Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Article Repost, Playing for Pliés

Juilliard Alumni News Spotlight

Playing for Pliés—A Life in Music and Dance

Marjorie Landsmark-DeLewis (Photo by Chris Downes)
More than five decades since receiving a degree as one of Juilliard’s first African-American graduates, Marjorie Landsmark-DeLewis (Diploma ’48, piano) occupies a special place in the ranks of American dance musicians. Over the course of her distinguished career, she worked with Agnes de Mille as rehearsal pianist for the American Ballet Theater, accompanied classes for dance legends Antony Tudor and David Howard, and served as music director for dance at Sarah Lawrence College. At age 90, she remains active as a composer and performer, and was recently featured as a special guest artist at the International Guild of Musicians in Dance’s 20th anniversary conference in Tucson.

Landsmark-DeLewis was born and raised in Harlem, where she began music lessons at age 5 with her uncle, a classically trained pianist who taught her in the same way he’d been instructed as a youngster in St. Kitts—by rapping her knuckles when she made a mistake. Seven years and a few sore fingers later, she began studying with Edward H. Margetson, a prominent black composer, conductor, and church organist who lived in Washington Heights. Lessons, Landsmark-DeLewis recalled in a recent interview with The Journal, cost 50 cents.

When it came time for college, Juilliard was the obvious choice. Not only did she have the talent and a strongly developed sense of discipline instilled by two demanding teachers, but the School, in its previous Morningside Heights location, was within walking distance of her family’s home. At Juilliard, Landsmark-DeLewis’s instructors included Karl Friedberg, Lonnie Epstein, and Arthur Newstead, with whom she continued to study for several years after completing her degree. As she remembers, there were very few black students enrolled in the School at the time, but “we didn’t stand around and talk with each other—we were so happy being at Juilliard we didn’t want to waste time.”
It wasn’t until the excitement of graduation was over that she asked herself, “Now what am I going to do with this [degree]?” By luck—or divine intervention, if you ask Landsmark-DeLewis—she found the perfect opportunity on Juilliard’s job placement board, where Aubrey Hitchens (an influential dance teacher and one of Anna Pavlova’s last partners) had placed an ad for a pianist to play Bach’s Italian Concerto for rehearsals and performances at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass. Having just performed the concerto on her graduation recital, Landsmark-DeLewis immediately contacted Hitchens and aced the audition. She went on to become his rehearsal pianist, quickly demonstrating an exceptional sensitivity to dancers’ needs and gaining a vast knowledge of repertoire from the piles of scores he gave her.

etc etc etc . . .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Mezzo List


Arias offered by 84 mezzo-sopranos scheduled for auditions for the 2011 season

The Composer is the Winner: 25X
Sein wir wieder gut

Runners-up at 23X
Must the winter come so soon?
Smanie implacabili

Va! laisse couler mes larmes
Que fais-tu
Voi che sapete

Svegliatevi nel core
Give him this orchid
Parto parto
Cruda sorte

Non so più
Pres des remparts (Seguidilla)
Una voce poco fa
What a movie
Faites-lui mes aveux
Wie du warst
Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix
O mio fernando
Non piu mesta
Things change Jo
Vois sous l’archet (Violin aria)

etc etc etc

Want Some Suggestions of Standard Soprano Rep?


These lists are culled from the 4 arias listed by each singer on the application form. Since they allow singers to change their lists, there’s no guarantee that these are the actual pieces that are sung; however, it’s a good general idea of how popular a given aria is among YAP auditioners.

Arias offered by 163 sopranos scheduled for auditions for the 2011 season:

The Runaway Winner at 40X
Ach ich fühl’s

Quite Popular at 15-25X
Caro nome
Deh vieni
Je suis encor
Je veux vivre
No word from Tom / I go to him
Quando m’en vo

Moderately Frequent at 10-14X
Ah je ris (Jewel Song)
Ain’t it a pretty night
Come scoglio
Durch Zärtlichkeit
Embroidery aria
Gold is a fine thing (Silver Aria)
Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante
Je marche / Obéissons (Gavotte)
Mir ist die Ehre (Presentation of the Rose)
Quel guardo / So anch’io

Popping Up Occasionally at 6-9X
Ah! non credea / Ah non giunge
Amour ranime mon courage
Be kind and courteous
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta
Comme autrefois
Da tempeste
Donde lieta uscì
Du gai soleil
Goodbye, World (Emily’s Aria)
Klänge der Heimat (Czàrdàs)
Mi tradì
Non mi dir
Padre germani addio
Per pietà
Porgi amor
Prendi per me
Regnava nel silenzio
Sul fil d’un soffio
Tornami a vagghegiar
Zerbinetta’s aria

etc etc etc

Friday, November 5, 2010

How Far We've Come . . .

'Collaborative piano' is a field that has made huge strides in the last 20 years. It's become so acknowledged that I tend to blink when I find articles from the past like Concert Notes: Rehearsal Pianist Steps Out (written in 1990). It's an interview of Judith Jackson, a principal pianist for Chicago Opera Theatre, and has comments like:
"Jackson is not one to apologize for her chosen field. "I know a lot of pianists who think accompanying and operatic work are boring and limiting, in terms of their own creativity. But I find it very challenging--and I really love it!...."
"Jackson is an accompanist, and proud of it."
Then there's Gerald Moore's book, "The Unashamed Accompanist".

I'd like to suggest yet another title: "The Employed Pianist".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Article Repost about Becoming a Collaborative Pianist

Preparing the Young Collaborative Pianist by Patricia Stowell, August 1, 2008

As a 12-year-old pianist, I played for my sister, a violinist, at lessons and recitals where her teacher acknowledged my natural accompanying abilities. I didn't recognize them until the evening our parents invited us to play for their guests. With my sister's upward sniff, things were off to a fine start until my score awkwardly fell to the floor, drawing all eyes towards me. Deftly, I kept one hand at the keyboard, continuing to accompany my sister, as my other hand reached to the floor to retrieve the score. My parents and their company described their relief following that tense moment, amazed I never left my sister without support. It also affirmed something I would later value--that this was one of many skills necessary for being a good accompanist.

Starting Out: Identifying Talent Early On
Today I realize how helpful it can be to young pianists to identify good accompanying skills and draw these to their attention early in their studies. We can help students see how the field of accompanying offers a broad range of possibilities beyond that of a solo career or a career as a piano instructor. As director of the Kneisel Hall Maine Young Musicians Program for chamber music, I recently coached a piano-violin duo. Though the violinist lacked rhythmic precision and used an erratic kind of rubato, the young pianist followed her perfectly. We worked on both players' challenges of breathing with the music and learning how to use rubato; the results later that afternoon well surpassed my expectations. This pianist had an amazing ability to listen and follow the violinist. She understood the timing of upbeats, the give and take of breathing and expanding where necessary. She also had an innate sense of harmonic tension and cadential endings-all which she anticipated and prepared. We also addressed the issues of balance and when one instrument needed to yield to the other. After encouraging her to pursue collaborative playing, the pianist asked me how she could work on her accompanying skills. My suggestions included:

* Play often for choruses and voice lessons, which introduce pianists to the art of following singers' breathing.

* Work with other pianists on four-hand literature.

* Continue to work with string players, paying attention
to the violin teacher's instruction regarding bowing.

* Play for instrumentalists from the brass and wind sections in order to get acquainted with the mechanics of these instruments.

* Take language courses.

There was little time to go into detail, but her reaction to what I stated indicated that these ideas came as a surprise. At age 12, however, she was mature and ready to learn about collaborative possibilities and about her musical gifts. That she even had the talent surprised her, which confirmed to me the value of early recognition and acknowledgment of particular giftedness.

The effort I just described involved a duo ensemble, but what are other opportunities we can encourage our students to pursue? How do we lead them into the business of charging money and playing the piano for a living? Might they pursue a career as a professional accompanist or a chamber musician?

Etc etc etc

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pro Bono Piano - Another Perspective

To perform or not to perform - for free, that is. Opinions vary*.

My two cents on the subject: Sometimes.

If you don't have financial security, the question's a no-brainer (you gotta eat). But if you can afford to play for little or no wages, the next question is: what's the end goal? I've addressed the topic from a few angles . . . 'cause it depends.

Opportunities to extend one's education isn't always paid - especially when performers are inexperienced. Volunteering is one way that beginning collaborative pianists can acquire the marketable essentials: repertoire, skills and experience.

Repertoire: What does your repertoire list look like? (Do you have a repertoire list . . .) Standard rep played by oneself is good, standard rep performed is better. Offering a freebie to a cash-poor-but-excellent musician can give you an excuse to learn (insert song cycle/instrumental literature here) and perform it as well. If its for a recital and you get a recording out of it, even better.

Skills: Chops are not enough. Do you know how to:
  • Be useful in a choral rehearsal - follow a conductor, help rehearsals go smoothly by anticipating a conductor's needs, read open-part scores and listen to the choir for sections that need 'help'?
  • Function as an orchestra member by playing orchestral keyboards/celeste - this is very different from most pianist experiences
  • Play an opera or music theatre audition without terror/train wrecks? There is standard rep in both of these genres you have to know on sight, as well as adjust to each singer's interpretation of it (offering to turn pages is a good introduction)
  • Read a musical theatre conductor's score and know what to leave out? Most universities do shows of some sort, get started by 'sitting in' or volunteer to substitute for rehearsals

Experience: An experienced pianist is much more appealing than a pianist with chops who does not know the ins- and outs- of playing for (fill-in-the-blank). This is why it can make a lot of sense for a student to volunteer to play on the cheap in order to say, "Why yes, I've played Dichterleibe/weddings/church service/choral rehearsals before" - and even better, be able to back it up with references. Another angle: If you are a starving student, consider quid pro quo. Barter your piano skills for voice/Finale/tapas cooking lessons.

Professional musicians may want to increase their knowledge/skills base and marketability. Say they want to try their hand at:
  • Accompanying dance classes
  • Church and temple work
  • Providing wedding and funeral music
  • Providing 'background music'
  • Transitioning into musical theatre pit work/music directing (MDing) from a classical background
You may be lucky enough to find a paid training opportunity that gives you an 'in' to learning about a new workplace. But if not, you can create your own training by 'sitting in', watching, offering to substitute or any number of things that will get your foot in the door. Most of these situations do not follow a direct career path, people kind of 'do what they know'. And they've learned by doing.

After moving to a new area, many musicians trip over the scary reality: people use who they know. Volunteering is a way to gain visibility in circles that generally go by word of mouth when looking for pianists (higher education environments, private studio teachers, musical theatre circles). Consider:
  • Community theatre pits usually offer a small stipend - and are also comprised of private studio, elementary and high school music teachers. That an excellent source of referrals for solo and ensemble, audition recordings and recitals etc.
  • Volunteer to play for a lesson or two of private voice students. Their teacher may have students who need pianists
  • Meet other musicians and possibly form a duo/trio/etc, offer services at social functions
My own experience: playing at a university for free/low wages has gotten me hired at two universities since moving to this area. People use who they know.

Sometimes, you do things because you can. Once I played for a solo mandolin recital for a very modest fee - why? because when else will I ever be asked to play a mandolin recital? For you, maybe its a singer with a gorgeous instrument but no cash, a fringe music festival or a jazz opportunity. Pursue music-making experiences that intrigue you on some level - it helps you remember why you chose music in the first place.

Doing things for low cash, food or effusive thanks and a meaningful handshake does not pay the rent. And yet, education and experience, exposure and enjoyment are all important. Which means, evaluate each situation: will this interfere with actual paying gigs, will this benefit me in some way and/or be fun? Your call.

* Musician bloggers Dave Hahn (article 1 and article 2), Jonathan Jaeger, Geraldine Boyer-Cussac and Stephen Taylor have all commented on the subject.

** In these circumstances, be clear what you are doing and why (you don't want to set a precedence of permanent nonpayment). Just have a plan. For example, Jaeger's blog suggested aspiring background music providers "offer to play at a discount at the beginning until you establish a relationship with the venue", or "offer to play five gigs a month with the last one being free".

Further Dance Accompanying Resources


Backstage article on Music for Ballet Class

Two articles from, the story of Richard Maddock, who has played for dancers since the age of 14: