On Music

There is a tendency when working in the so called ARTS to feel that there is a special privilege that allows the instigators, Carte Blanche

Think again, would be my comment.

There is change, and there is progress, but there must be history. I repeat, do not paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa.

Any treatise that is dance related would not be complete without discussing an element that is as important as the dance itself, Music.

Without music, dance is dead in the water.

There have been a few experiments of dance without music, but they have not been successful or lasting.

For the viewer, the music is an integral element. For the dancer, it is the guideline. For the choreographer it is the inspiration or the trigger to their work.

The use of tape has put a slant on dance that has destroyed an element that needs to be present. The tape is always the same, so there is no give and take. There is no communication with a live musician.

Design, music and dance must be treated as the whole, not allowing one part of that picture to take the upper hand. It is the combination that creates the theatrical picture. We must all live together to create the final product.

Dancers have a terrible reputation amongst other performers who use music as a base. Dancers are thought of, as being the least musical. Perhaps there are grounds for this reputation when you consider how some dancers think of, and treat music.

From that first day in the ballet class, to the performance; the music is taken for granted. It is there, and it will always be the way they think it should be.

How many dance students communicate with the pianist that plays, day after day for them. Once again that ogre, tape, gets in the way. How many dance students are now exposed to tape when they learn the ropes?

They find themselves doing the same movements, from some syllabus, moving to the same music, from some tape, and not thinking about either of them. From this you expect to create an artist? The only plus in all of this: money in the pocket of the teacher!

Thus, an artist would be created by, accident, not by intent.

The musicians in the life of a dancer must be taken into consideration, be they pianists, conductors or composers.

Music and dance have been a two way street since the 16th century. Many composers have made their place in life through dance. Many now famous conductors, made their way in the musical world by playing for class and rehearsals for a ballet company. Some of them have admitted that it was the best possible training they could have received. That daily grind, those heavy demands, those arguments, but also those moments of elation.

The really good ballet pianist, is a rare person indeed. Each class is a challenge,each rehearsal is new experience.

Take the following scenario.

You approach a concert pianist to play the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto.

How many performances? they will ask. What kind of orchestra? Who is conducting? What piano?

Well–there will be about 55 performances. You will be playing on an upright piano in all performances. You will be playing with a small pit orchestra. The conductor? a ballet conductor.

The concert pianist will tell you that you are out of your mind, and no pianist would even think for two seconds about taking on such a task.

The truth of this situation is–it happened, but it was not a concert pianist. It was the company pianist of the National Ballet of Canada. The one who played for classes and rehearsals.

The year was 1957/58. The ballet–Winter Night–or Winter Fright as it was nicknamed.

Approximately 55 performances of that concerto, for that ballet. A few performances took place in the city of residence, but the bulk of them took place, on tour. A tour of one night stands.

Travel all day by bus, arrive in time (hopefully) to examine the piano, that had(hopefully) been tuned, then perform. By the way, not just the concerto, but also the piano part in the rest of the ballets.

Impossible? It happened!

Respect for the musician in this case, goes without saying.

One can say–well that is their job– but think again.

The standard joke amongst conductors at one time was–How would you like it tonight? Too fast? or too slow?

As if the dancers were never satisfied, always complained.

When you have a dancer that changes his or her mind every night, the statement is justified, on the part of the conductor.

The meeting of minds and ears is the only way these two elements can be ÏoneÓ.

Have a thought to the audience, who may be going through a process which is akin to watching a movie on TV where the soundtrack is out of sync with the picture.

The audience will turn off, as they would the TV set.

Thus, the rehearsal period becomes of prime importance. It is where all of those problems come out in to the open and are clarified. Argue in rehearsals, but not during the performance!

We, dancers and musicians, are human, so do not expect perfection, but find a level playing field. Neither are top dog, it is a combined effort.