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#1377063 - 02/18/10 03:59 AM Ballet pianist
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
Just recently I've been asked to play in a classical ballet school. The goal is to play along with ballet students following the guidance of the teacher.

My background is mostly on classical music and that wouldn't hurt, but I'm almost totally unaware of what is usually required to a ballet pianist.
I can imagine something but I'm curious to understand what skills are required, what kind of music is usually played in that context, and so on.

Any idea?


Edited by Sviatoslav (02/18/10 03:59 AM)

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#1377081 - 02/18/10 04:42 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2311
Loc: Sydney
I presume you are talking about classical ballet ? I danced ballet. You generally have really short pieces especially simple Mozart-sounding ones. You might become really annoyed: you have to do a lot of repeats and you might always be asked to stop.
What grade piano are you ?

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#1377108 - 02/18/10 05:49 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: custard apple]
Canonie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/04/09
Posts: 1941
Loc: Australia
How lovely smile I thought that most classes use recordings these days. From the little I've heard you need to keep an even tempo, be able to vary tempo when asked. The teacher may tap to give you a beat to begin with.

If no-one posts more specific information, I would prepare some Mozart sounding simple repetative pieces as custard said, in 3/4 and 2/4 and 4/4, e.g. waltz, polka, march, minuet. Include a few rippling/flowing sort of pieces as well. Learn pieces so well that you can play at any tempo without thinking. I've got a book of exercise music from the 1930's (I am looking at it now**) so there must be ballet music books available somewhere.

I play a lot for dance and for theatre but not on piano, and I love it. It's for performance rather than for classes. I hope someone who has played for ballet classes posts here. Let us know how it goes.

**the pieces are probably the worst compositions I've ever played, truly revolting. I hope you find some real music that will do the job.
_________________________

Composers manufacture a product that is universally deemed superfluous—at least until their music enters public consciousness, at which point people begin to say that they could not live without it.
Alex Ross.

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#1377130 - 02/18/10 07:01 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Canonie]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
Auntie Lynne, who posts here from time to time, is a ballet pianist.
You need to be flexible, be able to either improvise, sight read well, or have a fairly large rep. of short pieces. They need to be able to hear the downbeat very clearly.

There are actually books that contain ballet music for pianists, if you do a web search.

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#1377150 - 02/18/10 07:44 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Phlebas]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13825
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I've started playing for ballet classes recently, and it's been a lot to learn.

A few suggestions:

Get a book of Schubert dances, he wrote tons of waltzes, eccosaises and landler which work well.

I put together a binder of dance music, most of which I got from IMSLP:

Pieces in 2:

Mozkowski Miniatures
Stephen Foster - Holiday Schottische
Glinka - Contredanse
Glinka - Galop
Glinka - Tarantelle
Shostakovich - Dance
Stephen Foster - Polka
Rachmaninoff/Siloti - Polka Italienne
Waldteufel - Carolinen-Polka

Pieces in 3:

Glinka - Valse d'Adieux
Glinka - Valse (1839)
Brahms - Waltzes, Op. 39
Granados - Valses Poeticos
Mazurkas by Glinka, Chopin, Ponce, and Tchaikovsky

Depending on the teacher, they may also want you to have some tangos, ragtime, and polonaises ready to go, too.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1377180 - 02/18/10 08:33 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Kreisler]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
Oh, thanks. A lot of good suggestions from all of you.
Repertoire is definitely an issue here and I need to look around what I can find.

@custard: grade is not an issue, I don't know to what a 8th year in Italian conservatory could correspond to other grading systems but I guess it's enough for short pieces meant to comp classical ballet.

@Canonie: good sugestions, I'll search more on it.

@Phlebas: I'll try to get in touch with Auntie Lynne, thanks.

@Kreisler: TRULY helpful. Know none of them yet but I'll make a point to go over them and take a look. Thanks a lot.

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#1377528 - 02/18/10 05:30 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2311
Loc: Sydney
Ciao Sviatoslav
I also think the above suggestions are very good.
If you are grade 8, you should be able to sight-read a lot of it.
From time to time, I meet my ex ballet teacher and I will ask her what specific criteria she looks for in a ballet pianist.

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#1377592 - 02/18/10 07:11 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: custard apple]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13825
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Depending on the instructor, be prepared for something like this:

Instructor: "a polonaise, please"

Then you have between 5 and 30 seconds to figure out a 2-measure introduction to a polonaise which must consist of exactly 16 bars; during which you need to be looking up in case the teacher wants to change tempo or stop and correct someone's form.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1377613 - 02/18/10 07:51 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Kreisler]
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
Hi,

This is what I do 6 days a week. If you sight-read well, you're in great shape. If you want to share contact info with me in a private message, I can send you a lot of music that will work wonderfully for barre and centre. The trickiest part, in the beginning, is learning which music will work with the exercise the teacher is demonstrating. At first, just request help...teacher's personalities vary a lot, but most are approachable, especially if you're new and humble about that.

I *do not* play all classical music, and I do not play all simple, bang the beat stuff. In my experience, to get through a week of classes, you do well to have several rags (good for several things depending on the speed) and a couple of jazz standards (excellent for tendu and sometimes adage, depends on the teacher and the exercise), in addition to big waltzes (just make sure they're "even"...if they have the extra four measures that occur in many Strauss waltzes, you will need to make a cut...easy to do), a gigue or two, a couple of tangos for fondu, a tarantella for little swings or petite allegro, and some big marches for grand battement. You need a variety of polkas or other quick 2s for little jumps. Have a couple of polonaises...you won't use them every class, so you don't need a bunch of them. The last two measures of a polonaise is generally a good intro, or just play "DUM da da da da da da DUM da da da da da da" in the appropriate key. Mark up your music with counts for a while...dancers do not count the same way musicians do, so don't let that confuse you. They go to "eight" no matter how many beats there are in a measure. Some teachers do a good job of counting "1 and uh, 2 and uh" when they want a triple meter, others will say "and uh" but by the cadence of their counting, you can tell they really want a duple. That will come with time and familiarity.

I play for classes at a dance studio, rehearsal piano for a ballet company, and have played classes at UMKC, several summer intensives, and auditions for Milwaukee Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. Please contact me if I can help. When I began, a woman from University of Arizona helped me immensely...she sent me a big envelope of music marked with counts and intros...and coached me by email. The least I can do is pass that favor along. I think playing for ballet is a blast. It is fascinating to provide a variety of music for the same exercises in order to challenge the dancers to listen and learn to dance more musically. I love it. Let me know if I can help. I find it very entertaining that I never need play the same thing twice, and I like the challenge of never have to say "no" when a teacher says "do you have a...?" I even managed to pull a piece in 5 out of my backside when a guest teacher from Madison Ballet wanted to play mind games with the dancers. I have a 7 too. I have a shelf behind my piano at the studio. It contains several scores (Swan Lake, Don Q, Nutcracker, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle) and two full shelves of books and sheet music. I've been doing it for about 3 years now, so my organization is pretty good. I can pull just about anything out in the time it takes for the teacher to give the exercise. It's a great job. I love it.

I have it on good authority that the best pianists are not always the best dance musicians. The more your music fits the dancing, the better you are, no matter how your playing stacks up to pianists in other venues. Have fun with it and again..I would *love* to help if you are comfortable sharing contact info with me.
_________________________
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

www.divadeb.com

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#1377627 - 02/18/10 08:13 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
OH and ps...there is NO reason to play dumb or ugly music for ballet classes! Dancers respond to beautiful music, fun music, grand music, joyous or heartrending music...your job is not to be a human metronome, it is to inspire the dancers with your music. You must do it within the context of an even tempo, but the range of music that will "work" for ballet class, is immense. Except at some schools that have a pre-designed set of pieces that every pianist plays for each level of student (yuck!), I have found even the most classical of ballet teachers to perk up significantly when I play the introduction for "One" from "A Chorus Line" for centre tendu/pirouette combinations. There is a fabulous book from RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) that has sections of wonderful music specifically "sized" for barre and centre. I also love Suzanne Knosp's book. Czerny wrote pieces for ballet exercises...and for some of the quicker things, like frappe, his pieces really can't be beat. I'm running on now but if you'd like, I can make you an extensive list and/or send you some music.
_________________________
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

www.divadeb.com

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#1377675 - 02/18/10 10:03 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
Canonie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/04/09
Posts: 1941
Loc: Australia
divadeb
so glad you posted all this. It is fascinating! If there is any more info that you want to post on the public forum there may be others as well as me who enjoy reading about this unusual job. And it's good to read Kreisler's info too, I knew you played for dance but didn't realise you did ballet class.

I reckon I would love this job, but need more experience first. And who knows how often ballet pianists are used anymore in this country. The combination of old world, highly skilled and a little obscure is wonderful. When I was little I wanted to go to ballet class, but not allowed frown I think there is a tiny frustrated ballet dancer in me still wink

Sviatoslav, please post further developments and discoveries on this thread, I would love to hear how it goes.
_________________________

Composers manufacture a product that is universally deemed superfluous—at least until their music enters public consciousness, at which point people begin to say that they could not live without it.
Alex Ross.

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#1377825 - 02/19/10 02:37 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Canonie]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
THANKS to all of you!!!

Actually you made me realize that this is going to be a fascinating path. I never, never, never, realized that could be so intriguing. It was tempting for me to say that I needed to be kind of a human metronome and nothing more.

Now, instead, I suppose it's far more engaging than I thought.

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#1377846 - 02/19/10 03:27 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2311
Loc: Sydney
It sounds to me like one of the more unusual jobs around with its own skills- personality requirements: I just talked to my former ballet teacher who reiterated the excellent posts above. When she auditions for a ballet pianist the criteria for her are, in order of importance:

1. Very high sight-reading capability. There is no preparation time. When the teacher puts the music in front of you, the dancer is ready to go. The pianist at my ballet school would not have passed any of her piano exams but she was an excellent sight-reader.

2. Flexibility. Ability to adjust very quickly to the teacher’s changing demands.
e.g. Play this piece with the emphasis on Beat 1. Now play it again with the emphasis on Beat 2.

3. Great ability to forgive the dance teacher. Put aside your piano principles for the purposes of her dance exercise e.g. forget the tempo indicated on your score, play the Mazurka in 2/4 time, and no rubato.

The above three criteria are the essentials.

Although important, the following are of lesser weighting:

4. Ability to play “blind” You will only have time to look at the notes on the piano very occasionally. You will be too busy glancing up from your score to ensure the dancer is keeping up with you.

5. Extra pieces apart from the set repertoire or impromptu e.g. play a piece to denote a waterfall or whatever subject matter/theme is requested by the teacher.

One of the main reasons why dance teachers favour pianists over recordings is the sheer number of constant stops and starts e.g. go back 2 bars, start again.

In conclusion it seems to me you will be the opposite of a metronome, you will have to do a lot of things on the spot and will have to be very flexible.

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#1377854 - 02/19/10 03:41 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: custard apple]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
Wow, you make it sound like a fighter pilot type of job!!! :-D

Didn't you miss some crucial requirements? Like having hands tied up behind your back, being able to play after a 5 miles uphill run, or kepp a ballerina in balance on your head while playing a wild gigue?

Of course, I'm joking, your criteria above are definitely "attracting" for any pianist, I guess.

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#1377862 - 02/19/10 03:57 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2311
Loc: Sydney
lololololol mi hai fatto morire dal ridere - I didn't realise I sounded so serious !
Anyway I think you should be great, hopefully you will be rewarded with the right pay.

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#1377910 - 02/19/10 05:39 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: custard apple]
Sviatoslav Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/05
Posts: 98
Loc: Italy, Torino
ha ha ha.
Pay???? What are you talking about?
The teacher ballerina is my daughter!!!!

P.S. Is your perfect Italian a family legacy or it's the fruit of study?


Edited by Sviatoslav (02/19/10 05:40 AM)

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#1377927 - 02/19/10 06:31 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2311
Loc: Sydney
So your daughter will be directing you ? Sul serio ?
Thanks for your compliments. Your English is wonderful too -are you Italian ?
I'm interested in a lot of things. I'm not Italian.

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#1378109 - 02/19/10 12:22 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Sviatoslav]
juliantoha624 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/09
Posts: 44
Loc: London, UK
Hello Sviatoslav!

Just like DivaDeb, I have played ballet for while now (almost 4 years) and do it everyday of the week whome. I would say that most of the information that was posted was right, some subjective, but for the most part you have nearly all you need to start. There are only a few comments that I would like to add:

First off, Phlebas' comment was dead on thumb and with that said, you can choose your own path or style. I don't use sheet music for class because it tends to get in the way of the most important aspect, connecting with the dancers. However, if you are not able to memorize a large amount of music or improvise then that is what you should be prepared to do, sight-read. eek Not the most comfortable thing to do when you also have to keep an eye on dancers.

One major thing that people forgot to mention is that you can play any type of music. You are not limited to classical or ballet music or Jazz. Honestly, I very rarely play classical because that's what I practice for 6-8 hours a day. So since I play ballet class for a college, the girls and few guys love anything that is from popular music, musicals, Disney, television shows, or just familiar melodies with an interesting twist. cool It really all depends on your class and what inspires you to play.

Also when you are without music you are really able to focus on utilizing rubato, accelerandi, ritardandi, and even metric change within excercises help. I can confidently say that well over 50% of the exercises will utilize some rubato. For example, it will be very clear as you watch them dance an Adagio the dancers will need more time towards the end of the 8 bar phrase and much less time at the beginning, and during Fondu it can sometimes start in one tempo and slow down for a seperate phrase. It all depends on your teacher and the level of the students in the class.

That also brings me to one more critical point about the music. You want to put a smile on the dancers faces grin and the way of doing that is to take in consideration their age. confused If you are playing for children, you might want to minimize the drama and passion and elevate the humor and playfulness. I see each class as though I were playing a concert program. I try to utilize several dramatic ballads, some modern inspired modal works, different cultural music, overly silly music crazy, and the list goes on.

Bottom line is have fun and your energy will transfer. If you want the BEST single piece of advice (hands down), here it is: Dance with them as you play. Just as you would breath and sing with a singer. It will make the biggest difference, I promise.

JT

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#1378465 - 02/19/10 08:47 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: juliantoha624]
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
JT, I do the Disney thing too...both A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes and When You Wish Upon a Star make beautiful adagios. I play Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf for petite allegro sometimes! smile makes them smile at the end of a long class. I also, at least once or twice a year, especially if there are a lot of guys in class, play a rolicking rousing rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame for grand allegro. Lots of movie/tv music is very well suited, as is VIDEO GAME music...it is, afterall almost all composed to "loop" naturally, so it's quite nice for class. I do some "theme" classes...I'll do a holiday, all Disney, Celtic, all Opera. I play 7 or 8 classes a week plus rehearsals, and I try not to repeat myself too much.
_________________________
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

www.divadeb.com

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#1378562 - 02/19/10 11:58 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
musdan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1198
Divadeb at last someone who can explain something that really at times has my head spinning.

I've studied ballet for many years and never counted - the pianist played and I was always "on the music" all teachers said I was very musical. Now that I've been taking piano lessons and need to count - my teacher always rhythym - it's my nemesis. I once said that rhythym in my feet. There is a difference to dancing to music and playing and I don't know what it is. My music teacher said that she thought part of my problem with music is that I didn't count when dancing, I tried to explain that it's very different - if she had played a short tune it would have been easier for me to demonstrate.

Back to the drawing board. Thanks

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#1378731 - 02/20/10 09:49 AM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: musdan]
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
Musdan,

as a dancer, you count what I refer to as "pulses"...the accented counts in the music. That might be 1 per measure in a waltz, 2 per measure in a jig (6/8 meter)2 or 4 in a march etc...you count what you hear, up to eight, then start again. Musicians count beats...we look at a 4/4 measure and count to 4...dancers would generally (unless the music is very slow)only hear 2 pulses in that measure. Polonaise is usually written in 3/4...musicians count 1,2,3. Dancers usually count polonaise in phrases of six...so, 1,2,3,4,5,6. I wish I could sit and show you for about five minutes...you would get it easily. Your teacher should watch a couple of ballet classes so she understands that you *do* count when you dance (even if you don't realize you're counting because you've been dancing so long) you just count differently. As a dancer, your rhythm isn't just in your feet...it's in your whole body. If you sort out the difference between dancer's pulses and musician's beats, you will likely have a much stronger sense of the internal rhythms of your music than someone who comes to music with less physical connection to the music.

where do you dance?
_________________________
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

www.divadeb.com

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#1378913 - 02/20/10 02:45 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
gracet1992 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/26/10
Posts: 4
Ive been playing for ballet classes for about 3 years, and I think it is GREAT training for young pianists. It teaches you to be adaptable and think on your feet. (Great accompanying practice!)

The ballet instructor at the school I play at really stresses having even phrases, especially for the barre exercises. Alot of pieces have uneven phrases, and you have to be able to add or take away a couple of beats when you need to.

This book has been my ballet class bible http://www.amazon.com/Music-Masters-Russell-E-Lanning/dp/0769239536
These pieces are pretty perfect for barre work, and can be easily sight-read in case the teacher asks for a certain tempo.

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#1378928 - 02/20/10 03:05 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
musdan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1198
Divadeb thanks - although I've studied for many years, I didn't dance professionally - just a few workshops. Musical too tall was what I heard all the time.

My dance teacher of many years teaches once a week so that's about it for me. There is something in music that makes me want to move.

Thanks again. smile

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#1378942 - 02/20/10 03:31 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: musdan]
musdan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1198
Just a note of thanks to all who play or have played for ballet class. It's noteasy. Some Teachers really know music and some think they do. Guess that's what makes it interesting.

My teacher of many years once asked my father to play for her class, and for some reason didn't want to. I'm happy that "live music" is still used for class, most use cd's - not fun.My hat's off to each of you. smile


Edited by musdan (02/20/10 03:43 PM)

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#1379061 - 02/20/10 06:46 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: musdan]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4492
Loc: San Jose, CA
The movie, "Billy Elliot," left a memorable impression of a live rehearsal pianist working with a ballet class.
_________________________
Clef


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#1379117 - 02/20/10 07:46 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: musdan]
divadeb Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/04
Posts: 677
Originally Posted By: musdan
Some Teachers really know music and some think they do.


heh...that's for sure. I once played a summer intensive for a master teacher with impressive credentials and a big mouth about how much musical training he had. He kept asking me if he could hear the "medley" It took me two whole days to figure out he wanted to hear the TUNE...the MELODY. Oh brother

I do think it's so much better for the dancers to take class with living, breathing real music. It's very easy for them to just dance "by rote" when the same CD's are used over and over for the same exercises. I'm thrilled to be able to do this because I'm not a great pianist...and this is a great outlet for a person who is a strong musician and reader but who could never get relaxed about the idea of a roomful of people sitting still and listening to her play. I sing for sitting still people. I play for dancers smile
_________________________
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

www.divadeb.com

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#1379118 - 02/20/10 07:46 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: Jeff Clef]
musdan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1198
Jeff - great movie

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#1379687 - 02/21/10 03:22 PM Re: Ballet pianist [Re: divadeb]
musdan Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/05/05
Posts: 1198
Divadeb you would love this - just got back from class. My teacher uses cd's and one of the cd's started fine and then something went wrong and made scrambled repeats - don't know how else to describe it. Maybe close to a record with a scratch.

There were only six of us in class two of us plus me kept going, the other three just stopped. Fun and games, cd's are ok but I'm with you give me the real thing. smile

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by praisethesun
05/21/15 05:00 PM
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