Print Friendly, PDF & Email


This is day 3 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 Vol. 4 published by RAD.

It took me quite a while to work out (and I’m grateful to the dancers who explained it to me) that the reason that dancers look so pissed off during pliés is not because you’re playing so badly (though it could happen) but because they’ve got worries of their own, like a hangover from the night out after the show; the fact that they hate class, or at least starting it; they’re sore; they’ve had an argument with the director. Basically, that sour-faced look is to do with everything except the music or the pianist.

That’s why plié music has to be so full-on in one way or another – funny, sad, aspirational, glorious, famous, too loud (no, actually that’s not on, think of the hangovers), too soft  – if it’s going to lift anyone out of their stupor. 

I always promised myself that I would one day record Mon Dieu (written by Charles Dumont and  Michel Vaucaire and sung by Edith Piaf) as a tribute to my friend and mentor Woytek Lowski, who of all people would have appreciated the choice.  It’s so completely bursting at the seams with helpless, hopeless passion verging on madness, that it’s totally ‘wrong’ for an exercise so traditionally associated with creaking knees and rolling eyes. Which is why it’s so totally right, too. It took me nearly 10 years from having the idea to getting it on CD, not least because I could never quite tell whether it was in 3 or 4. 

There’s an odd rider to the story. On a recent trip to Tokyo, they were showing the recent film about Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose. As a gushing Piaf fan, I fully expected to be a heap of jelly by the time the opening credits had finished, but as much as I enjoyed the film, it wasn’t quite the tearful apotheosis of my Piaf-adoration that I had expected.  Searching through the other films on offer, there was one I was certain I wasn’t going to watch, Flying Scotsman, about the cyclist Graeme Obree.  But then I ran out of things to watch, and so I started to give it a go because it had Jonny Lee Miller in it.  And strangely, Flying Scotsman, this bizarre film about a Scottish cyclist that promised so little on the page moved me to tears and goosebumps more than any scene or song from La Vie en Rose.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Jonathan Still, ballet pianist