Tag Archives: advent 2006

Happy Christmas 2006


251206.jpgHappy Christmas. That’s the end of the 2006 Advent Calendar. I’m delighted to say that my aim in starting it last year has been achieved – if you search on Google for many of the names on here that are precious to me, but were only sketchy web presences last year, the Advent calendar entries are now frequently the first results that Google returns for the person in question.

There’s another side to it this year, though. As all the blog entries are necessarily but uncharacteristically (for blogs) anachronistic, I decided to do a parallel blog-without-words (as Mendelssohn might have put it), keeping a miniature photo diary of whatever caught my eye or occupied my heart or mind each day. I also intended to do the same with music – since blogs are often off-the-cuff thought pieces, sometimes improvisatory and unfinished but timely, I also started musiblogging, throwing together tiny mood pieces which reflected exactly how I felt at the moment I did them. This was an antidote to the self-enforced rubric of the advent calendar.

advent2b_small.jpgI kept up the photoblogging every day with the exception of 13th & 14th December, when I was just too tired & pre-occupied to get round to a photo before midnight, so I recycled two from 10th December. The pictures are the ones you see to the left of each entry, and if you hover over them, you’ll get a small clue as to what they’re about.

The musiblogging lasted about a week before my time ran out. I’d love to have carried on, but if you want to hear some hurriedly sketched bloggy musical ramblings, click on the question marks (?) at the bottom of the extended entries for 1st8th December 2006. They generally go with the pictures as a kind of scratch-and-sniff effect – in other words, the music tells me (and perhaps you) what I was feeling when I took the picture, or on the day generally. Alternatively, you could (if you’ve got 8’26” to spare) listen to those first 8 days compiled into a single file (MP3, 6.1MB)

All this may seem an odd thing to do, but I’m as fascinated by the 21st century blog-form as others are by the nineteenth century novel; fascinated by its apparent simplicity, directness and immediacy, but aware as a writer of the technical and writerly hoops that one has to go through to achieve the effect, and of the discipline it takes to do what you say you will do. I’m intrigued by the fact that we effortlessly and involuntarily perceive structure, form, unity and meaning into collections of disparate things which were assembled using routine, piecemeal operations, even when it was we who assembled them.

Lastly, I like the number 24. 24 days from Advent to Christmas Eve, 24 hours in a day, 24 Preludes and Fugues, 24 semiquavers in a 24/16 bar, and of course, 24 pictures on an old reel of 35mm film (plus that extra one you usually get at the end if you’re lucky). It’s the curious and satisfying paradox of blogging, enormous literary freedom within the most rigorous of forms.

Happy Christmas!

Manège Daniel Jones – There is nothing like a dame


This is day 24 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

241206_small.jpgIn March 2002, Wayne Sleep organised a gala evening for Dame Beryl Grey‘s 75th birthday , known, at least to Wayne, as ‘DBE’ – Dame Beryl’s Evening. (As chance would have it, it’s only two days ago that I was playing for a rehearsal of Giselle taken by Dame Beryl, who at 80 is in fantastic form, flitting around the studio demonstrating steps and giving advice with the sassy sense of fun and lithe grace of someone 60 years younger).

Wayne would of course be doing a special number for the evening, and so there we were again, sitting at his kitchen table throwing around ideas. Whatever we did had to be put together almost overnight as a backing track on CD, so when he said he wanted to do something that would involve There is nothing like a dame, I knew I was going to have to find a chorus of record-ready sailors somewhere in Tooting at the drop of a hat.

Fortunately, Daniel Jones was only a phone call away.

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Grand allegro Ivan Nagy – Tarantella from Etudes


This is day 23 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

stylus.jpgHarald Lander‘s ballet Etudes and Knudåge Riisager‘s music for it based on piano etudes by Carl Czerny ought to be in this Advent Calendar somewhere, because as much as this year’s calendar is a tribute to all the people in it, it’s also a guided tour through the mysteries of class and the things that go on in musicians’ heads when they play for it. In my view, Etudes has so many examples of the way certain music works perfectly for particular types of exercise, that it acts as a mirror, a benchmark, a litmus test, a role model and an education in music and dance all rolled into one for the dance accompanist.

I associate all kinds of music with Ivan Nagy, especially Stravinsky’s Apollo for reasons I’ve already gone into. But since I want to get Etudes in here, I’ve got no choice but to give a funny reason for associating Ivan with this tarantella, which is the music for the jeté crossings towards the end of the ballet. It goes back to a story Ivan told me, almost crying with laughter, about a performance he was in where he and a ballerina crashed into each other at full speed centre stage, and then – to add insult to injury – her tiara got caught in his crotch and they had to struggle to disentangle themselves before they could get up and escape to the safety and anonymity of the wings. Warmth and laughter are great things to bring to allegro music, and there’s nothing like one of Ivan’s stories to do the job.

Grand allegro Wayne Sleep – Coda from Diane & Acteon


This is day 22 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

ship_small.jpgThere’s a huge advantage to working for someone as demanding, professional and uncompromising on quality as Wayne Sleep – it forces your brain to engage with musical problems until you find a solution; and unless you find a solution that they’re completely satisfied with, your brain is still engaged with the search even years after the initial task. This is a very healthy mode to live in for a dance accompanist, and it means that everyone else gets the benefit of your curiosity and perseverance.

After just over 20 years of playing for classes, I’ve come to the conclusion that Riccardo Drigo is often the answer to some of the most difficult questions presented by class –

Q: how can I play something painfully slow, but maintain the interest and fun?
A: the female solo (the one with the tambourine) from Esmeralda
Q: what’s the butchest music you can play for a male grand allegro without breaking the piano?
A: The male solo from Le Corsaire

In terms of the problems it solves, the coda to Diane & Acteon (the history of this pas de deux is complex – see under Esmeralda) is a little masterpiece. Wayne once asked me to suggest some music for the end of a gala performance. He said something like “I want a coda that’s not just your typical ballet coda like Don Q. It could be a waltz, but it can’t be too slow – it’s got to move; it’s got to be entertaining because I’ve got a lot of people to bring on and it’s the end of the show, so they’ve got to go out with a bang. It’s got to give a chance to everyone to show off, but it mustn’t dip, it must be fun…” and so it went on.

I’m always secretly very proud when I get it right first time with Wayne, so I was delighted when he said that this piece was just what he wanted. The more I play it in other contexts, the more convinced I am that along with the finale of Etudes, it’s probably one of the most perfect pieces of grand allegro music I know. It was the experience of working with Wayne that taught me how to recognise a good bit of allegro when I saw it, and I’m grateful for that almost every time I walk into a studio.

Batterie Gillian Cornish – Last movement from Beethoven piano concerto No. 5 (The Emperor)


This is day 21 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

bauble_small.jpgIf there’s one nationality Beethoven simply couldn’t be, it’s Australian. Nothing and no-one could be further than him from the warm, down-to earth, tell-it-like-it is nature of the Australians. So I was really shocked to find that one of my favourite Australians Gilly Cornish was just mad about Beethoven. (Australians are my favourite people, though Gilly pointed out that I shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from that – since all the ones I liked had left Australia).

Although there are a few bits of his music that I quite like, 95% of it annoys me. Maybe it’s the baggage it comes with: it’s ‘Beethoven’ rather than Beethoven that I don’t like, as Richard Taruskin would put it. Even when I was a teenager in the 1970s, you couldn’t escape the overwhelming, overbearing presence of Beethoven in musicology and music training: popular music was crap because it didn’t have Beethoven’s grammatical and discursive surface, and every composer after him was considered as an aberration or poor relation of this thundering, nitpicking, teutonic pedant. There was only one approach to studying Beethoven’s music, and that was mindless, uncritical adulation. He was God, and you weren’t allowed to ask why he made you suffer.

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Allegro John O’Brien – Zwei dunkle Augen


This is day 20 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

201206_small.jpgThe three years that I spent working with John O’Brien were some of most eventful and magical that I can remember. One summer in particular, the whole world seemed to speed up like a fairground ride, an emotional Spaghetti Junction of people, places, love, meetings, partings, music, song, dance and balmy weather (many of the people mentioned in this Advent Calendar met each other in that summer at one of Gilly’s barbecues, and there was something decidedly spooky about how everyone else somehow interconnected too). I made friends, I lost friends, fell in and out of love, felt unpredictably desolate and ecstatic in equal measure, all of it accompanied by & interwoven with the songs I learned while I was working for the first time with Gertrude Thoma and Nicolas Mead their show, From Brecht to Brel; and that’s how I fell in love with German cabaret music once and for all.

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Petit allegro Susie Cooper – Flat foot floogie with the floy, floy


This is day 19 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

blue_door_small.jpgSome tunes I collect because I hope someone will recognise them one day, and others are just things which I like, and don’t expect anyone to know in a million years. But people and their musical experiences are unpredictable, and so I was amazed when Susie Cooper laughed and said to me one day “You’ve got some pretty weird pieces in your repertoire. I mean you play We’ll all go riding on a rainbow ” and The flat foot floogie with the floy, floy !”.

Flat Foot Floogie is yet another song from And the bands played on (see earlier entry, and I like it for many of the reasons that I like If I only had wings – it’s too fast, it’s a bit silly, and it’s fun to play.

You have to negotiate the last bit of the middle eight like taking a corner too quickly in 3rd gear, which is one of the things that lends the tune it’s zaniness. It’s also a reason why I prefer real tunes to improvisation in class – you can’t sound fast if you’re making it up as you go along because you have to play safe, and you can’t compose your way out of complex melodic or harmonic corners at speed.

Even though Flat Foot Floogie is about as far removed from Susie’s preferred musical diet as you could get, there’s something very Susie about it, something excitable, zany and overclocked. Like me she relishes verbal humour and silly words, and you can’t get much sillier than the words to Flat Foot Floogie (although according to some sources, it means ‘the prostitute with venereal disease’ which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it).

Warm-up jump Harald Krytinar – If I only had wings


This is day 18 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

181206.jpgIf I only had wings is another song from And the bands played on (see earlier entry). Apparently it was written in 1939, with words by Sid Colin, and music by Ronnie Aldrich. It was once a bit of a hit, but evidently not for long, so I can’t find the lyrics or details of recordings anywhere on the net now. From the moment I heard it, I loved the madcap happiness of the song, and especially its middle eight, which manages to pack so many punches in eight bars, you feel like you’ve been away for the weekend by the time the tune comes back in. It’s great fun to play, and works well for jumps.

I know that my taste in music is a bit odd – not surprising, considering how much it owes to the junk shops, jumble sales and bargain bins that I’ve trawled in every country I’ve visited. But I have private and very good reasons for liking the things I like, so I was really chuffed when Harald Krytinar said that this song was one of his favourites for class, for mostly the same reasons that I like it. That’s the reason it went on to the class album we produced together, and that’s why he gets it for this Advent calendar class.

Adage Victor Alvarez – Chopin: Prelude in D flat (‘Raindrop Prelude)


This is day 17 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

tooting_illuminations_small.jpgMost dancers seem to hate adage. And if they don’t hate it, they need such ‘support’ from the music that playing for the exercise is like administering CPR to a cow, or blowing up a tyre with a puncture. You hardly dare let the music breathe in case they fall over or lose the will to développé.

I was surprised, then, to hear Victor Alvarez say, during a quiet moan about the drudgery of daily class when you’re not feeling like it, “Actually, I don’t mind adage. Wafting around a studio to Chopin, I like that bit. That’s fun.” It’s worth knowing that not everyone needs adage music to be an iron-pumping piano frenzy, and that for some people – even men, it’s an opportunity to let the spirit free and be poetic.

I don’t know which piece of Chopin he may have had in mind, but I adore the ‘Raindrop’ prelude, and I’d give anything to see Victor waft around a studio to it.

Pirouettes en diagonal Pussy – Wunderbar from Kiss Me Kate


This is day 16 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

geranium.jpgAmazing how some things stick in your mind for ever. I’ll always associate this song with Pussy (Diana Payne Myers), because of a pirouette exercise in Craig Phillips’ open class at the Urdang Studios in Shelton Street 20 years ago (Craig’s now Course Director at the Urdang Academy). I’d been playing for dance classes for about a year, and was on the point of hating it and giving up, when Craig asked me if I’d play for his evening class. He set a pirouette from the corner on a waltz that went on forever, and I pulled out every last waltz that I could think of to avoid boring the class, or myself, including Wunderbar!. Pussy was the dancer up next when it was time for this tune, and the minute she heard it, she was away, her whole body expressing ‘wunderbar!’, and she was probably singing along as well.

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