Last Sunday, Peter Parker, one of our choreographers at the Midland Theatre Ballet mentioned how a particular piece music did all the work by giving him choreographic ideas. The piece in question was Danza dei piccoli schiavi mori from Verdi’s Aida.
It got me thinking how the music used for children must work so much harder than the music one might choose for experienced adult dancers. This same issue was one that came up for discussion when I trained on the Pianist for Dance course. One of my mentors, the incomparable Brian Prentice, mentioned that he considered playing for children’s classes harder than playing for adult classes.
Music for class
I found that music which may have been acceptable to the company dancers turned out to be less suitable for say, the Junior Associates. Company dancers are capable of adapting the same steps to suit different music.
For example, if two different pieces of music were played for the same tendu exercise – one of a gooey persuasion and the other more sharply rhythmic and staccato- an experienced dancer would maintain ground contact with their feet in tendu while using the dynamic suggested by both pieces of music. A child (who as children do see or in this case , hear things in more black or white terms) hearing the sharper accents in the more rhythmic music may be tempted into making a glissé by imitating the ‘pop’ of the accent.
So, if the teacher of the children’s class is trying to correct the lifting of feet off the ground in tendus, it would be ever so helpful if the musician could play music which didn’t suggest obvious glissés. Of course, children do need to be able to do tendus with a variety of dynamics, but perhaps more varied music could be saved for later once they have learnt the basics of a good tendu? Brownie points for the musician who could anticipate this in the first place.
Music for choreography
One of the most interesting but hardest part of my job as the MD of Midland Theatre Ballet is choosing music for our productions. As I am in the thick of preparing music for ‘Snow White’, the issue of choosing music for choreography is currently a major obsession. My long-suffering husband Wayne has been subjected to a mildly demented wife demanding “Does this sound like a sneezy dwarf to you?” for weeks now.
Since will we spend months listening to the chosen music, I try to keep to a pretty strict criteria for short-listed pieces for the sake of our sanity if nothing else. My criteria include pieces which are:
-musically sophisticated (eg. phrases of 6s, 10s, anything to get away from square 8s)
-harmonically interesting (but consistent with the chosen sound world)
-melodically memorable, preferably with colourful orchestration (nothing beats a good tune)
- a good mix of musical types (eg. ranging from polonaises, marches, galops, codas, to minuets)
But above all, the music MUST tell the story. Here is where the real difficulty lies as our cast comprises of children and teenagers.
Consider finding music for a scene d’action with Snow White moving through the woods. Is she having nice stroll, running away from the evil stepmother in fear, elated at having run away, or in despair at having been made to run away? The best music will unambiguously tell the audience (and the dancers) all the emotions being experienced by the character at that moment – a vitally important element for young dancers of underdeveloped acting skills. The worst music will be a neutral-sounding ( hmm…pretty, perhaps?!) tune as it doesn’t provide anything for our young dancers to respond to. Mime is difficult enough to teach at the best of times so every effort must be made to surround them with mime music that evokes a definite response ie. the music MUST do all the work.