Daily Archives: December 1, 2007 7:29 pm

Pliés 1 – Edelweiss

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


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.