Episode 13 – Music for Centre Adage

This is the first episode in the series where the team have recorded separately in lockdown.  The vocals have cleverly been mixed together by Chris Hobson.  This is due to the global pandemic of Covid-19.  We hope the quality has not been compromised too much!

The team quickly address the current climate of Corona Virus and briefly discuss how they are still able to keep producing episodes remotely through the wonders of modern technology, and how they are coping with the self-isolation individually.

As usual, the team throw to David initially to talk about the similarities and differences between the barre adage and centre adage, and how in the centre there are very little restrictions because there is no barre, and more space to move and exploit all directions and lines possible.  David also reveals how he loves the music to be slightly grander than the barre adage.

The team also discuss the steps that can be included in the adage as a way of preparing for turns and jumps that happen later in class.  For example, promenades in the adage become pirouettes in those positions, and jumps such as fouetté sauté can be rehearsed slowly in the adage.

For music, the team all agree in this episode that the quality of the adage music in the centre is similar to that of the barre adage, namely slow, legato, full textured, and sensitive to the choreography.

The pianists talk about how they accompany the centre adage in a different way than they would the barre adage, with more sensitivity to the individual dancer’s wants and needs as they stand unaided in the centre, and perhaps need more space in the music.

Listen out for the metaphor of Haagen Dazs ice cream, whereby you save it for a special occasion and it should be luxurious and used sparingly and expensively. 

Music referenced in this episode

Transcription of this episode by Jonathan Still

Taking part: 
MG: Matt Gregory CH: Chris Hobson AH: Akiko Hobson    DY: David Yow 


[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 
V/O: You’re listening to the Ballet Piano Podcast: Lifting the lid on dance accompaniment. 
[Music ends]

MG: Hey ballet fans, that’s right, you’re listening to the Ballet Piano podcast, and we’re lifting the lid on what it takes to play for ballet class and accompany dance in general. As usual all the team are here: Chris Hobson

CH: Hello

MG: Akiko Hobson 

AH: Hello

MG: And hashtag David Yow of Instagram 

DY: Hello 

MG: Well, this episode comes to you slightly differently today, we have to quickly address the current climate and talk about Covid-19. At this time of recording, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and consequently we are locked down in our own homes, so this episode has been recorded remotely through the wonders of modern technology. I mean, it feels weird, doesn’t it peeps, I mean, what’s going on. 

CH: It’s weird, I mean the whole situation, the whole situation the whole world’s in is weird

DY: It’s very surreal 

CH: And on a very very personal level, this is weird as well, isn’t it, trying to record and run a podcast remotely, is strange, I know it’s not the biggest issue in the world, but it is strange, isn’t it.

MG: I mean we’re all on Zoom aren’t we, we can see each other via Zoom

AH: I still feel like you guys are so far away 

MG: I know

CH: Is it because of . . . I mean like we all live in London don’t we, and you know, London’s a big place, but we all live relatively close to each other in the East of London and it still feels like we’re all miles away. 

MG: I feel like I haven’t seen you for years. 

CH: I feel like I haven’t hugged anybody, apart from Akiko or Joshua for a long time [laughter] 

DY: But Zoom is fantastic here, because we can see each other. It’s brilliant 

CH: It’s true but of course all the social things that people are doing with Zoom at the moment, and it mostly seems like, well my life at the moment with Zoom is either playing for multiple ballet classes a week, or using it to socially and drink, that’s what Zoom has become for me, it’s become either a ballet studio or the virtual pub.

DY: It is amazing, what it’s enabled us to do. 

AH: Yes. 

CH: When the technology works, isn’t David, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, it’s incredibly frustrating [laughter]
G: So Chris, what’s happening with the technology of this recording then, because you’ve sort of, you’ve worked this all out

CH: So on the tech side, we’re all viewing each other on the laptop screens or the table screens on Zoom, but the vocal recordings that we’re doing are being done locally, so Akiko and I are here as normal, Matt’s recording on his own microphone in his house, and David’s recording on his own microphone in his house, so when we’ve finished this episode, you guys are going to email your episodes over to me, and then I’ll basically clip them all in together so that it sounds like we’re all in the same room. Hopefully, that’s the plan, and there shouldn’t, hopefully, be any glitches or downward spirals in sound quality. That’s the plan, and I hope if you’re listening to this it’s worked. Please do let us know. 

MG: Bravo to you because that sounds pretty clever. 

CH: Let’s see. Fingers crossed. 

AH: Maybe we might as well try to do it in a different room, Chris. Me and you. 

CH: Don’t overcomplicate it Akiko, please just sit here! We did this last year, for better or worse. It’s worse now, but hopefully it’ll get better. 

MG: Ah. Shall we get into the episode? 

AH: Yes!

CH: Let’s do it, let’s go. [3:30’]

MG: So podcasters, this episode, we’re going to delve into the centre adage. We already know from the barre adage that it is a slow sequence of steps and continuous movement. So David, is there a correlation between the barre and centre adage? 

DY: There can be, or there can be a completely different thing that you’re going to do, but generally what I try to do is try and link the two together, unless I’m actually working on something on very specific. The beauty of doing adage in the centre is that you’re unencumbered by anything getting in your way, so you can move, you can travel, and you can be more expressive, and that’s what I love about the centre adage is that the music can be bigger and more grand, and more creative as well. 

MG: And in terms of being cohesive, you can use your barre adage to prepare for the centre adage? 

DY: Exactly, so there can be that, that’s natural progression, or you might think, OK, I want to do something completely different, something that I haven’t been able to do at the barre, like say, do a pirouette or a sustained turn, which you couldn’t do at the barre, because you know, the barre would get in the way, but in the centre you have that freedom to move, but as you said, you can travel but you can’t do that very much at the barre, and that gives you more options. 

MG: And so what sort of steps, you can do pirouettes in open positions, développés, what other things? 

DY: Any kind of turning, any kind of turning movements like promenade which is a very slow turn on one leg, either whole turns, or bits of turns, with your free leg, your gesture leg extended or moving in space around you which you couldn’t really do by the barre, because you’d just bump into everything all the time; and you can travel, you can do moving steps that go in any direction but you couldn’t do that at the barre either, and you just feel as if you can move your body, you know, bend your body forward or backwards much more easily, and it really is the freedom. You can exploit all those different arabesque lines, écartés, éffacés, all sorts of things, can’t you. 

DY: Yes, all the eight directions of the body. 

AH: There’s lots of photographs taken when the dancers are doing adage. 

DY: Yes, because it’s so slow, it enables you to sustain a position for longer, and of course, without the barre you have to just use your own body to stand up, and that’s kind of a challenge in itself. 

MG: And also, because the adage in the centre is slow, you can do fouetté of adage, which is preparation for fouetté sauté, and you know, the turns in promenade, in attitude, that’s preparation for a pirouette in attitude isn’t it? 

DY: Absolutely

MG: So that sort of bridges that gap for what’s going, you know, for what the dancers go on to next. 

DY: Just like you start at the barre, we start everything slowly at the barre, so the dancer has time to actually feel where their body is in space, and now in the centre we’re doing that, and specifically because there’s nothing to hold on to, you are so much more aware of your own body, and where your weight is, through your body standing on either one or two legs, and that’s really the challenge, to stand up without falling over, literally. 

MG: And it’s, you know, it looks quite wobbly sometimes, doesn’t it, until the dancers have found that supporting leg. 

DY: We try not to wobble, but . . . 

MG: I know

DY: But that is the challenge, really, isn’t it. 

MG: Solid as a tree trunk. 

DY: Absolutely

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident, 07:09] 

MG: So everyone, what about music? Let’s talk about music for centre adage. Do we think it’s similar to barre adage? [others: “yes”] 

AH: Yes, a bit more rich, richer. 

CH: It’s richer, and it’s bigger isn’t. But we’re, yeah, we’re developing what, as David was saying with the choreography, I think musically, I feel the same, we’re developing what we’ve done already. You know, it might be different melodies that we’re playing, it can even be a different time signature, but we’re just, we’re taking it up a notch, we’re switching the amplifier up to 11 here, aren’t we, and going for it. 

AH: Quite dramatic. 

MG: And stylistically, it’s adagio, as we know, but it’s still nice and smooth and legato isn’t it. 

DY: I always like the creativity that you bring to the adage in the centre, I love just challenging whoever’s playing for me, by just saying sometimes, you know, OK, inspire me, play whatever you like. 

AH: Oh here we go! 


MG: Which can be dangerous! 

DY: I love watching Akiko’s eyes when we do this, because they get wider and wider [laughs]

AH: You just make me nervous, any time any teacher says “Just play something to inspire me” or “Oh, just, let’s mark along with the music. Akiko, play something.” I’m like [gasps]. 

MG: Do you ever find when you sit down at one of these public station pianos, and someone says, oh play something, you completely forget everything that you know how to play off the top of your head. 

CH: Yes. 

MG: It’s like that situation, isn’t it. 

CH: I think I’ve played on one of those pianos once and I won’t ever do it again. The only time I ever heard you, Akiko, play on one, was when you were drunk and it was your birthday, and we’d been out for a meal, and you played Happy Birthday to yourself, and Joshua sang to you. 

MG: Chris and Akiko, is there anything that you play for barre adage that you don’t play for centre adage, do you split your repertoire? Or do you play both for both? 

AH: I think both for both, but I don’t know. I never thought about it. I think both for both, but some, slightly differently speed, depending on the steps. 

CH: I’m in two camps for that, sometimes I’ve got, I do have things that I would only play in the centre, for example, Spartacus adagio, I tend to only ever play that in the centre, I don’t know, just because it feels richer and grander, but I do play, I play my own repertoire differently if it’s at the barre or the centre, usually if it’s in the centre, I probably pull it out and maybe put a little bit of rubato in there every now and then, especially if it’s going from, erm, one side ot the other. 

MG: Yeah. 

CH: And just slightly slower sometimes as well, just to give a little bit more time, or to, I think for the dancers, as David was saying earlier, it was that freedom of movement to sometimes just be able to explore that freedom of movement with some hopefully beautiful, supportive, and inspirational music around, hopefully, so that’s the plan. 

DY: What I tend to find is that when you get into the centre to do the adage, the pianist becomes become much more expressive in what they actually, in their choice of music, and the way they actually deliver the performance. And that’s really inspiring for the dancer. That’s what I mean, Akiko, that’s what I love about when you play, is that you just let go, you know, you just let rip, it’s fantastic, you just let go, and it becomes really really expressive, it’s lovely. That’s what I mean, Akiko, that’s what I love about when you play, is that you just let go, you know, you just let rip, it’s fantastic, you just let go, and it becomes really, really expressive, it’s lovely. 

AH: For me, like, centre adage is a bit like, what do you say, Häagen-Dazs ice-cream. Like, you can’t to eat it every day 

DY: Which flavour? 

AH: But that’s the choice of my music, isn’t it, it can be strawberry, it can be hazelnut 

DY: Good description! 

AH: But it’s just something you can’t eat every day, but it has to be so luxuriant, just special. 

CH: I can’t remember which episode, Matt, you described it as, but it sounds expensive, and it is expensive, it looks expensive. This is expensive, what we’re doing when we get to adage in the centre, isn’t it. 

MG: Yeah, because, you know, adage looks impressive, because you know, they’re getting their legs up by their ears, and so it looks impressive, and it’s got to sound and look expensive. And I always take my expression musically from the dancers, in adage, and also because they’re, because they’re holding their legs in the air, and you know, finding those positions, I want to provide enough music that sort of supports that. 

CH: I think subconsciously as well, as musicians, we must know that, like David you were just saying, we get more expressive, we get bigger in the centre, and I think, everything looks great at the barre, but it looks even better in the centre, doesn’t it, and even, you know, if you’re a bit grumpy that day, if you’ve not had enough sleep, or you’ve had a busy week, or even a busy day, when you see that, you know, when you see these centre adages choreographed beautifully and being done well, it inspires you to play bigger and better, just to support what’s going on. 

DY: Wow, that’s really interesting, that’s like a 360º kind of thing, because the dancers become inspired by what you play, so what you’re saying is, that it’s like a conversation, you’re inspiring each other from what we see or what we hear. 

CH: Yeah, it’s like a, what’s it called, a symbiotic relationship? 

DY: Yeah. That’s very good. 

AH: Gosh, that’s a really difficult word. 

MG: Well, for me as well as a musician, I’m so sensitive to what the dancers do, so I mean, I play with a little rubato, if someone’s taking something and they want to move the adage along, I’ll sort of go with that person, or if they need a bit more time on something, like they’re doing a promenade and they’ve not quite got to the count, I’ll just sort of stretch it a little bit to help them out. 

CH: And then musically you can go along with that as well, can’t you, you know, if you’re playing let’s say an aria, or something like that, you know, some beautiful aria from an opera, you can phrase that in the way that it would be sung, and you can pull it around ever so slightly in a way that it feels, it feels it would possibly be inappropriate to do at the barre. 

MG: Yeah. I mean I’m sure the dancers appreciate that. 

CH: I hope so, if not there’s no point. 

DY: I think it’s so important to actually hear that, so that they know that it’s not just like robotically just coming out of a box, you know, this person is actually giving you their heart through their music, and I think you know, your response, as a dancer, should reflect that. That’s really interesting. 

MG: David, what are your thoughts on different music for men and women, at school level? Are there any differences, or? 

DY: You mean for adage? 

MG: Yeah. 

DY: Yes, I think there are, because when you’re coming into the centre and you’re trying to develop expression, you do want to have a difference the lady, the way the lady interprets the music, and the way the gentleman does. So yeah, you’re right. There are times when it’s exactly the same, and there are other times, when yes, I do want to see a difference. And that’s important for the dancers themselves. 

MG: And I guess, women’s music is generally lighter? 

DY: Delicate, I would say, yeah, because you want to see the finer points of expression, for a lady to be, to develop their expression. For a gentleman, you do want to see sensitivity, but in a different way. Quite right. And especially, I mean every individual is different [inaudible] when we say men and women, realistically I mean, just the way people use them–, the way that they express themselves in their body, can be masculine or feminine, you know, delicate or strong, I mean I think those kind of descriptions can be universal, and depending on what you’re doing, and the context with what you’re doing, and really the type of music that you’re listening to that actually encourages you to do, or to move in a certain way, I think that all is, you know, collectively it’s important for the dancer, and the musician I guess, yeah. 

MG: I mean this is probably a whole other podcast episode, but in 2020, you know, men are doing the women’s steps, and women doing the men’s steps, you know, and these modern ballets that are being made, there’s no differentiation, everyone’s doing the same. 

DY: No, but I think you need to develop as an artist, to be able to do both. You’re actually going to do a nineteenth century classic, you need to know what a prince is, or a princess is, or something, but equally, if you’re going to do something that’s more up-to-date, more neoclassic, you need to know how to actually to be able to portray that, yeah, totally agree. 

CH: Or if it’s Matthew Bourne, you need to know pointe-work, don’t you, if you want to do his Swan Lake, as well. 

DY: Absolutely. Everything. 

CH: Can I ask you, Matt? What do you like to play for adage? 

MG: That is exactly what I was going to ask you, what do you like to play! 

CH: Because I was going to ask you the same. OK. What do I like to play. Erm, it’s similar to adage, it’s not the same, it’s things that are personal to me, it’s things that I like, and I know that other people like, so it depends, I mean, I’m a big one for, I think, I think we all are to, you know, a certain degree, cinematic stuff

MG: [approvingly] Mmm 

AH: Yes. 

CH: Thinks from cinema, because that evokes particular emotion, doesn’t it, or it does in me
anyway, and it’s nice to see that going over

DY: Nice bit of Khachaturian is lovely, Spartacus. Out of Africa. I love all of those. 

CH: There is nothing better. Out of Africa is good. That is my golden go-to, but the Spartacus introduction, there’s nothing better than the, if you clip it down to, what is it, two bars [sings it] and then you can really pull it out big time [sings the rising anacrusis into the theme] you can really see how far you can pull that, and it’s really nice. I’ve done that in assessments before now, when I’ve been working in the school, and it’s gone to almost half speed by the time it’s got to the end of the barre, and people do look at you as if they want to kill you, but there’s a lot of smiling, a lot of artistry that goes with it. 

MG: And Chris, you really like to pull it out, don’t you? 

CH: Yeah, I really do enjoy pulling it out yeah, I mean I’m not making all about me, but that is one where it is. 

AH: You are the noisiest pianist in the studio, you know that, yeah? [MG and AH laugh]

MG: One of the ways I choose my repertoire is, if I have a dancer come in to the centre, and it’s their group, and there’s a certain dancer that I know likes a certain piece of music, I’ll sort of play that for them, you know, as a little sort of. . . 

CH: And it’s got to be a dancer you know that’s musical as well, isn’t it. 

MG: Yeah, and you know, if they’re doing this really, if they’re doing a really difficult adage, I just think, I’m going to give them a tune that they like, to get them through it, so that’s sort of how I choose. 

AH: I just remember, when I was, the first year when I studied the ballet dancer, I think it was, you might have been in the class, Matt, 

MG: Oh possibly! 
H: Whenever I used to play, where you . . . and it was a boy’s class and a teacher and all the boys were talking about The Sound of Music because they went to see it the day before, something like that, and they kept talking about The Sound of Music, so when the adage came, I played The Sounds of Music for them, and all the students, their eyes started to shine, and they were just like, full out dancing, and I found it really funny. But they just loved the fact that I played The Sound of Music for them. 

DY: But for anybody who’s like starting out in the career, in sort of, playing for ballet music, what would your recommendations be for adage in the centre? 

AH: I think people start off playing like operatic aria tunes

CH: Arias a good one to go to, O mio babbino or the Madame Butterfly forget the title [“Un bel dì”, the one in G flat [sings tune]

MG: Or, like Disney ballads and M[usical] T[heatre] ballads because they’re generally square phrasing. 

CH: Yeah. 

MG: You know. 

CH: And you could do “I dreamed a dream,” it’s easy to square off, a lot of these musical theatres, and even some pop tunes, and things like that, Adele, Make you feel my love, you can play it on a three or on a four, it’s more or less square, it doesn’t sound bad, it’s, you know, you’ve got to chop off a bar here or, a couple of counts there, but it doesn’t, it’s not difficult to do, and it doesn’t require a lot of effort, you know, you’ve just got to think in phrases, sorry, think in a phrase of eight counts. 

DY: What’s the most unusual piece of music you’ve been asked to play 

MG: Oh I can answer this. 

CH: Go on

MG: We all know a one Miss Sarah Daultry don’t we 

CH: Yip. 

MG: She sang, would you believe it, she sang a habañera once for centre adage, for young dancers, for the young students, and it was because she didn’t want them to get sluggish and behind, you know, so there was, and habañera there’s a bit of, there’s an accent isn’t there, and so it was to encourage that articulation of the feet, and then you know, the anticipation of port de bras, so it worked really well. And of course that goes against the norm, but it’s still slow, but with a bit of accent, and so, that was just wonderful, when she did that. 

CH: Recently, I don’t recall being asked for anything weird, or off-the-wall, it’s the same within, possibly within the last decade, or so, I’ve not, I don’t remember anything completely off . . . I might have been asked to play things much quicker . . . 

AH: I was once asked to play the whole Dying Swan tune, just so choreographic, and I just had to keep playing, I know, I mean, like, it is an adage kind of music, it’s just the whole thing, and it just became an entire choreography I remember, that was a little bit of a strange experience. 

CH: Was it cut? 

AH: That’s the thing, it wasn’t square, that day, the teacher wanted me to play as it’s written. 

CH: That’s quite cool, how did that go down then, did it confuse the students, or was it. . . 

AH: No, because I think that’s kind of the music that all the ballet dancers know, so they were fine with it, and it was easier for me because I just played it as it’s written. 

CH: But then if you try and do something like Gymnopédies, you know, we’ve all played Gymnopédies and played it for a long time, I find it really difficult now, or I get confused if I listen to it, because I only know my ballet arrangement . . 

MG: Absolutely 

CH: . . . of Gymnopédies to make it square, so when you hear the original, you think, God, it’s that, just that extra, you know, oom chah oom chah in the middle, and I’ve completely forgotten about that. 

MG: I do that all the time, I can’t remember the originals, because I only remember the ballet class version of. . . 

CH: It’s like going back, I think you said it once, Matt, didn’t you, going back to the train station pianos, we could sit down and play something on these train station pianos, but it would be our ballet class arrangements of all these great tunes that we play. 

MG: If you get some classicist come behind you that knows it inside out. . . you’re screwed. 

CH: They’d crucify us sometimes, some of the stuff we do in class! 

AH: Yeah, we don’t want any of the composers to know what we’re doing, do we. 

MG: It’s niche, isn’t it, so . . .  Well, I think we’ve exhausted adage for now, but before we end it there, we want to hear from you, our avid listeners, the last two episodes in this ballet class series will be question and answer episodes, if there is anything to ask any of us, anything ballet or music related, then get in touch, and we’ll give you a mention on the podcast. You can send your questions to: balletpianopodcast@gmail.com or you can direct messages on Facebook or Instagram, just search for <Ballet Piano Podcast>. Please get in touch with your questions, because we’d love to hear from you, and we’ll do our best to answer as many as possible. Next episode is where class gets really exciting, with the exploration of pirouettes. So make sure you download that episode and have a listen to that. And if this is the first episode you’re listening to, we have many more, featuring all the barre and other centre exercises. You can find us on all major podcast providers, and as we’ve said, on Instagram and Facebook, so we’ll catch you on the next episode. So it’s goodbye from me

CH: Goodbye from me 

AH: Bye bye

DY: Goodbye. 

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

. . . ENDS. . .

© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast (Christopher Hobson, Matt Gregory, Akiko Hobson, David Yow)
 Producer: Christopher Hobson  

Transcription by Jonathan Still 30/4/20 

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