sleep organised a gala evening for Dame Beryl Grey's 75th birthday , known, at least to Wayne, as 'DBE' - Dame Beryl's Evening. (As chance would have it, it's only two days ago that I was playing for a rehearsal of Giselle taken by Dame Beryl, who at 80 is in fantastic form, flitting around the studio demonstrating steps and giving advice with the sassy sense of fun and lithe grace of someone 60 years younger).

Wayne would of course be doing a special number for the evening, and so there we were again, sitting at his kitchen table throwing around ideas. Whatever we did had to be put together almost overnight as a backing track on CD, so when he said he wanted to do something that would involve There is nothing like a dame, I knew I was going to have to find a chorus of record-ready sailors somewhere in Tooting at the drop of a hat.

Fortunately, Daniel Jones was only a phone call away.

This is day 23 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

stylus.jpgHarald Lander's ballet Etudes and Knudåge Riisager's music for it based on piano etudes by Carl Czerny ought to be in this Advent Calendar somewhere, because as much as this year's calendar is a tribute to all the people in it, it's also a guided tour through the mysteries of class and the things that go on in musicians' heads when they play for it. In my view, Etudes has so many examples of the way certain music works perfectly for particular types of exercise, that it acts as a mirror, a benchmark, a litmus test, a role model and an education in music and dance all rolled into one for the dance accompanist.

I associate all kinds of music with Ivan Nagy, especially Stravinsky's Apollo for reasons I've already gone into. But since I want to get Etudes in here, I've got no choice but to give a funny reason for associating Ivan with this tarantella, which is the music for the jeté crossings towards the end of the ballet. It goes back to a story Ivan told me, almost crying with laughter, about a performance he was in where he and a ballerina crashed into each other at full speed centre stage, and then - to add insult to injury - her tiara got caught in his crotch and they had to struggle to disentangle themselves before they could get up and escape to the safety and anonymity of the wings. Warmth and laughter are great things to bring to allegro music, and there's nothing like one of Ivan's stories to do the job.

This is day 22 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

ship_small.jpgThere's a huge advantage to working for someone as demanding, professional and uncompromising on quality as Wayne Sleep - it forces your brain to engage with musical problems until you find a solution; and unless you find a solution that they're completely satisfied with, your brain is still engaged with the search even years after the initial task. This is a very healthy mode to live in for a dance accompanist, and it means that everyone else gets the benefit of your curiosity and perseverance.

After just over 20 years of playing for classes, I've come to the conclusion that Riccardo Drigo is often the answer to some of the most difficult questions presented by class -

Q: how can I play something painfully slow, but maintain the interest and fun?
A: the female solo (the one with the tambourine) from Esmeralda
Q: what's the butchest music you can play for a male grand allegro without breaking the piano?
A: The male solo from Le Corsaire

In terms of the problems it solves, the coda to Diane & Acteon (the history of this pas de deux is complex - see under Esmeralda) is a little masterpiece. Wayne once asked me to suggest some music for the end of a gala performance. He said something like "I want a coda that's not just your typical ballet coda like Don Q. It could be a waltz, but it can't be too slow - it's got to move; it's got to be entertaining because I've got a lot of people to bring on and it's the end of the show, so they've got to go out with a bang. It's got to give a chance to everyone to show off, but it mustn't dip, it must be fun..." and so it went on.

I'm always secretly very proud when I get it right first time with Wayne, so I was delighted when he said that this piece was just what he wanted. The more I play it in other contexts, the more convinced I am that along with the finale of Etudes, it's probably one of the most perfect pieces of grand allegro music I know. It was the experience of working with Wayne that taught me how to recognise a good bit of allegro when I saw it, and I'm grateful for that almost every time I walk into a studio.

This is day 21 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

bauble_small.jpgIf there's one nationality Beethoven simply couldn't be, it's Australian. Nothing and no-one could be further than him from the warm, down-to earth, tell-it-like-it is nature of the Australians. So I was really shocked to find that one of my favourite Australians Gilly Cornish was just mad about Beethoven. (Australians are my favourite people, though Gilly pointed out that I shouldn't draw too many conclusions from that - since all the ones I liked had left Australia).

Although there are a few bits of his music that I quite like, 95% of it annoys me. Maybe it's the baggage it comes with: it's 'Beethoven' rather than Beethoven that I don't like, as Richard Taruskin would put it. Even when I was a teenager in the 1970s, you couldn't escape the overwhelming, overbearing presence of Beethoven in musicology and music training: popular music was crap because it didn't have Beethoven's grammatical and discursive surface, and every composer after him was considered as an aberration or poor relation of this thundering, nitpicking, teutonic pedant. There was only one approach to studying Beethoven's music, and that was mindless, uncritical adulation. He was God, and you weren't allowed to ask why he made you suffer.

This is day 20 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

201206_small.jpgThe three years that I spent working with John O'Brien were some of most eventful and magical that I can remember. One summer in particular, the whole world seemed to speed up like a fairground ride, an emotional Spaghetti Junction of people, places, love, meetings, partings, music, song, dance and balmy weather (many of the people mentioned in this Advent Calendar met each other in that summer at one of Gilly's barbecues, and there was something decidedly spooky about how everyone else somehow interconnected too). I made friends, I lost friends, fell in and out of love, felt unpredictably desolate and ecstatic in equal measure, all of it accompanied by & interwoven with the songs I learned while I was working for the first time with Gertrude Thoma and Nicolas Mead their show, From Brecht to Brel; and that's how I fell in love with German cabaret music once and for all.

This is day 19 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

blue_door_small.jpgSome tunes I collect because I hope someone will recognise them one day, and others are just things which I like, and don't expect anyone to know in a million years. But people and their musical experiences are unpredictable, and so I was amazed when Susie Cooper laughed and said to me one day "You've got some pretty weird pieces in your repertoire. I mean you play We'll all go riding on a rainbow " and The flat foot floogie with the floy, floy !".

Flat Foot Floogie is yet another song from And the bands played on (see earlier entry, and I like it for many of the reasons that I like If I only had wings - it's too fast, it's a bit silly, and it's fun to play.

You have to negotiate the last bit of the middle eight like taking a corner too quickly in 3rd gear, which is one of the things that lends the tune it's zaniness. It's also a reason why I prefer real tunes to improvisation in class - you can't sound fast if you're making it up as you go along because you have to play safe, and you can't compose your way out of complex melodic or harmonic corners at speed.

Even though Flat Foot Floogie is about as far removed from Susie's preferred musical diet as you could get, there's something very Susie about it, something excitable, zany and overclocked. Like me she relishes verbal humour and silly words, and you can't get much sillier than the words to Flat Foot Floogie (although according to some sources, it means 'the prostitute with venereal disease' which doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

This is day 18 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

181206.jpgIf I only had wings is another song from And the bands played on (see earlier entry). Apparently it was written in 1939, with words by Sid Colin, and music by Ronnie Aldrich. It was once a bit of a hit, but evidently not for long, so I can't find the lyrics or details of recordings anywhere on the net now. From the moment I heard it, I loved the madcap happiness of the song, and especially its middle eight, which manages to pack so many punches in eight bars, you feel like you've been away for the weekend by the time the tune comes back in. It's great fun to play, and works well for jumps.

I know that my taste in music is a bit odd - not surprising, considering how much it owes to the junk shops, jumble sales and bargain bins that I've trawled in every country I've visited. But I have private and very good reasons for liking the things I like, so I was really chuffed when Harald Krytinar said that this song was one of his favourites for class, for mostly the same reasons that I like it. That's the reason it went on to the class album we produced together, and that's why he gets it for this Advent calendar class.

This is day 17 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

tooting_illuminations_small.jpgMost dancers seem to hate adage. And if they don't hate it, they need such 'support' from the music that playing for the exercise is like administering CPR to a cow, or blowing up a tyre with a puncture. You hardly dare let the music breathe in case they fall over or lose the will to développé.

I was surprised, then, to hear Victor Alvarez say, during a quiet moan about the drudgery of daily class when you're not feeling like it, "Actually, I don't mind adage. Wafting around a studio to Chopin, I like that bit. That's fun." It's worth knowing that not everyone needs adage music to be an iron-pumping piano frenzy, and that for some people - even men, it's an opportunity to let the spirit free and be poetic.

I don't know which piece of Chopin he may have had in mind, but I adore the 'Raindrop' prelude, and I'd give anything to see Victor waft around a studio to it.

This is day 16 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

geranium.jpgAmazing how some things stick in your mind for ever. I'll always associate this song with Pussy (Diana Payne Myers), because of a pirouette exercise in Craig Phillips' open class at the Urdang Studios in Shelton Street 20 years ago (Craig's now Course Director at the Urdang Academy). I'd been playing for dance classes for about a year, and was on the point of hating it and giving up, when Craig asked me if I'd play for his evening class. He set a pirouette from the corner on a waltz that went on forever, and I pulled out every last waltz that I could think of to avoid boring the class, or myself, including Wunderbar!. Pussy was the dancer up next when it was time for this tune, and the minute she heard it, she was away, her whole body expressing 'wunderbar!', and she was probably singing along as well.

This is day 15 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

151206.jpgOne of the jobs I've hated most as a company pianist is having to be the errand boy for the ballet staff during stage calls with orchestra. You're asked (no, told) to sit in the front row of the stalls behind the conductor, and wait for one of the ballet staff to shout down to you "Can you tell him it's too fast?" or '"Tell him we want to go back to where Jane comes on". Now, you're not supposed to talk to bus drivers while they're driving, so how do you think conductors (excuse the confusion of terms) feel about having some lowly pianist tapping them on the shoulder while they're commanding an entire orchestra, telling them they're doing it wrong?

This is day 14 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

ann_hogben.jpgOne day I was walking through the Fonteyn Centre at the RAD, and as I passed the Ashton studio, I became transfixed by the most haunting melody being played on the piano. I stopped to listen, curious to know who was playing so beautifully, and what this extraordinary piece was that they were playing. You have to know that I'm not often transfixed by the music that comes out of ballet studios to understand why this was unusual.

It turned out it was Ann Hogben, playing Geoffrey Toye's waltz from The Haunted Ballroom, from the 1934 ballet by Ninette de Valois. I'd seen pictures of this ballet in some old Sadlers Wells annual, but never heard the music - and it did exactly what it said on the tin, it was truly haunting. But it also took someone of Annie's calibre to play it with such integrity that you could be haunted from outside the studio.
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This is day 13 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

mark_morris.jpgAs I've noted many times, music in class can be part of a wonderful conversation between pianist and teacher, and this is especially true of a class with Mark Morris. In one class, Take back your mink was the perfect riposte (played unexpectedly, suddenly, for the second side of an exercise that went straight from one side to the other) for something that Mark was doing cheekily to the music on the first side, and it made us all laugh. It's a sign of the heightened, intense musical awareness and focus that goes on in Mark's classes that anyone found this funny or noticed it at all.

As they say about jokes, 'I guess you had to be there...'. Well, that's the point, I was there, and that's why it counts as one of the moments that has made being a dance musician most worthwhile for me - I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
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This is day 12 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

feschelola.jpgWoytek Lowski often used to look quite severe during class, probably due to a combination of his angular features, an intense focus on the job at hand, and the aloofness of a visionary. He was also a terrifically hard worker, and expected others to be no different. By the time class started, he had probably been awake for hours, writing down and memorizing exercises in longhand in reporters pads.

But the look could crack suddenly into rapture or helpless laughter, and all it took was a piece of music. I knew Friedrich Hollaender's wonderful comic song Ich bin die fesche Lola from working with Gertrude Thoma, but what I knew was only the notes and the words - the song didn't have a context or history for me. Woytek, as I discovered, knew the film it came from, Der blaue Engel, with Marlene Dietrich as the eponymous Lola of the song, and so the minute I started playing it for a class full of male dancers at 10.15 in the morning, he found it outrageously funny. (Incidentally, another luminary of this calendar, Christopher Hampson, knows the whole chorus in German, and always sings along if I'm playing it. It's a funny old world.) It was not the first time, by a long shot, that a dancer ended up teaching me about the music I was playing - and my gratitude for that is the point of these Advent calendars.
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This is day 11 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

ambal_2.jpgOne of the hardest things for pianists to understand about ballet classes is what exercises are about. As a musician, you're usually trying to express something, tell a story, create a mood, show-off, entertain or explore an emotion with music, so the idea of movement for movement's sake is odd.

The idea that a teacher might ask you for 'some music' for an exercise without being specific about what kind of music, or without explaining (or caring about) the motivation behind the exercise or the music seems even odder. What kind of movement is a tendu - angry? sensuous? sly? lyrical? determined? quirky? And if you don't have a view on that, then what kind of music do you need? And (frankly), if you don't have a view on that, why have music at all?

Now a tendu may just be a tendu, but you can still have an attitude of mind or spirit while you do it, and that's what the best teachers get across. Betty Anderton, though, went one further. Her repertoire of tunes, sung with terrific abandon, contained everything you needed to know about the aim, character, tempo, articulation, spirit, dynamics and humour of the exercise without any need for explanation. The 'ha ha ha' in this Fledermaus aria says more to both the dancers and pianist about the quality of the music and the quality of the ronds de jambe than words or counts ever could. When my colleagues and I at the RAD were compiling A Dance Class Anthology, one of our aims was to create a kind of catalogue of musical paradigms like this, and whatever contributions I made owe a lot to the education I received by playing for Betty.
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This is day 10 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)
lotsroad_small.jpg I used to love forcing a smile out of Klaus Beelitz for class by finding ever more obscure or oddball German songs to play when he least expected it. You can't get more oddball than the songs, and the way they performed them, of the Comedian Harmonists; and of all their repertoire, Ich wollt' ich wär' ein Huhn ('I wish I were a hen') surely wins a few prizes for lunacy. Even the title is funny, with its crescendo of nitpicking umlauts, elisions and subjunctives leading only to the word 'hen'.

In terms of rhythm, tempo, articulation and dynamics, it's got everything you want for frappé music, with the added bonus that it's got ridiculous lyrics sung by nutty Germans, and the strangely uncomfortable knowledge that they were singing them at one of the darkest moments in the history of the world. You need context like this if you're going to do that many frappés in your life.

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This is day 9 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)
091206.jpg I think the male solo from Les Sylphides is one of the hardest thing for a dancer to pull off, starting with the bizarre cravat in the costume, and continuing through the wafty poetry of the steps and the unlikely premise of a grown man in a woman's world getting up to dance in front of a load of sylphs, asserting his masculinity but not being so masculine that he jars with their fluffy white lala-land. He's got to look noble and strong, but bend to every nuance of the music, a man enchanted by another man's romantic musical outpourings, brought to life by (mostly) more men in an orchestra pit, but not a bit gay. He's got to be a dreamer who remembers to put the rubbish out.

This is day 8 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

081206.jpgNe vredi plakati is an 'old city song' (starogradska pjesma) that I learnt as a 22 year old student in Zagreb. Three and a half thousand of us from all over Yugoslavia (as it still was then), Central & South America, Africa & the Middle East lived in a kind of Olympic village of 9 'pavilions' built next to a lake at the end of a tram line called Studentski Dom 'Stjepan Radić (see earlier entry & gallery). They were very different times - no mobiles, no PCs, no internet, no credit. You'd hang out in your room, people would visit each other, and there were parties every night somewhere. Within weeks of being there, I'd learned about a dozen of these songs by heart, because after a couple of glasses of wine (the one thing we never went without, even if there was sometimes no hot water), that's what you did - you started singing. There's absolutely nothing to compare it with in English culture, we just don't have a repertoire of songs that people know, we don't socialize in the same way, and we don't break into song on social occasions.

This is day 7 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)
During a really ghastly period in my personal and professional life a few years ago, only one thing put a genuine smile on my face. Tania Fairbairn's National Dance classes at Central School of Ballet were just a half-hour class once a week, last thing in the day at about 7.00pm, but I remember them as if it were yesterday, because she and they helped to keep me sane.

Apart from the fact that she's delightful to work with, exudes calm and has a fabulously dry sense of humour, the children loved doing the dances she taught them so much, they would beg her to be allowed to do them again. When you play music for people who enjoy dancing, it's fun and rewarding, and their energy feeds yours, and the whole experience is exhilarating.

Turkey in the Straw was the music for the Virginia Reel, and I remember Tania warning me kindly that I was going to know the music extremely well after a while, because you have to play it so many times for one dance. It's such a simple tune, and yes, I did have to play it many, many times, but I couldn't get bored watching those children have such a good time, or working with Tania. As soon as I hear the tune, I can see that studio at the top of the school, remember the bright lights inside and the dark November nights outside, and as awful as everything else was at the time, it brings back happy memories.

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This is day 6 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

It's a wonderful feeling when you play something for class that you think is a bit obscure or only you would like, and it meets with instant recognition and approval, because dancers know it better than you do, or from a different context. I especially love it when teachers momentarily go off at a tangent because they like the music for an exercise too much to ignore it. David Wall does this every time I play a bit of Les Biches for class at ENB, even to the point of stopping to ask the dancers where the music comes from and who it's by. It never ceases to amaze me that this kind of on-the-fly music appreciation and education goes on a lot more in companies than it does in 'dance education' but that's another story.

I have Michael Ho to thank for introducing me to Poulenc's wonderful score: my first job in dance was at the RAD in 1986, and that's where I met a lot of people on the PDTC (as it was then) course that I still know today. One of them was Michael, who was moving and wanted to sell a lot of his record collection.

This is day 5 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)


I've been working with the unerringly, brilliantly musical Christopher Hampson as a dancer, friend, colleague, drinking partner, teacher, inspiration, mentor, you-name-it and all of the above in any order or no order at all, all at once, for so long now that we've built up a whole library of music that could go in this slot of the Advent Calendar. But there's one in particular which I've grown to associate with him to the extent that I might request it for my funeral, just to make sure he laughs (a favourite pastime that, thinking of music or other things to request that will corpse your best mate at your own funeral).

Juliette Gréco's song Non monsieur, je n'ai pas vingt ans was one of the chansons I covered with Nicolas Mead and Gertrude Thoma in a show called From Brecht to Brel, and which soon went into my class repertoire. In rehearsal, I put a little piano riff in at the end of the song which is really no more than a rhythmic vamp on the harmony, but we liked it so it stayed.

This is day 4 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

Why Blue Moon and Malcolm Williamson? It's simple. When I first met and worked with Malcolm in Angoulême in 1982, I was enthusing to him one day about the popular music of the 30s and 40s, which I said I thought was a golden age in music. 'Really?' he asked, in an astonished voice. I thought I'd made the most awful faux pas. Here I was with the Master of the Queen's Musick saying that I thought The Girl in the Upstairs Flat and the Flat Foot Floogie were symbols of a golden age in music. What was I thinking of?

This is day 3 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

Some of the greatest dancers and teachers I've met have one thing in common at least: their mind is always 'on' as far as music is concerned, like someone who never puts the phone down in case the other person still has something to say. There's usually one dancer in a studio who'll give you the most fleeting of smiles because they heard the way you phrased something differently today than yesterday, or because there's an extra hint of happiness or sadness in the way you played a familiar song, or because the piece has (if you but recognised it or thought about it) special connotations. Great teachers feel moved by the music with, if not before the dancers, and sweep the class along with them.

The first time I played for Pat Neary's class was one cold winter morning at 10 am at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin (which feels like 7.00am in most people's days), and instantly I realised she was one of those people who felt everything in the music.

This is day 2 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

The more I think about the Minuet in B Minor from Bach's suite BWV 1067, the less I think I should ever play it for pliés. This was the first dance that I had to play for one of Belinda Quirey's historical dance classes at the RAD, and it was a revelation.

This is day 1 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

I'd only have to play a couple of chords of Georgia on my mind for warm-up and Jackie Barratt would melt. What a great way to start a class. It makes me melt too, and here's why.

During my student days over 25 years ago, I bought a double LP from the Army & Navy stores in Victoria called And the Bands Played On, released by the BBC, which had a selection of songs from World War II on it. I think I bought it because I didn't have any records with me in London at the time, and I picked up the first one I saw.

Welcome to Advent Calendar II

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During Advent of last year, I wrote tributes to the people of the dance world who'd been an inspiration to me as a musician, and called it my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (you have to scroll down to the bottom and read it backwards, of course). On Christmas day, I invented a 'menu' of music to go with each person. "Each piece of music reminds me in a special way of the person they are associated with below, for reasons which I'd go into if I didn't have to put a turkey in the oven myself", I said.

Well, I don't have to put a turkey in the oven for another 24 days, so welcome to my Advent 2006 calendar where I reveal some of the thoughts that go through my head while I'm playing.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS 2005

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall HAPPY CHRISTMAS!
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris Thomas Edur Ann Hogben Graham Bond Tania Fairbairn

There's a wonderful restaurant in Prague called Restaurace Století where I've spent many a happy time with friends and colleagues from the ballet masterclasses. Each dish on Století's menu is named after a particular luminary of the 20th century. In the same spirit, and as the finale to this dance inspirations advent calendar, may I present to you my Christmas Dinner Class Menu. Each piece of music reminds me in a special way of the person they are associated with below, for reasons which I'd go into if I didn't have to put a turkey in the oven myself. Happy christmas, and bon appetit!

Potage du Jour

Warm-up Jackie Barratt: - Georgia on my mind


Les hors d'oeuvres

Pliés Belinda Quirey - Minuet in B minor J S Bach

Pliés Pat Neary - Tonight from West Side Story

Slow tendus Malcolm Williamson - Blue Moon

Faster Tendus Christopher Hampson - Non, monsieur je n'ai pas vingt ans

Battements glissés David Wall - Rondeau from Les Biches

Battements glissés Tania Fairbairn - Turkey in the straw

Ronds de jambe à terre Irena Pasarić - Ne vrijedi plakati (starogradska pjesma)

Battements fondus Thomas Edur - Mazurka in C major from Les Sylphides

Battements frappés Klaus Beelitz - Ich wöllt' ich wär' ein Huhn

Ronds de jambe en l'air Betty Anderton - Adèle's laughing song from Die Fledermaus

Petits battements Woytek Lowski - Ich bin die fesche Lola!

Grands battements Mark Morris -Take back your mink

[Veuillez prendre place au milieu]

Les Entrées

Tendus & pirouettes Ann Hogben - Waltz from The Haunted Ballroom

Pirouettes Graham Bond - Pigtail Girl from Graduation Ball

Pirouettes en diagonal Pussy - Wunderbar from Kiss Me Kate

Adage Victor Alvarez - Chopin: Prelude in D flat ('Raindrop Prelude)


Les Plats Principaux

Warm-up jump Harald Krytinar - If I only had wings

Petit allegro Susie Cooper - Flat foot floogie with the floy, floy

Allegro John O'Brien - Zwei dunkle Augen

Batterie Gillian Cornish - Last movement from Beethoven piano concerto No. 5 (The Emperor)


Les Desserts

Grand allegro Wayne Sleep - Coda from Diane & Acteon

Grand allegro Ivan Nagy - Tarantella from Etudes

Manège Daniel Jones - There is nothing like a dame

Tania Fairbairn

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 24th in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris Thomas Edur Ann Hogben Graham Bond Tania Fairbairn

Not Tania, but someone in Budapest dancing a czardas, which seemed kind of appropriate, although I suspect Tania might have done it much better. The picture isn't of Tania, but it is of a Hungarian woman doing the csárdás in a restaurant in Budapest. There was a lot of wine, a lot of food, a lot of dancing, and a lot of music. My kind of evening.
As it comes to the end of this advent calendar, I'm left with a very difficult decision: I still have all kinds of people I'd love to pay homage to, but advent is advent, and I've got to stop because tomorrow's christmas. So I applied a criterion - it had to be someone, or an event involving someone, which I find myself constantly referring to in conversation with friends and colleagues.

Graham Bond

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 23rd in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris Thomas Edur Ann Hogben Graham Bond 24

Me & Graham Bond - and if you click on the link, the singer James Meek, too - after a performance of Robert North's A Stranger I Came (with me & James doing the Schubert songs), Swansong & Etudes in the opera house in Budapest, 1991

What works on a piano in the studio very often doesn't work on stage with an orchestra, so that the first day a conductor comes to rehearsals in the lead-up to a show is a bit like your parents coming home early to find you getting drunk with your teenage schoolmates on their duty-free Campari. It's only a baton, but you can almost hear the dismay:
"Look at this rubato all over the place! You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"I told you that Boris was a bad influence. I don't care how many pirouettes he can do, you keep in tempo like you've been taught!"
"How dare you help yourself to my presto?! I was saving that for the coda!"
"Now your mother and I are going to try and sort this ballet out. From now on, you'll do as your told and play when I tell you to"

What I learnt from Graham Bond, however, was that it can sometimes the other way around. I have a tendency sometimes to play through music somewhat peremptorily, forgetting how healthy it is to let it breathe. In my early days at ENB, where Graham was my boss, I was also pretty clueless about how to make a pas de deux work between the music and the dancers, and as a result was quite heartless, without meaning to be, about tempo.

Ann Hogben

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 22nd in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris Thomas Edur Ann Hogben 23 24

Annie at the piano circa 2000. I've got a nicer picture somewhere, which I'll post later. It was to Annie that David Wall sent me to pick up some tips about playing for class when I was floundering about hopelessly at the RAD as a novice dance accompanist back in 1986. Apart from the fact that Annie was a good pianist and accompanist, she was a good choice as a teacher because she had a large repertoire of music for class from popular classics & songs, which made it easy to point at something and say "that's the kind of thing to play for grands battements" or "that's quite nice for adage".

Thomas Edur

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 21st in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris Thomas Edur 22 23 24

Thomas Edur on tour in Budapest 1993, doing his 'spy' look. Nearly every picture I have of Tom is like this - he improvises anything but a regular smile for the camera! My website hasn't yet become what I once intended it to be, having been hijacked by exigencies and the mundane, but the fact that it's here at all is thanks to a conversation with Thomas Edur. Some years ago I was chatting to him & Yat Sen Chang in a corridor at a party, having an animated discussion about musicality. It annoyed me at the time - as it still does now - that in some ways, it's not that complicated an issue, despite the ink & frowns that are expended on it. All it needs is for people to address it, and in practical terms, keep music and musicality high on the agenda in the studio - what's complicated & difficult is trying to get it there in the first place. I've met plenty of people whose approach to music, musicality in performance, and sensitivity to music is exemplary - Tom chief amongst them - and yet they are not often called upon to share it or discuss it, except for the occasional insight like this one from Thomas in a Radio 3 interview - "I remember being told when I was eight years old; “If you can sing the melody, then you can dance it.”

Mark Morris

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 20th in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric Mark Morris 21 22 23 24

Mark Morris in rehearsal at ENB for Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes. Photograph © Asya Verzhbinsky, reproduced with her kind permission. www.asyav-images.com Photo © Asya Verzhbinsky, Reproduced with permission
On a Saturday lunchtime around this time last year, I walked out of the Sadler's Wells stage door & up Rosebery Avenue feeling like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. I'd just played my first class for Mark Morris & his company (I'd already played for Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes in 2003, but never for a class), and it was - I'm not exagerrating - a mindblowing experience.

I guess you have to understand that ballet class is something that has bugged my curiosity ever since I first walked through the doors of the RAD nearly 20 years ago. When I left there 9 months later, I tried to explain to the then director, Julia Farron, that much as I liked dance and was grateful for my job, I was frustrated because I felt that class could be so much more than it currently was, but there seemed to be no way of doing it.

Irena Pasarić

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 19th in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey Irena Pasaric 20 21 22 23 24

Irena Pasaric from Croatian National Ballet (HNK). This picture is taken from the HNK site and links directly to Irena's biography there

If it weren't for Irena Pasarić, I would probably still hate Swan Lake as much as I hated it before I met her. Playing for rehearsals of the Act II pas de deux is often an experience similar to what Richard goes through in Keeping up appearances when he has Hyacinth as a passenger: "Slow down! Mind that arabesque! Don't go so fast! Watch that pirouette! Stop! Don't stop! Now, stop now! Not now, when I say so!"

Belinda Quirey (1912 - 1996)

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Woytek Lowski Gillian Cornish John O'Brien Malcolm Williamson Jackie Barratt Pussy (Diana Payne Myers) Christopher Hampson David Wall This is December 18th in my Dance Inpirations advent calendar
Susie Cooper Daniel Jones Ivan Nagy Wayne Sleep Betty Anderton Harald Krytinar Victor Alvarez Pat Neary
Klaus Beelitz Belinda Quirey 19 20 21 22 23 24

Louis XIV as Apollo in The Ballet Royal de la Nuit, from the Library of Congress exhibition, Treasures from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France

It says a lot about Belinda that the story I'd most like to tell about her famous classes in Historical Dance at the RAD is unprintable. Her definition of dance history was broad enough to include occasionally testing the students' knowledge of the extramarital shennanigans of ballet stars. I think she wanted to make sure they didn't get overwhelmed by the superficial glamour of the royal institutions with which they came regularly in contact. In the middle of an explanation of contrapposto she might suddenly say in her deep voice which owed something to Edith Evans, "Now, my darling treasures, which star of the Royal Ballet famously...."

Klaus Beelitz

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This is Dec. 17th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 16th

One of the advantages of dance being a silent art is that what two people sense or read in each other, and the ethereal conversation that happens between dancer and dancer, dancer and musician, teacher & pianist is so much more interesting, poignant, fleeting, deep and moving than anything one might say with words. As a musician in class, you often end up reading people and 'talking' to them and they with you, with music. You might never actually talk to them, but at some level you've had a musical encounter more direct and meaningful than a thousand conversations.

Maybe I read it all wrong, but when I first met Klaus, who was ballet master at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (now subsumed under the Staatsballett-Berlin), I got the feeling that maybe he got a bit tired and overwhelmed by the predominantly English culture that had taken over there. Rehearsals were conducted entirely in English, there were only a handful of Germans in the company, and with a couple of exceptions, most of the foreigners couldn't be bothered to learn German. As an example of how bizarre that situation was, one pianist there had spent time and money in her native Azerbaijan learning German in preparation for the move to Berlin, only to be berated by one of the anglophone staff because she 'only' spoke German (rather than English).

Pat (Patricia) Neary

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Part of the Acropolis in Athens (from an ENB tour in 2003) This is Dec. 16th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th 15th

I haven't got a picture of Pat Neary, but since the first time we met we were working on Apollo, and the second time on Agon, something with an ancient Greek theme seemed appropriate. Also, there's something about Pat's pedigree as a dancer & teacher of the Balanchine repertoire, her humour, wit, intelligence, and understanding of life, ballet, art & people that make me think of her as a kind of living oracle.

Victor Alvarez

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Victor Alvarez in Berlin sometime in the summer of 1997 This is Dec. 15th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th 14th

Saying that someone is your favourite dancer or the best dancer you ever saw is difficult, because some people are your favourites in particular roles, or new people come along who challenge the position, or you just don't want to be forced to choose between equals. But if my life depended on it, I'd be willing to say that Victor Alvarez is my favourite male dancer, and, for my taste, probably the best dancer I've ever had the pleasure of working with, and without any doubt at all, the most musical.

Woytek Lowski once said to Jo (Josephine) Jewkes after her performance of the Prelude in Les Sylphides "Well, once again, you ruined the show - you were so good you made everyone else on stage look terrible". In the same spirit, Victor has made my life a misery at times: when you know that something can be done as effortlessly, spectacularly and musically as Victor does it, and with such friendly charm and good naturedness, it makes so much else that you do seem like a bad marriage.

Harald Krytinar

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Harald Krytinar. This links to a picture of me & Harald in our studio in Berlin in 1996. This is Dec. 14th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th 13th

I am thankful to Harald and glad to know him for many reasons. I met him in Germany, where we were both employed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin (he currently dances with Ballet Preljocaj ) . He's an instinctive musician; one of those dancers who hears music so acutely that if you decided to articulate four semiquavers differently today than yesterday, or to put in an extra rubato, he'd notice, and raise a cheerful eyebrow at you as he moved a limb or tendon in a correspondingly different way. It's those dancers who make being a dance musician worthwhile - well, let's face it, they make watching dance worthwhile.

As a musician, dancer, sound technician and friend, we had many conversations about music for dance in the various contexts one finds it in a theatre - classes, rehearsals, performances; the problems with conductors, the problems of stage monitors, tempo, sound equipment, cuing shows. As with so many other people in this calendar, I owe much of my understanding of dance and music to these conversations.

Elizabeth (Betty) Anderton

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flowers.gif This is Dec. 13th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th 12th

The ballet world is that small, and Betty is that well-known amongst dancers that if you say 'Betty' to most dancers, it means Betty Anderton. The fact that I can't find a single recent picture of her teaching, either in my own collection, or on the web, illustrates perfectly my motivation for this advent calendar. Considering the thousands of wonderful classes and rehearsals she has taken for probably thousands of dancers over the last few decades, and that those classes and rehearsals have been behind many of the greatest performers and performances you have seen, it is monstrously unfair and unbalanced that you can't find more than a handful of sites which just mention her in passing.

Wayne Sleep

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This is Dec. 12th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th
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I don't think I have ever worked so hard or so intensely as I have on the many, many projects that Wayne and I have done together. He's a genius, and geniuses set off litle whirlwinds of activity around them wherever they go and whatever they do. Wayne's mind moves so quickly, that it's dangerous to leave the back-of-an-envelope near him in case he has devised a show, a tour and a gala while you were putting the kettle on. As an example, when I was working as his assistant on the World of Classical Ballet tour, we met after the day's rehearsals to top-line a number which involved arranging a medley of classical & folk tunes into a five minute collage. It didn't take much longer than five minutes to decide how to do it. "Fabulous...And if we can have that tomorrow...." said Wayne, as I waved goodbye.

Ivan Nagy

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ivan_1.jpg

This is Dec. 11th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th

I have a huge soft spot for Ivan, not just because he is one of the nicest people I've ever met, but also because he was the first director I worked for as a full-time company pianist. In that capacity, he presided over my debut performance with ENB which was playing for Apollo in Malvern, and I still treasure the chukkas card and present that he and his wife Marilyn gave me. There are only a handful of people who would realise how important & nerve-wracking that first performance would be; for a director to be bothered enough to send a card & a present as well is extraordinary.

Daniel Jones

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Dan holding a copy of the Studio Series Intuitions CD Vol 3: it's him on the front of the CD.

This is Dec. 10th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th

The photograph shows Dan holding a copy of Studio Series Intuitions Vol. 3: he's the person in the picture on the front, and is currently the new face of all the Intuitions CDs produced by the RAD. I had no idea this was going to happen - I just suggested that they redesigned, and the next thing I know is, there's my best mate Dan on the front. Spooky: we were on tour in Brazil back in 1992/3, just after Dan joined ENB; we had one day in Sao Paolo to look around, and Dan and I spent most of it looking round a market and talking. We've been friends ever since, and music has played an enormous part in that, so it's amazingly appropriate that they should have chosen that image.

Susie Cooper

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susie_small.jpg This is Dec. 9th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th

Susie is another one of those people that I seem to have had a non-stop conversation with about dance & music since the day we met, which was some time early in 1986. She taught choreography at the RAD, and was what you might call the 'token contemporary' teacher, having come from Rambert and therefore partial to the odd lean sideways and music with wrong notes in. I'm being facetious: if there's one thing that is guaranteed to get me and Susie worked up into a lather, it's the idiocy of trying to make rigid distinctions between 'contemporary dance' and ballet, or 'classical' and 'modern' music.

David Wall

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Ballerina Daria Klimentova showing her iPod Nano to ballet master David Wall in the lower studio at ENB. For more detail, see the end of this article This is Dec. 8th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th

David Wall with Daria Klimentova +iPod

I've forgotten quite how terrible my first attempts at playing for class were nearly 20 years ago, and what forms that terribleness took. What I do remember, though, as if it only happened this morning, was the effect it had on one of the poor sods I was playing for. I think David Wall, who was a director (with Julia Farron) of the RAD at the time, must have suffered my playing once or twice in silence, but this time, he couldn't hide his impatience any longer. When I saw him coming towards me in the corridor after the class, I was absolutely terrified. He seemed to be shaking, sweating and glowering, as if one false move on my part would have made him punch my lights out.

Christopher Hampson

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chris.jpg This is Dec. 7 th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
I've been dreading the day when I get to Chris in this advent calendar, because I simply don't know where to start, and having started, I could probably continue writing until I retire. We've been friends and colleagues since 1992, and without a doubt, he is both my greatest friend, greatest influence, and greatest inspiration. We started working, talking and laughing when he first joined ENB, and haven't stopped since. Even when we haven't been working together, we've usually found an excuse to come along to each others' projects anyway, to the extent that it's quite difficult to remember who was really supposed to be working on what. In any case, we both enjoy our work so much that none of it really feels like work. He has made me laugh longer & harder that anyone else on the planet; the closest I have come to death was driving down Kingsway, and remembering something that he'd said earlier that evening; just the memory of it made me laugh so much I had to pull over before I crashed.

Pussy (Diana Payne Myers)

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whodasmall.jpgThis is Dec. 6th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Sometime in the spring of 1987, I was playing for an evening professional open class at the Urdang studios in Covent Garden. I noticed the most wonderful dancer at the barre - wonderful, because she seemed to respond to the slightest nuance in the music, with tenutos, staccatos, phrasings & rubatos all equisitely played out in her movement. She knew even the most esoteric tunes, and a lot of them made her laugh.

Jackie Barratt

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Kevin Richmond (L) & Jacqui Barratt (R) on stage at the opera house in Budapest, Hungary in 1992 (I think). The quality's dreadful, but I love the picture This is Dec. 5th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd 4th

How different life might have been if Jackie hadn't been doing the Professional Dancer's Teaching Certificate at the RAD in 1986 when I had my first job there. I played for some of her classes, we got on, she liked the way I played, I liked the way she taught, and one Sunday afternoon, she invited me to meet some people from ENB (or Festival Ballet, as it was then), including one of the pianists. Sooner or later, I was invited to play for a company class, and over the next three years, I freelanced at ENB and fell in love with the company, its dancers, and everything it stood for.

Is it any wonder? After class one day, I stayed to watch Lynn Seymour rehearsing Anastasia since I had a couple of hours to kill. One evening, Peter Schaufuss asked me if I would mind terribly staying on another hour so that he and Lynn could rehearse Romeo & Juliet. One legend after an other walked in and out of those studios, and although it was often years before I realised just how lucky I was to have been there, there was a constant electrical charge from all the talent & artistry.

Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)

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This is Dec. 4th in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd 3rd Malcolm Williamson in France in 1982
My first experience of Malcolm Williamson's music was as a bassist in the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra. We played the Suite from Our Man in Havana which to me was the most exciting piece I'd played in. It was sexy, brash, ballsy, clever, dancy, and with a kind of emotional soar in it that left you tingling on the edge of your seat. There was this thrilling modulation in the middle-eight of one of the numbers which was so weird, remote & sudden, you wondered how on earth he was going to get out of it again and back to the tune. The journey back to the home key was a bit like a turbulent flight - sudden plunges which were terrifying and thrilling at the same time. I loved this music so much, I wanted to eat it until it made me sick, and then go back for more.

So when, about 6 years later, I was working for the publishers Josef Weinberger, and they said Malcolm Williamson was coming in for a meeting, I did the sensible thing, rushed out of the building and hid in the café across the road until he'd gone. I was so in awe of the man, I thought I might just self-combust if I was introduced to him, or just stand their tongue-tied and gaga.

John O'Brien

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This is Dec. 3rd in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st 2nd
johnny_smaller.jpg In the late summer of 1986, I decided that the RAD wasn't for me after all. I have to be grateful to one of their examiners, to whom I poured my heart out over several G&T's on the train back from Newcastle after a gruelling exam tour - she said "Resign now while it still bothers you. If you stay a few months longer, you'll 'sear' yourself to the pain, start to lose your drive and end up one of those people who 'get by' in their job because they've taught themselves not to care any more". It was brilliant advice: I took it, and resigned.

Due to some emergency or other, in my last couple of weeks at the RAD I was asked to play for John O'Brien, whose classes up until then had been considered too complex or fast for someone as green as me, but this was an emergency and the view was, we'd both have to cope as best we could with each other under the circumstances.

Cope?! We had a ball. From the minute he started the class, I felt that if only all ballet had been like this, I would have stayed in it. John seemed to need music for his class, rather than that strange recipe of metre & anxiety that other teachers demanded. His exercises felt like dancing, rather than exercises. His manner, his voice, his rhythm and his warmth as a human being were totally different to anything I'd experienced, and - darn it - they'd saved this one til last, once I'd decided to leave.

Gillian Cornish

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This is Dec. 2nd in my dance inspirations advent calendar. Opened already: December 1st

My mate Gilly! Links directly to her Pilates studioOn January 1st 2006 it will be 20 years to the day that I met Gillian (Gilly) Cornish at the Commonwealth Institute in London, and in some ways, if it hadn't been for her, I probably wouldn't be doing what I do now.

The occasion was the RAD annual 'Assembly' (now called a conference), and I was there because I started my first ever job in dance on 1/01/1986 at the RAD. With typical Australian friendliness, Gilly was the first person to grab my arm, say "you must be the new guy", give me a cup of coffee, and fill me in on who was who and explain to me the curious world I'd just entered. To say that Gilly kept me sane is an understatement - we became best mates within days, if not minutes of meeting, and our barbecues, sunday lunches and bottles of wine were not only fun, but they were where I learnt about playing for dance. Having worked with ABT & Festival as a choreologist, she really knew her stuff, and like many notators, knew how to explain dance to musicians. She taught me all kinds of vital things about the quality of music needed for different areas of class; how to recognise when dancers were just dealing with their own problems, rather than having a problem with you.

This portrait of Woytek Lowski is taken from the Teatr Wielki site and directly linked to it. This is part of my dance inspirations advent calendar.

When I met Woytek in the late 80s/early 90s there wasn't a ballet star around that didn't adore and revere him. Fluent in English, Polish, Russian, French (and Italian?), a graduate of the Vaganova Academy, dancer with Béjart , and an enthusiastic connoisseur of all kinds of culture from opera to The Golden Girls, he was intelligent, kind, funny, learned, sensitive - you name it, he had it. Like many central europeans I've known, he had an integrity and honour that saw straight through pretension & dishonesty, and respected talent & hard work. I didn't realise at the time that the world wasn't full of Woyteks - I thought every ballet company had one. It was only when he died, far too young, in 1995, that I realised how fortunate I had been to work with him so closely.

As a dance musician, hardly a day goes past when I don't call on the wisdom & inspiration of some of the fantastic people I've known & worked with in the last 20 years in the dance world. I've been toying with the idea of doing web-tributes/appreciations of some of these people for ages, as a way of both giving thanks, and also redressing the epistemological balance. So here it is, my Advent 2005 calendar of dance inspirations.

They're in no particular order, some will be 2 lines long, others 200. I'm sure it won't be a definitive list, and of course, it's a very personal one.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Advent calendar category.

100 tips for working with ballet pianists is the previous category.

Dance is the next category.

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