New ballet playing card published


I’m publishing my 52 cards on the dates that they should have been published – so you might have missed the latest one, a medley of triple jigs, which I retro-published on the 30th July yesterday (if you see what I mean). If you’re collecting the 52 cards, the best way to keep track of updates is to subscribe to the 52 cards feed, or save a link to the 52 cards page where the various pieces are listed in date order.

Conference on music and movement as process and experience


If you’re wondering why there’s been a long silence in the 52 cards project, it’s because I’ve been just too busy with other stuff, such as organizing the Conference on Music and Movement as Process and Experience that takes place tomorrow, 23rd October under the banner of the Institute of Education’s Music Special Interest Group. It takes place tomorrow at the Royal Academy of Dance  who’ve very kindly agreed to host it.

In  a way, this conference is another step along the path that I had in my mind over 15 years ago that, and blogged about in 2005. My thinking’s moved on a bit in various directions since that post, but that’s roughly where it started.

Musicology, ballet teaching and time signature


A proud day for me, my first proper article published in Empirical Musicology Review. “How Down is a Downbeat? Feeling Meter and Gravity in Music and Dance?” came out of a single teaching session, when about 12 years of trying to teach about meter and time signature finally imploded in a discussion with students. For people who wonder why I’m doing a PhD, and what I’m writing about, this will give you an idea – not of the subject, but of the problem.

What I’m really chuffed about is that both Arnie Cox and Robert Hatten agreed to write commentaries on the article (see Arnie Cox’s here, and Robert Hatten’s here).

It would be nice to think that perhaps this might open up a conversation about the musical components of dance teaching courses, but I somehow doubt it will – and for as long as that’s the case, I guess dance teachers will keep saying “By the way, I don’t do time signatures,” and be perfectly justified in doing so, in my view.

I’m still hopelessly behind with the 52 cards, which is annoying me, but I’ve not given up yet.

Evenings on Žofin

Zofin - 01

Žofin island (now called Slovanský Ostrov/Slovansky Island). The building is the Žofin Palace.

One of the most complicated music references I’ve ever had to research was for a piece that I found on an album called Little Pearls of Czech Classics. The piece was called “Poem” by Zděnek Fibich, and we used it for an adage at the barre in the RAD’s new Advanced 1 in 2013. When I tried to find a piano version of the piece (it was in fact originally a piano piece), it seemed that every time I looked, a new reference would turn up. In the end, I settled for this:

“Večery na Žofině” (Evenings on Žofin) from Moods, Impressions, and Souvenirs Op. 41 No. 139 (originally Op 41 No. 6). Also known as Na Podvečer Op. 39, or Poem [Poème] Op. 39a.

To that, you can now add Op. 41 No. 4, which is the title given to it at AllMusic, where you’ll find a concise history of the piece.  For all this numbering, I can’t even remember where I eventually found it – IMSLP have a good selection of FIbich’s works, but not the original piano work (presumably it’s in Volume 4, they only have 1-3).  I’d like to think that the memoral slab on the side of the  Žofin palace puts one strand of the story literally in stone, which is that it was the Czech violinist Jan Kubelik who made Večery na Žofině (Evenings on Žofin) famous by arranging it for violin, but even that isn’t quite right: to be more precise, Fibich arranged and extended Evenings on Žofin  into an orchestral work that he called V podvečer (At Twighlight, Op. 39), from which Kubelik then extracted a bit, arranged it for piano and violin, and called it Poème, whereafter it was catalogued – understandably – as  Op. 39a in the list of Fibich’s works.

Zofin - 03

It was a lovely moment when I realised that this complex history referred to a place that I’d walked past (and on) for so many years on my annual visits to Prague for the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. As the Allmusic article tells you, many of the hundreds of piano miniatures in Fibich’s Nálady, dojmy a upomínky (Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences) apparently document the history of Fibich’s late-life love for his one-time pupil Anežka Schulzová (she was 24, he was 42, he was still married to his second wife). There’s barely a part of Schulzovà’s body, or an aspect of their relationship that doesn’t get a musical mention (“Nos. 303-313, however, return to the theme of Anežka’s toes”). As anatomy lessons go, I still think diagrams are probably more reliable.

The more you read about Fibich and Anežka in brief biographies, the greater the sense of misleading moralizing whitewash. Fibich’s first wife died very soon after they married. They had twin children, one of whom died at birth, the other only a few years later. On her death bed, the first wife made her sister Betty promise to marry Fibich, which she dutifully did (or perhaps it was Fibich on whose side the sense of duty lay).  It’s hard to imagine how this could last, and hard to begrudge Fibich the unexpected love he found with the much younger Schulzová, an educated woman, expert in Nordic literature, and eventually librettist for Fibich’s later operas. A site about Fibich refers to these years of his life as “fateful love.” The ABRSM, advertising their collection of pieces from Nálady, dojmy a upomínky describe the works as “highly individual miniatures…dedicated to his mistress.” Anežka surely deserves more than this.

Here’s the original orchestral Poème, and further down, a little gallery of pictures from Žofin island, including a view of the National Theatre which you can see from the island. Built between 1868-1881, both Fibich and Schulzová must have spent a long time looking at the building site, and admiring it once it was built from their vantage point on Žofin. The row of impressive buildings on the river bank directly opposite post-dates Fibich’s death I think.

A year of Ballet playing cards: new score published


If you’ve been following the Year of Ballet Playing Cards, you might have missed a couple of updates, as I’m setting the “published” dates as when they should have been published, rather than the date when I publish them. It’s just easier to keep track of that way. The best thing to do is to either follow the blog, or to bookmark this automatically page of links to the playing cards in date order. If you can’t be bothered to scroll down the page, click here to get today’s update, the coda from the Talisman pas de deux, a nice big waltzy thing.


Hooray for Forscore


Swan Lake on the iPad, in Forscore. You can just draw all over it like this, and no-one cares because you can rub it out again. I love it.

I have to admit that I can be very slow to adopt stuff. It’s at least a couple of years since my colleague Ho Wen Yang told me about Forscore, a sheet music app for the iPad. But then another colleague, Chris Hobson told me about it (because we were sharing footpedal stories – he with his bluetooth pedal to turn pages on the iPad (which in fact another colleague, Grant Kennedy, had told me in about 2012), and me with my USB footpedal for transcribing from audio).

Then, as the time approached again for the annual Ballet Masterclasses in Prague, I remembered all those failed resolutions to use these two weeks to take and learn new rep, and I recognised my own stubborn resistance for what it was. If I’m really honest, of course an iPad with your scores on it is a good idea, and it would be a way of taking a load of stuff with me (including my 52 cards work) without weighing down my luggage. I could scan bits of stuff that I wanted, rather than having to bring the whole darn book.  I checked out the alternatives, and there seemed to be little competition – iPads are pretty good at what they do in that price range (though there is also mobilesheets for Android devices).

And, dear reader, after just one morning with my iPad and Forscore, I just love it. I got it partly because I recognised that the technology has made it possible for pianists to take libraries round with them, and that means there’s not really an excuse not to do the same. Part of my apprehension was because I prefer to play from memory for class. I still do, but actually the iPad’s pretty unobtrusive, in fact less so than a score. And, well, Jonathan, get over yourself and read from a score now and again.

  • The best bit was when I needed a bit of Swan Lake in a rehearsal, and I could just draw in a cut on the screen, without having to worry about rubbing it out.  Everything you write  on the score is non-destructive, and you can save different versions of the same thing with different cuts. Perfect for rehearsals.
  • It’s easy to read because it’s got light behind it.
  • You can find stuff quickly
  • You can bookmark bits of larger scores  – keep the whole of Swan Lake there, and bookmark the two pages you need.
  • You can be spend the time you save searching and setting up music on thinking about what else you’re going to play. It’s a matter of seconds, but it makes a huge difference.
  • Nothing is at the bottom of the pile any more. It’s all instantly findable.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a convert to the Kindle or iPad for reading books. I’ve tried both for years, and books win out every time for me (not least because most of the books I want aren’t available digitally). But for music? I’m sold. It’s times like this that I’m thankful to be around enough younger people to have my stubborn old brain have some sense kicked into it.