Monthly Archives: January 2014

Playing for ballet class: a page of tips


In December 2012 I posted daily articles about what I’ve learned about playing for ballet class. Maybe I should have called it “becoming a ballet pianist” because the process never stops. I’ve noticed that they get quite a few hits, but it’s difficult to see the whole series at once and choose the links you’re most interested in. So here – thanks to the wonderful List Category Posts plugin from WordPress – are all those posts linked on a single page, with excerpts from each one. Click on the link to read the full articles.

Links to my articles about playing for ballet class

A launch, a farewell, and another launch

Posting from the piano onstage in the dress rehearsal. How unprofessional can you get?

Posting from the piano onstage in the dress rehearsal. How unprofessional can you get?

I was in two minds about whether to write the post below, but then I noticed in my search stats that someone had searched for <“jonathan still” retires>, so I thought I’d better put the record straight – I’m not retiring, and if was it would be early retirement, thank you (I’m not 65 yet!).

Launch of Grades 4-5

The  launch of the new RAD Grades 4-5 syllabus yesterday at the Mermaid Theatre & Conference Centre was a wonderful and rather emotion-packed day. It’s the fourth time I’ve stood at that podium in the last few years to give a speech about the music, but yesterday was extra special.

End of a project

It was special because this project was so massive – in all, 2 CDs, filled to the  absolute limit with 160 minutes of music, and 152 tracks.  A two-session orchestral day with 40 pieces to record in March 2013; a 32-tracks-in-one-day session in August 2012 with a band that was booked between Cyprus and Prague  while my co-producer Andrew Holdsworth and I were on our respective holidays (after having just made 4 albums in 6 days in the previous month), a 20-tracks-in-a-day string quintet session in June a year later at the Royal College of Music, two days of piano sessions at Wyastone Leys in August two months later, a last-minute recording with a tenor days before we went to print, and several small sessions in between, filling in gaps, saving copyright emergencies. I arranged and typeset so much music so fast that I actually forgot I’d done it – a recording of Perfidia came up yesterday which I thought was rather nice, and then I remembered I’d arranged it and played on it myself.

The Rimsky Korsakov score, with tabs to mark the cuts.

The Rimsky Korsakov score, with tabs to mark the cuts.

The syllabus exercises and dances were brilliantly staged especially for the event, so well rehearsed and slickly arranged that the whole thing flew by in what seemed like minutes. They cut quite a lot of the alternative music choices to keep it lean and exciting, but even so, my overriding feeling was “How on earth did we do it?”. As I said in my opening speech, there was a story behind every piece we recorded. Every time I hear the Mazurka from Pan Voyevoda, for example, (working score with tabs for cuts pictured on the left) I think of the fact that a) I added two bars of timpani solo to it and b) we almost never recorded it at all, because the only available score was part of the Henry Wood archive at the Royal Academy of Music, and they couldn’t, for historical reasons, unstaple the pages that HW himself had stapled to make cuts. Fortunately, we evidently had the same taste in cuts, so all was well, but I didn’t know that until days before the recording.

And so the syllabus was launched, which was a huge milestone for us. Andrew and I made an 8-minute film about this musical journey  (literally – we’ve been all over the place in his car, with recording equipment in the back) which is now hosted on the RAD site. If you’ve got 8 minutes and want to know what I’ve been up to for the last 6 years or so, have a look.

End of an era

But it was a milestone in another way, because it was by chance also my last official day as music development manager at the RAD. It only seems like yesterday that I arrived, because I’ve been involved in so many different roles, and different projects within the same role, that it feels like having a new job every year, but it in fact almost exactly 15 years – I joined on the first working day in January 1999.

In his introductory remarks, Luke Rittner, CEO of the RAD said some very nice things about me that I wasn’t expecting at all (I guess I’ve never before been in a job long enough for things like this to happen) so when it came to my speech, I deviated from the advertised programme, and said that I’d been very lucky, back in 1986, that the RAD gave me a job with a promise to train me up as a ballet pianist (I’d never seen a ballet class before). That gave me a lifetime’s work. But also, I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to do the most incredible recording projects – I never dreamed for a minute that I’d ever oversee two separate orchestral recordings (four sessions) with 65 pieces in them, or meet all the amazing musicians that I have when we’ve done smaller sessions.

Later, Lynn Wallis, artistic director of the RAD, and my boss, also said some lovely things as the panel were on the stage. I’ll blush again if I say what they were, but suffice it to say that I had not really considered before quite what an extraordinary job I’ve had there. In the heat of the moment; while you’re doing it, it’s just your job.

Launch into the somewhat unknown 

And it’s for that reason that I thought I’d better write this post, because at the launch reception last night, so many people were asking where I was going, whether I’d had enough, what happened etc., and now someone thinks I’ve retired! No.  It’s simply that I wanted to take time to finish my PhD, and to spend time with my family, especially my mum who’ll be 90 this year. I had already negotiated a flexible working agreement that worked well at first, but as time went on and the demands outside grew, something had to give.  Under other circumstances, I might have tried for a sabbatical, but I knew that wouldn’t work, and it wouldn’t have worked for either side, in my view: it might be possible to hold a post open for a year, but then what if you want to review that post? It would have been against my own principles and vision to put such a dead weight in the system.

There’s no-one I’ve spoken to who hasn’t understood, and I’ve been amazed at how many people have had to make similar decisions (in fact, that would make quite a nice study, if I wasn’t writing about music in dance training), and at the sacrifices and challenges that accompany people’s apparently ‘everyday’ working lives.

So it’s a launch into the unknown, but not the complete unknown, because I know that by giving myself the time and space, I will sometime in the near future have a thesis about music in the world of ballet training and education to point at.

Watch this space 

In the last post I claimed that I’d never use my blog to talk about my work, but since talking to so many people last night who work in my world but don’t know what I am working on, I now think maybe I should do so after all. Not so much for fellow academics  – the whole point is, I don’t have many fellow academics in my field, that’s why there’s room for a thesis on it – but for dance teaching colleagues and friends. What better way to stay in touch? And that’s really the point – I’m leaving the building, but I hope the friends and colleagues that I have come to value so much will remain friends and colleagues for many years to come.

So what is your PhD about? 

That’ll be the next post.

The 2013 advent calendar as a list


I’m going to reorganize this site a bit next year and get some proper menus going so that you can see whole advent calendars on a single page at once as a list of links. Advent calendars have been my way of disciplining myself to write 25 posts in a single month on a single topic, once a year. Advent is a good time to do it, since the whole of Britain shuts down from about November 16th – January 16th the following year so that people can go shopping and have christmas outings. This is a good time for people to read my blog.

Advent 2013: Christmas carols for class 

And if you want to know something about why I chose to do my blog this way this year, read this – my thoughts on copyright, music and blogging after 10 years.