Episode 4 – Music for Tendu

This week we’re lifting the lid on the tendu exercise. How do you feel the tenduness of a tendu? Sometimes it’s slow and then other times it’s fast! Discussions about mazurkas, polonaises, slow Scottish reels and slushy jazz standards. As always, David talks about the the reason why you do a tendu exercise and beautifully articulates how it’s set. Chris, Matt and Akiko talk about their favourite repertoire and why it’s a great exercise to indulge yourself!

We also chat about what particular musical indications a pianist needs from a teacher to play an exercise well and how many tunes you need to play a ballet class. (Loads!) 

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]

CH: Hello listeners and welcome back to the Ballet Piano Podcast. I’m Chris Hobson, and as always in the studio with me is Matt Gregory

MG: Hello

CH: Akiko Hobson

AH: Hi

DY: And hashtag David Yow of Instagram 

CH: Hello David. So in today’s episode, we’re going to be discussing tendus. So tendu comes directly after the plié exercise usually, doesn’t it, in the ballet class.

DY: Yes. 

CH: Can you tell us: what is a tendu?

DY: OK! As we said in the last episode, all the terms are in French, so tendu or étendre is the verb, means to stretch, and what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to lengthen the muscles in an extended position, so you’re standing on one leg and you’re extending the other leg in a different direction away from your body so that could be in the front of you, to the side, or to the back, and generally tendus are on the floor, so you have the tip of your toe, of your extended foot on the floor, and there are many ways to do this, and we use the music in a lot of different ways, in terms of the actual speed with which we do the actual movement of tendu, to wake up the muscles in a different way or to actually develop the muscles in a different way when we’re doing those tendus. So, when we’re doing this, we might start, if we’re straightaway after pliés, you might do a slow tendu first, then the next exercise might be a quicker tendu, and what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to wake up the muscles and teach those muscles to move in a certain way in a certain direction, first of all slowly, as you would do in any kind of rehearsed movement, and then you’re going to try and speed that movement up so you can use it in a different way when you get off the barre in the centre. 

CH: OK, that’s, yeah, that’s a lot of information, but it’s something that I sort of think I knew, but I’ve realised I didn’t know it when I listen to you talking about it, it’s funny how much of it you take for granted sometimes, isn’t it? 

MG: Absolutely 

CH: So, let’s focus first on let’s say the slow tendus, how would you set that? I know there’s various different ways and musical styles, but just, you know, let’s say, a go-to, or one of your greatest hits of a slow tendu

DY: I would tend to sort of like use a steady 2/4, or on some occasions a 3/4, but very rarely these days, and what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to actually do two things at once, you’re trying to stand on the supporting leg, and use what we call opposing forces, so you’re trying to stand and push your feet, your standing leg, into the floor whilst you’re lengthening your muscles, so you’re also thinking about pushing your head towards the ceiling, so you’ve got a two-way movement going on, into the floor and up to the ceiling. At the same time that you’re doing that, you’re trying to then move your free gesture leg in a different direction, so let’s say, if we start in fifth position, so you’re crossing your, let’s say your, from the barre, your outside leg away from the barre, in front of your standing leg, and you’re going to stretch your leg devant, that means into the front, so we’re going to go [in rhythm] one and two. So you’re taking two counts from a closed fifth position to extend fully into that tendu devant position. So your leg is right in front of your hip in the centre of your body, and then you’re going to close that extended leg back to where it came from, three and four. Now you might repeat that once again, because often, when you’re practising ballet, you want to use repetition to help train the muscles, so you might go five and six and seven, and this time, when we close it to fifth position, we’ll bend the knees into a plié (which we talked about last episode) eight. And we might do that en croix. Now, en croix means in the shape of a cross, so that might mean I do the exercise of that sequence to the front, to the side, the back, and back to the side. 

CH: So you can hear then, from the way that David’s set that, it’s, you know, a slow four, or a slow two, depending on how you’re going to approach it, but there’s a lot of scope to do whatever you want to do with that, isn’t there, musically. You know, you could do something that’s you know, almost like a jazz standard, or a slow M[usical T[heatre] or you could go straight, you could go any sort of way with that, couldn’t you, what do you . . . when you were setting that, had you already got something in your head that you were thinking would work musically? 

DY: A tango would work really well,  so you’re stretching the music [noise in the background] 

CH: Bless you! 

DY: You’re using the quality of the tango to actually move your muscles in a particular way, in a stretched, lengthened way, and that really helps the dancer to understand how to do that slow tendu

CH: What, I was just thinking, I don’t know, maybe I would have played a tango for that, maybe I was too focused on actually just listening to the way that you were setting it, and I’d probably approach it differently in a studio, I’m not sure. 

MG: I think tendus are a bit of a minefield. You can, there’s so much you can play for tendus. I play the slow bit of a csárdás, or something adagio, in 2, with a slight accent, and that’s up to me to put that in, so it still has a bit, it’s not just, really legato, there’s a bit more structure to it. 

CH: Yeah, coz slow tendus are almost like a continuation, musically, of the first exercise of a warm-up, aren’t they, so it’s nothing that’s too jarring, nothing that’s too in-your-face, it’s not fortissimo, it’s 

AH: Smooth

CH: It’s smooth, it’s legato, yeah. 

DY: Smooth, that’s right, it’s a good word. 

MG: And it also has to be slightly indulgent, so the dancers can feel every metatarsal muscle and every muscle in the leg and foot going up to the hip, so whenever I’m playing a slow tendu, I’m also encouraging them to indulge in the movement with the music, and something like the slow part of a csárdás has got an energy, hasn’t it, you know. It’s really slow, but there’s a bit of an accent, but it’s still sort of, you know, it’s luxurious. 

DY: And that’s really helpful for the dancer to hear that, because it encourages them to exactly that. 

CH: I really like my jazz standards at the moment, I don’t know why, it’s just where I’m at musically at the moment, I really like, you know, something really slow but indulgent like Lover Man, or a really nice indulgent, you know, with all the sharpened 5ths and flattened 9ths for Summertime, or you know, a lot, I mean, there’s a lot of Gerswhins that have worked well for the slow tendus as well, it’s just, I, that’s where I seem to be at at the moment, and I don’t know, when we’ve talked about it previously with David, he’s said it can work for being indulgent because students and dancers know that these songs have got lyrics to them, so possibly subconsciously you’re using those lyrics in your head, and you’re singing along with them, so that’s possibly going to make you just to be more indulgent because you’re associating not just the music but the lyrics as well. 

MG: Yeah. 

CH: I mean, that’s just, that’s where I’m at at the moment and I’m really enjoying all of my indulgence. 

DY: Good for you! 

CH: . . . for a slow tendu, yeah it’s all about me. 

MG: Because the slow tendu is slow, you want the dancers to really indulge 

DY: Yes 

MG: And so I help them with the music, and those things, like jazz standards, they’ve got all those slushy chords

CH: Yeah, I love a good slushy chord

MG: It makes the dancers, it just takes them somewhere else, while they’re really working their legs and feet

DY: Absolutely 

MG: And, yeah, I do a lot of those jazzy things as well 

CH: What do you like for slow tendus, Akiko? 

AH: I don’t know, but, like I just remembered, like, the last few months, I’m getting 3/4 for slow tendus, I don’t know if it’s a trendy thing at the moment, or, but I just start to feel like I’m playing 3/4 an awful lot nowadays, I don’t know why. 

DY: I think it’s those first three exercises, pliés and tendus and then a little bit, the warm-up exercise that precedes all of those, they’re kind of like they are, you need more time in the music to actually feel those muscles, to actually wake those muscles up, and the longer you have, like on a 3/4, within the actual phrase of music, the better it is, because it gives you a chance to actually feel every part of your body, because when we talk about tendus, we’re not just talking about the legs that are moving, that you can see that are moving, you’re actually stretching your whole body, so the tendu movement is actually a stretching of your whole body, and not just what you can actually physically see. 

CH: I’d never thought about that. I just thought it was about what I could see. 

AH: You’re still, like you know, your coffee hasn’t kicked in 

CH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was it. The second espresso hasn’t kicked in then. 

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

CH: So then, after slow tendu, we’re going to move over slightly into quicker tendus. 

DY: So you might use now, something that’s, some kind of music that’s more accented, like a polonaise, or a mazurka, something like that, just to give a little bit of a kick, you know, a little bit of interest that’s beyond just a normal, regular rhythm. 


MG: And what they’ve felt in the slow tendu, you now want them to feel in the quicker tendu

DY: Exactly, so you’re asking them to do the same kind of movement but you’re asking them to move their legs and their whole body in very, more precise, sharper way, because you’re building up the speed within the actual muscles, to move quickly for later on. 

CH: So musically, for slightly quicker . . . I know you’ve discussed there, or briefly mentioned you know, these polonaises or mazurkas, but you can end up with end up like with quicker tangos or almost like a slow Scottish reels, or “Ascot Gavotte” from My Fair Lady, or something like that, these . . . again it’s a minefield like you were saying earlier, almost more so, or equally . . as the slow tendu

MG: Well, marches work well. 

DY: Wonderful. 

MG: Marches, we all play marches, don’t we. 

AH: Like this exercise is the first exercise that accent matters, isn’t it. 

MG: Yes, that’s true. 

DY: Yes, that’s a good way of describing it. 

AH: . . . isn’t it, so you need to know where you should be putting the accent within the music. 

CH: And you can get that a lot from the way that the teacher marks it, as well, you know is it out on the “and,” is it out on the “one” 

AH: In the first eight counts, yeah. 

CH: Where is it, and then you’ve got a real structure then to work out what repertoire you’re going to choose 

DY: So for the teacher who’s actually setting the exercise, it’s so important to use your voice, to help not just the dancers but the pianist who’s going to help you choose the music for that particular exercise that you want, in the kind of shall we say “flavour” that you want it.

AH: Yeah. 

CH: Because as pianists, what we need, we need to know the time signature, we need to know the tempo, and then we need to know any accents, isn’t it, and it’s possibly in that order, so you hear it’s a 4/4, so you go, OK right, 4/4 repertoire in your head, in your book, or however you do it. 

MG: Your Rolodex of repertoire in 4/4

CH: You going through, OK, right, that’s not going to work because it’s too fast or too slow, it’s not going to survive that tempo, and then it’s the accents, isn’t it, and that’s almost more important, or it’s equally as important because you’re trying to help the dancers do the accents in the right places, and you’re you know, I’m sure, I don’t know if anybody else has experienced this, I hope you have, I’ve played for stuff where I’ve not quite understood what the accent is, because I don’t know, maybe the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, or when I was younger and more inexperienced, and then the teacher is getting annoyed with the students because they’re not on the accent and then I’m sort of thinking, OK, that’s sort of my fault 

MG: Because you’ve thrown them under a bus. 

CH: Because I’ve thrown them under the bus by not giving it, you know, or as obviously as maybe I could have done, so that’s, I think those three checkpoints for teachers to know what we need as musicians, and that applies to any exercise, not just tendus, is important, I think, it’s the building blocks of how we would then choose what we’re going to play for a teacher. 

DY: Just listening to you is absolutely fascinating, because as dancers we forget, you talk about Rolodex, Matt, you know most, how many tunes do you need to know to actually play a class?

CH: Gosh. . . I don’t know

DY: That’s a lot, isn’t it? 

MG: I think I’ve got a lot, and then I do class and you’re [CH] playing, and I’m like whoah he’s got so much more than me

CH: Yeah, but I’ve been doing it for longer than you [all laugh] 

MG: Only a little bit

CH: It’s not a competition, who’s got the biggest 

AH: I know it’s not! 

DY: This is what I find fascinating, is that you know you are an absolute encyclopaedia of the music that we’re listening to/ 

CH: Well, I’ve started cheating a little bit now, so I’ll take my iPad in with me 

MG: Oh 

DY: Technology, yes! 

CH: SO, I’ll bring the iPad in and I’ve got stuff saved in there that I know I want to try in ballet class, because I’m not great at memorizing tunes, and some of it comes down to muscle memory, more than mental memory for me, and then when I’ve done them a few times, they’re in the fingers then

DY: Right

MG: Yeah. 

CH: Which actually, that works, going back to what we were saying about losing your dexterity in your fingers, sometimes when I come back from a break, I’ll start playing, you know, the first section of a tune, and then I’ll start panicking, because I’ll think I don’t know what the middle section is, and I know that my fingers are going to do it, but I go into this little bit of a panic mode, because I don’t want to sound like I don’t know my job. And then I’ll completely confuse myself by overthinking it, and then I’ll screw it up because I’m trying to overthink it, I think if I only had the confidence just to trust that my fingers where they were going, it would be OK. 

MG: I mean, I’ve got all sorts of little tips and tricks, and clever little things to do, to make it look my repertoire’s bigger. Play things in different keys

DY: Oh right. 

CH: Different time signatures 

MG: Improvise your B signatures, different time signatures, different feels

DY: That’s really good 

MG: You know, and so people hear that tune, and they think, ooh, what is that? Because I might be playing it in a Latin way, or something like that, it’s things like that, and you learn that as you go. And I learn that from listening to other pianists, as well, and seeing what they do. I actually heard, actually this was on TV, it was Beethoven’s Für Elise in 2, and now I play it in 2. 

DY: Oh wow

CH: Like a rag or something? 

MG: No, like a Latin feel, and that works for a little jump. 

DY: Brilliant

AH: Chris, you’re playing next class aren’t you 

CH: Do you know what, there is, I can’t remember if it was an Acker Bilk recording I listened to years ago, ten plus years ago, and it was Für Elise started off in its usual 3/4, and then it’s [in fast rhythm] 1, 2, a 1 2 3 4 [sings melody of Für Elise as fast jazz solo] OK, and that got chucked in for a little bit. Well then it’s the sources of repertoire isn’t it, as well, where do you pick your repertoire from? It’s from stuff you already know, from things you hear on the radio in the car, or on your headphones while you’re walking through town, or. . . 

MG: I think ultimately my repertoire is music that I just love to listen to and love to play

CH: Yeah. 

MG: Which is musical theatre, well lots of classical as well, but like film music, I love film music, actually I play lots of that. 

CH: Do you remember David, was it last year when we were doing, I can’t remember what exercise it was for, Lawrence of Arabia, you asked the students what was it, and there was this one kid in there, he was only about 16, 17, he had the most gigantic knowledge of Lawrence of Arabia

DY: We stood there with our mouths open, didn’t we, we were like, oh my goodness! 

CH: And he was like, it was composed by this person, and I was like, yeah, oh right, zooming in on the corner of my iPad, yes it was, wasn’t it. [all laugh] 

MG: How’s he got that . . .  

CH: I’ll ask him next week. 

DY: Yeah. Amazing. 

AH: And sometimes you 

DY: Intelligent boy

AH:  . . . start to feel the generation gap with the tunes that you know. 

MG: Oh yes, yes. 

CH: When we were in Japan last year, was it last year? 

AH: Oh yes, so we just kind of guested one ballet class, in the local ballet school in Tokyo, and we played I don’t know, Chris or I, one of us, played one of the Ghibli music that I grew up with expecting every Japanese should know, and the teacher was like, do you not know this music? And all the girls they were probably ten or eleven years old, they were like “No.” 

CH: It was embarrassing

AH: And we were like in shock because we thought every single Japanese student should know this tune 

MG: And we were saying what we think is cool, we’re going to play in ballet class, ooh, this is going to get a reaction, you know, Tumbleweed gets nothing. 

CH: Blank faces 

MG: And they’re showing us, yeah, our age. 

CH: I used to say that I was going to stop playing ballet class when people didn’t know the music I was playing, that used to be the time to retire. 

AH: Well, so it’s time to retire then. 

CH: Well I’m changing, considering we’ve now got this new flat that we’ve bought, I’ve now changed the rule which is when the teachers don’t know the music I’ve said I’m going to retire! [all laught] 

DY: That’s more realistic isn’t it. 

CH: Hopefully I’ve got another ten years or something left, I need to update the repertoire. When you’re thinking of music David. . . sorry, when you’re thinking of exercises, have you got a tune in your head? 

DY: Yes, I have, usually. And I guess it’s the kind of, it depends on the kind of person that you are, but I always, when I was growing up I never associated music by itself, it was always to dance things I’d seen, when I’m actually setting an exercise, I have that relationship with music, it’s to do with dancing, it’s never by itself, so we were just talking about tripping down memory lane, whenever you start playing Mr Benn or something like that, that gets me. 

CH: Yes!

DY: You’ve got me then, once you start playing that. 

CH: What’s the other one, Thunderbirds for grands battements. 

DY: Oh, absolutely fantastic. Love it all. 

CH: But there’s only me and you who know that, everybody else is why are these two idiots laughing? 

DY: Yeah, I know, but we’re both smiling like Cheshire cats from across the room, aren’t we [all laugh] 

MG: One of the things that I might do for a tendu is from one barre side to the other, is completely change the feel. 

AH: Yes

DY: I love that. 

MG: If the teacher hasn’t said, you know, they haven’t sung particularly what they want, I might start off with something quite swingy, hold that tempo, and then turn on a dime second side and play something tango-y, or something Latin, with the same tempo, and watch what the kids do. 

CH: And watch them look at you and go, he knows it, it works, this is amazing! [laughter] 

MG: It keeps them listening

DY: It does 

MG: And it just revitalizes the second side of the barre

DY: Totally, yeah

CH: And even if you played the same music, but with a different feel as well, that also works, if you’re running out of repertoire, or you’re not quite with it at that point, yeah, it’s good. Anyway, I think we should bring it to a close there, it’s more or less time to finish, we really do hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode, and be sure to join us next time where we’re going to be discussing glissés and jetés. Also, don’t forget to like and subscribe via your podcast provider, to ensure that you never miss an episode, and if you’re social media-inclined, you can connect with us on Facebook, or Instagram @balletpianopodcast. So until next time, it’s goodbye from me

MG: Goodbye from me

AH: Bye bye

DY: Goodbye. 

[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] 

. . . ENDS. . .

© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast  (Christopher Hobson, Matthew Gregory, Akio Hobson, David Yow) 

Produced by Christopher  Hobson 
Transcription by Jonathan Still 25/4/20 

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