Perfection – what every artist strives for?

•April 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hello! It’s been a relatively quiet couple of weeks work wise for me with Easter holidays and also me taking some time off to go and visit friends and family stretched right across the UK. Anyway – this morning for the first time in nearly 2 weeks I decided to listen to V3 of my CD – to see if I still liked it basically! I always find it odd when making and producing a release for ballet – what I originally think sounds good in my little music studio, I will almost certainly hate a few weeks or months down the line when I’m in the control booth listening to the same bloody 4 bars on repeat for what seems like an age! Interestingly enough though I can spend hours and sometimes days working on just the right arrangement for a particular exercise – and others I will play in the studio and get them down and perfect in 1 take! There doesn’t seem to be any sense to the whole thing sometimes. Anyway – there are always things I forget about my CDs (including the tracks sometimes!) and I always try to listen to them on playback with an objective pair of ears…but it’s extremely difficult to do this!

Last week I attended a production of Cause Célèbre at The Old Vic theatre in London with a couple of very good friends. I had a thoroughly entertaining evening (as did my friends, both musicians) and discussing the production afterwards – we all came to the same conclusion: What we enjoy about going watching a play is the fact there is no music in it and we are watching a medium of which we will never be part of. I know where my skill and talent is (and as my GCSE Drama grades prove it isn’t in acting!) so for once I could be a100% non-judgmental about what I was watching. It’s almost like when I sit and watch either a concert, an opera, a ballet or a musical – because to some degree I have worked in all these areas – I am waiting for something to happen that I can criticize, or that I can work out how I would have done it better. When watching a play – the answer is simple – I can’t really do any of it so I couldn’t do any of it better!

MBSM V3 Cover

I think this is a similar sort of process that I go through when recording, although instead of being critical of myself – I am my own critic and I will pull no punches. It does make me smile after a couple of weeks away from the piano to hear my arrangements again for ballet in the form of V3. I think (without meaning to sound big headed) that it is possibly the best so far for many reasons. I particularly like the repertoire choices on this volume. I think most of the bases are covered in terms of ballet, classical, jazz, opera, improvisation and pop. I am also a massive fan of the work that my engineer Colin Lynch has done in turning my often ridiculous requests into fantastic musical results. I often think to myself  – is this perfect. Quite often the answer is NO! Now listening to V3 (I’m only up to track 17 currently) and I’ve managed to spot a very small handful of wrong notes in my playing (sadly) but over all I think unless you are listening out for them – they should not spoil your use of this CD (I hope – and if they do please let me know!). So is it perfect – No – but – have I put as much into this project as I possibly can do , played with as much passion as I can muster, attempted to make the CD accessible for dancers of a wide range of abilities and hopefully used the music to enhance the movement that will be used to accompany it and not dominate the movement? – YES! That is a small tick list that I use not only when creating a new CD but also when accompanying a ballet class or composing / arranging music for any medium . This to me is much more important then something being 100% perfect but not having any depth of feeling or soul (I dread to use that cliché and I apologize but I can’t think of another word!).  Of course I would be happy if I could have both perfection plus all the other qualities I want but sometimes it just isn’t possible.

It does irritate me sometimes that I am not perfect at what I do – but then that raises more questions. Surely one of the reasons I really enjoy what I do is that I’m always learning different skills and improving on the ones I already have. If I was perfect this challenge (which I really enjoy actually) would disappear and my days would all be the same.

I do something find I have similar issues in my professional life. When I am inundated with phone calls about work and my diary is full for weeks (and sometimes months) on end – I do something start to get really annoyed at the sight of the piano and wish that I had some free time to compose (either commission based work or just for my own amusement), walk my beloved dog, generally catch up with my friends and have some me time. However when these times do come along, I quite often achieve nothing I have planned to do (especially musically) because I’m worried about the reasons my phone isn’t ringing!

Alfie

My beloved dog Alfie!

Then I get annoyed with myself for constantly worrying about things and also annoyed for not doing any of the work I was meant to. It’s a vicious circle! Luckily as I’m on holiday at the moment and tapping these words onto my little laptop there is absolutely nothing I can do about the whole thing except respond to a couple of emails, soak up the sunshine and order another ice-cream coffee (sounds hideous but actually its really nice!) I do love the challenge that being a freelance musician presents – the mix of people I work with on a daily basis – the different cities (and sometimes countries) I’m paid to visit – the various artists I work with and one of the things I really love is that no amount of preparation can sometimes prepare you for either a good or a bad day at the office! I have met some fantastic people – made some amazing friendships and been to some pretty impressive cities because of my job. All of this I am eternally grateful for and when the grey skies are looming overhead or I am getting incredibly close to the end of my overdraft – I realise that things aren’t actually that bad (!) and remember that I need to put things in perspective and how luckily I am to be doing what I do for a living!

Anyway – at the end of that small trip through my mind – here’s what else has been going on –

MBSM V3 is now in the manufacturers and I am currently waiting for a completion date from them. It should be within the next couple of weeks I take delivery of the finished product (photos will be uploaded ALL over the web!) and I start to ship orders of various quantities around the world.

The ballet exam music composition is going well (still don’t think the board have announced that it’s me who’s got the job so still can’t broadcast the board by name  right across the web).  I’m still struggling a little bit with pitching the music at a correct level for younger dancers but I’m going to offer my services FOR FREE (yes I’m actually going to do something for free for once – maybe I want expenses haha) to go and accompany young pre ballet and grade 1 ballet classes to understand what the young dancers need in terms of musical support to help them develop. If you are in England (preferably the north!) please get in contact with me and we can sort something out!

That’s all for now – enough of me waffling on with endless rubbish. I hope you’ve all had a great Easter weekend and thanks for reading. If you want to – get in contact with me…there’s loads of ways…!

www.balletpiano.co.uk
www.facebook.com/modernballetstudiomelodies
www.twitter.com/MBSM_CD
cnh1986@mac.com
modernballetstudiomelodies@gmail.com

(I’m so corporate!) Au-revoir for now!

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A Busy Week / choosing repertoire for ballet

•April 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Hello all

Here is my 2nd post for the world of blogging!

It’s been a busy old week although not slightly as random as last weeek (so far,,,but it is only Tuesday!) A heck of a lot of my time has been devoted to finishing off Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 3. It was finally finished last night after there were problems when actually physically making the CD. It kept glitching and having the occasional audio click. Quite annoying for my engineer Colin Lynch, especially because he thought that it was all finished and I managed to find many mistakes still in it (bum notes, introductions that were ‘missing’ in the mix down, volumes that needed changing…the list feels like it goes on and on and on for
ever!) But now its finished I visit the manufacturers tomorrow to deliver the completed artwork to them and 2 master copies and then all I do is sit back for a couple of weeks or so until a big delivery van delivers literally thousands of copies to my home! Then the fun of sending them round the world really starts! Sure I’ll update that one another time!

Celebrating finishing MBSM V3 with a can of generic lager

 

 

In other news, composition is now in full swing for the ballet grades I’ve been comissioned for. I’m not sure if the annoucement has actually been made yet by the company so for now i’ll just refer to them as ‘the exam board’ or ‘them’ but its quite exciting. Had an awful realisation last night that I have to record around 300 pieces of music (or about 8 grades worth) in a studio with members of the exam board present, Colin (my engineer and producer) is hopefully going to be exec engineer and producer for those sessions and finally, a group of engineers who I’m sure could think of absolutely nothing more interesting to do then be in a studio whilst I’m playing my music for ballet! It’s only just starting to hit me what a literally MASSIVE project the whole thing is. The thing that’s been taking me the most time has literally been the younger grades (eg Pre primary, grade 1 and grade 2). Most of my experience when playing for dance has been playing predominately at professional training / company level so what I must keep at the fore-front of my mind is that the kids who’ll be using some of this music are only about 3 years old and still don’t know their left from their right. I’ve started to get good feedback now about some of the work I’ve already done which is always good for the ego. I’ll try and sneak some onto the internet some how without them knowing, and as always – feedback (either good or bad) is always welcome!

Anyway .. enough about my dull life now and here’s some of my thoughts!!!!!!!!

I’ve been thinking quite a lot this week about how a pianist for ballet finds their repertoire. It’s a question that has come up a few times, mostly when I’ve been teaching people the fundamentals of accompanying dance. When asked I think there are a few things that it is important to keep in mind and a little bit of prior preparation can save on embarassment whilst playing.

I’ve always been of the opinion that dancers (no matter what age/ability) are exposed to as many different genres of music as possible during classes. I quite often will mix music from classical ballets (Swan Lake, Midsummer Nights Dream, La Bayadere etc) with more modern music such as musicals or popular songs. In fact only yesterday one student asked what I would be playing for class and when I replied with “I haven’t actually got a clue yet” I was asked if I would play  a bit of classical music because he felt it helped him engage with the exercises that were being set. This is in stark contrast to the lad who was stood on the other side of the barre from him who said he’d like a bit of Beyonce / Mariah Carey! All of which I managed to get into the class!

Also I think that it’s very helpful for a pianist to have a chat (if possible) with the teacher before hand to find out if the teacher has any certain pieces of music they really do like to use for certain exercises. After quite a few years of playing for the same teacher I can now know what exercise is coming next, roughly how long it will last, the speed and the time signature before the teacher has really said anything! You also know what a teacher really likes (a good friend of mne who I play for regularly loves Oasis Don’t Look Back In Anger for an Adage and my current head of dance really enjoys Pure Imagination for a nice plié exercise. A lot of things I find out by chance and just try to remember it. It’s a nice feeling to look around and see people appreciating the music and not just dancing through it.

This is a small selection of music I played for ballet yesterday

Warm Up / 1st Tendu – She’s Electric (Oasis)
Plié  – Cavatina segue into Nocturne 7 from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Tendu – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
Glisse – Avenue Q Medley (The Internet Is For Porn / If You Were Gay)
Rond De Jambe – Nocturne in E flat (Chopin)
Frappe – Folk/Street Dance (from Romeo & Juliet)
Grand Battement – Do You Hear The People Sing
Adage – Don’t Look Back In Anger/With Or Without You/Pure Imagination/Somewhere
Centre Tendu – Improvisation
Jumps – Mambo #5
Petit Allegro – Fred ‘n’ Ginger / Improvisation
Allegro From The Corner…. Everything including – Male Variation from La Bayadere & Male Var from Don Q, Waltz of The Swans, Main Waltz from Act 1, Black Swan PD2,

The only reason I briefly made a note about the rep was because I knew I was going to write about repertoire choices so thought it would be appropriate. I think there are quite a few different genres in there and hopefully during class there will be a bit of ‘something for everybody’ in terms of repertoire.

If you are strugelling to find the sheet music for classical choices for ballet , then the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library (http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page) has quite a number of scores and reductions (including full ballet scores by Tchaikovsky etc) for you to download as PDFs. Also you can ‘learn from others’ by looking at (and hopefully buying!) some bnallet class CDs off the internet. These are often quite expensive but will provide you with a great idea for how to ‘bastardise’ music for ballet and how to alter tunes that are written on a 4/4 to a 3/4 time signature etc.

Right blog number 2 over and out. More next week when I’ll be on a small holiday break!!! Have fun 1 and all.

Tuesday

•April 5, 2011 • 1 Comment

I’m new to this blogging malarky, sometimes my English isn’t great and my spelling is rubbish … however … inspired by speaking to somebody in the pub last night I thought I’d give it a go!

Its strange my life sometimes. This time last week I was in Leeds playing company classes and rehearsals of Romeo & Juliet/Nutcracker. Over the weekend I was in the recording studio with my engineer doing the final mix for Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, yesterday I was playing for ballet training classes at LIPA and today I am composing free music for baby ballet exams for IDTA and also proof reading orchestrations for Oliver! At the minute I don’t think you could get more random if you tried!

Regarding company class and rehearsals – it was a brief return to my former job / life with Northern Ballet Theatre (Northern Ballet as they’re now called) Having spent over 2 years travelling the 100 mile round trip 6 days a week to rehearse and play for them I decided to move to Slovenia to take a job with Irek Mukhamedov and Slovenian National Ballet. Sadly for various reasons (there isn’t time to go into this now!) I ended up back in the UK and am now working freelance again. Day to day jobs involve travelling Manchester to Liverpool where I work at LIPA as ‘principal pianist for dance’ which basically involves accompanying dance classes, doing the other pianists timetables & occasionally training pianists in how to do my job! Yes so I was back in Leeds just for a few days doing rehearsals with N.B. It always strikes me as odd when you return back to a place where you used to work because you’ve changed but everybody else, receptionist, dancers, technicians, office staff, the girl who makes the coffee behind the canteen(!) are all exactly the same.

Over the weekend I spent around 14 hours in the studio with my engineer, Colin Lynch, engineering, mixing and mastering Volume 3 of our CD, Modern Ballet Studio Melodies.  It’s always a mixed day when engineering takes place because it doesn’t take me long to get irritated by constantly hearing myself play the same bars of music over and over and over and over again whilst Colin tweaks the EQ just the right amount or tinkers with the reverb. Along with the obligatory ‘mini’ break-down which I seem to have every year (and of course the high-light of the day is kebab for tea) and the slightly petty arguments we seem to have every year, it’s not finished and I hope that people enjoy dancing to it. It’s probably been one of the hardest ones just to get right because of the different genres of music on there. (Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger / Tchaikovsky – Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Eugine Onegin / Mambo Number 5 / Avenue Q … just a few examples!) However I do think that it’s a good selection and hopefully will help lift the energy of any ballet class and also that dancers and teachers will enjoy dancing to my music (fingers crossed!)

Finally (as I think I have to start work very shortly) I recently found out that I’ve got the gig for re-writing all the ballet syllabus for an international company. I don’t think it’s been announced yet so sadly cant actually name it! Starting today by composing the pre-ballet grade involving music such as ..
Walk/runs on demi-pointe.
Pony Gallops / Pony Trots
Strong point of the foot and close with a big knee bends
I must remember as per their concerns to me that I need to make the music not too ‘mature’ for the younger dancers. I think 6/8 is appropriate for anything to do with ponies especially if they’re galloping or trotting! One my composition brain gets tired I also have to proof-read all the parts and score of Oliver for a production later on in the year. So on that note … a small glimpse into my balletic world … over and out for now. Thanks for reading!