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Delighted to announce the online publication of my chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Time in Music, The Politics of Musical Time in the Everyday Life of Ballet Dancers. It’s about 10,000 words pondering the minutiae of counting schemes, music notation and ballet. The wider point I’m making is that music theory, such as it’s usually taught or learned in the ballet world, could do with a bit more detail about individual examples from repertoire. In ballet, as soon as you start looking, cracks and anomalies appear in the theory that actually make it more interesting and less confusing.

It came out of a paper with the same title that I gave at a conference called Making Time in Music at Oxford. I called it “The politics of musical time in the everyday life of ballet dancers” because it seemed then and now that in ballet, negotiations over time in music are a matter of everyday politics (my focus here is mainly about meter and counting, but it could easily be on tempo as well). My first article on this topic was called “How down is a downbeat,” and on reflection, I realize I could have called the second (i.e. the Oxford Handbook one) “How up is an upbeat?” since that’s what most of it boils down to. When I first started teaching, I think I believed that we all (dancers and musicians) lived in some kind of container of time that had the same properties, it was just a case of naming and describing them. What’s clearer to me now was that as the title of the conference suggested, we “make time” in different ways; and of course, we experience it in different ways too, even from one minute to the next.

One of the most satisfying things about ploughing this particularly weird corner of the ballet-music assemblage, is finding that although the music theory I’m referring too is much more complex and arcane than counting three in a bar, dancers and teachers immediately recognize and understand what I’m talking about because it’s closer to the kind of confusions and ambivalences that happen in everyday life.

Anyway, for those who have an institutional login to the Oxford Handbooks, the article is here.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist