I’ve got to be very careful how I put this, for fear of being taken the wrong way (see, I’m even anxious about that). So let’s get one thing out of the way: I have limitless admiration for people who’ve got a load of pop tunes in their class repertoire. I’m even going to give a plug to my friend and colleague Andrew Holdsworth’s double album Reimagined for Ballet (Pop) Volume 1 and Reimagined for Ballet (Pop) Volume 2. What’s more, I’m well aware of how much dancers like it when you play things they know from the charts.
The trouble is, I can’t do it. It’s not just that I don’t know enough songs in the first place. I could learn some if I put my mind to it, but I’d feel as self-conscious as if I’d turned up to class with a tattoo and flourescent PVC hot pants. You need to live in a world of this music to make it sound convincing, and I don’t.
It’s not just that, it’s also that I don’t actually want to hear or play the music any other way than it comes out of the radio. I don’t mind cutting any old piece of classical music til it bleeds, just to make it fit for class, but I wouldn’t want to do that to any song in the charts that I liked. Take Ed Sheeran’s Thinking out loud, which I’ve had on a loop either in my head or on my iPod for weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to change anything about it, not one detail of the arrangement or production, and I want to hear the voice, and the words. For me, this music belongs in a completely different realm than the kind of thing I play for class, I don’t want to hear it denuded by being translated into piano music. That sounds like I’m saying other people shouldn’t – I’m not. I think it probably just shows that I’m not at home enough with it to refashion it and make it my own.
I was fretting about this to a colleague the other day, and saying that I had a feeling that maybe playing for class is a young person’s game after all. “But that’s nonsense,” he said, and told me about a pianist who’s 10 years older than me (which is pretty old) and plays everything in the charts. He was kind, though, and reminded me that I have a shedload of tunes that other people don’t play.
And that, I suppose is the solution to the anxiety: thank God we class pianists do have different styles and repertoires. It means we can leave the stuff we can’t do, or don’t want to do, to other people. Once again, it seems to be about teamwork.