Daily Archives: December 2, 2007 8:02 pm

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.