Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At-a-Glance of 2009

This year was full of changes and uncertainties. With the economy in the dumpster, and California's financial condition, I had no idea how my job was going to pan out. Budgets were cut from the arts, I lost one school in the process, and I was seriously looking into a "Plan B and C."

Luckily, I was able to keep my head afloat and survived the year with a number of amazing ballet masters behind my belt. At this moment, I need to look back at my accomplishments and pat myself on the back. A few years ago, I started keeping a record of who I play for, and what music I play. Along with those notes, I write down corrections and insights given by the teachers. There is always something to learn even if I'm not dancing. Sometimes what they say can be related to piano performance. I am able to refer back to previous notes if I play for that particular teacher again. Whether it's music the teacher liked or disliked I write it down. Sometimes I write down personalities and teaching style so my mind is mentally prepared for whatever they have to throw at me. So, here is my At-a-Glance of 2009, and the amazing people I got to play for!

23rd - Franco DeVita - Principal of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School
He was a smiley, gray-haired Italian man with a French accent. He called me "Maestra" as all Europeans do. He said, "Small jumps, small arms. Medium jumps, medium arms, Big JUMP! BIG ARMS!!"

23rd, 27th, 29th - Summer Lee Rhatigan - Former Principal (Lines); Artistic Director of San Francisco Conservatory of Dance
What an inspiring and strong woman she was. She held nothing back and constantly pushed the students to do more. She went around the room and gave each student a perception of what she saw in them, good and bad. She was able to take those things and make it into something they can use as a dancer, and as a human being. "Students should always expect the most from teachers; Teachers teach better when students expect more; When students aren't getting enough, that's a problem." Also, "Everybody has limitless potential."

18th - Rochelle Zide-Booth - Ballet Russe de Monti Carlo, Joffrey

Soft-spoken, and sweet woman. She started the class with the kids laying on their bellies as they warmed up there feet until they burned. Because their feet were already warm, they only did one tendú and one degagé, and went straight into ronds de jambes. She was also a part of Joffrey, so I played the John Field Nocturne from Pas de Déesses from Joffrey's repertoire. Let's just say I won some BIG brownie points from "Shelly."

14th-16th - John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow - Former Soloist and Principal from ABT
They never neglected me, the musician. They were so clear in what they wanted that I never once doubted what I needed from them. They had such respect for each other as a married couple and as professional partners, and they were so in synced with each other, they were able to deliver a point across with movements and words. ...And they LOVE showtunes! "There's a sweet spot in your hips. If you can find it, you can balance forever." I have yet to find that spot. Dammit!

10th-23rd - National Choreographer's Initiative

This is the only time out of the whole year I get the opportunity to play for professional dancers. These dancers are hand-picked by Molly Lynch, and they are from professional ballet companies from all over the US. Many times I get distracted because they are all so GORGEOUS and I would rather watch than play!

14th - Susan Jones - ABT Ballet Mistress
I think I psyched myself out playing for her so I didn't do as good as I would hope. I just remember walking away from this class wanting to pound my head into the studio mirror. One of the moments where I walk away saying, "I blew it!" Then, I had to remind myself not to "research" too much about the person I'm playing for until AFTER the master class is over.

28th-31st - ABT Summer Intensive (Dierdre Carberry, Alaine Haubert, Charles Maple, Yan Chen
The one thing I noticed from playing for ABT teachers is a sense of well-rounded knowledge they had with teaching. Well-rounded to me means that they are able to communicate well with both students and musicians. That's hard to come by. There was also a consistency in their teachings, as far as curriculum, but still offer something different from each of them.

31st - Gabrielle Brown - ABT
I didn't write anything down about her. I only remember that she liked me a lot and wanted to work with me again. WIN!!

7th, 8th - Tamar Rochelle - Pittsburg Ballet
This woman was very metaphorical. At one point, she told me my codas were too "notey." Also, during the petite allegro, she said to me, "This piece of music is too...*smoosh hands together* Can you play something that is a little more...*waving hands in circular motion above her head*" Yeah...I did my best to translate that.

14th, 15th - Lawrence "Larry" Pech - Former Principal of ABT, SF Ballet
By far, one of my favorite people to play for. Why? This guy also has a degree in music. He and I were so in tuned with each other, it was almost telepathic. We were on the same wavelength. I really enjoyed working with him. Larry was very specific in what he wanted, but not too specific that he gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to play within the confines of what he asked for. Between classes, we just chatted about music, and dance, and how much they go hand-in-hand. Also, he is the first teacher to say, "You must be a dancer yourself. You just...get it." It's good to know that someone recognizes this in me. Also, he loves dogs and has 2 beautiful "children."

Sept 30th - Oct 3rd - Trey McIntyre - Trey McIntyre Project Company classes
This is a rare moment that I get to work with professional dancers twice in one year. But what's more amazing is that this company is "contemporary," and yet they call in a ballet pianist and do a traditional ballet class. This just goes to show you, that technique goes back to ballet. The dancers from this company were amazingly strong, and were very tall. Trey McIntrye was also a gem to work with. I also got to play on the OCPAC stage with an audience watching the company class.

4th - Gennadi Saveliev - ABT Soloist

Very nice Russian guy. I have discovered in working with the Russians is, they are not always very clear in communicating what they want musically. It's not necessarily their fault, but it's more of their training and where they come from. It's rare to have a live musician in the states, where in Russia, it's a part of their training. The pianists know immediately what the teacher wants, so rarely do the teachers have to set tempos and meters for the musicians. I also had the opportunity to see him perform the following night in Giselle. Beautiful!

6th, 7th - Susan Jones - ABT Ballet Mistress
I walked in and said to myself, "Bring it! New day, new class, now redeem yourself!" And I did. She came up to be after class and told me she looks forward to working with me again. REDEEMED!!

7th - Rinat Imaev - ABT Company Teacher
The poor guy caught the California sniffles, and the company were gearing up to go to China. He said to me when I asked him if he was excited about going, "I don't want to die of swine flu!!!" To my knowledge...he's still alive and kicking. Note to self: Russians do not like tangos for fondús!

Again, I look back at these moments, on top of the amazing faculty I get to work for on a daily basis, I feel so thankful and blessed to come across inspiring people. I HAVE THE COOLEST JOB IN THE WORLD! Not a lot of people can say that. The one thing I am able to say as I walk into 2010, these moments are mine, and nobody can take them away. Yes I am quite proud of myself, and yes, I'm going to gloat a little longer.

Onward to 2010. Bring it!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


My name is Rebecca, but my friends call me "Becca." And I would like to welcome you to the view from my world. I have been a ballet pianist for 7 years and what an adventure it has been.

I started dancing at 5 with the Royal Academy of Dance in Hong Kong when it was still under the British Government. I also started taking piano lessons when I was 7 with the Royal School of Music. The dance/piano aspect has been a parallel in my life since then. I've always had a passion for music and dance, and to me, they go hand in hand. Without music, there is no dance; without dance, there is no music. It sounds cliché, but when people hear a tune, their bodies will react to it in both positive and negative ways.

Growing up in a sad little town surrounded by raisins, I jumped ship the first chance I got. I ended up going to a Baptist college on a partial scholarship, and to be quite honest, I was not happy there. Because of their no-dancing policy, I started taking classes as an "escape" at the local community college. The moment I graduated, the community college hired me as a dance musician knowing I danced. Music for modern came easier to me because I was active in my high school colorguard and marching band. I often heard rhythms in my head, and just banged away on a djembe. Ballet on the other hand, even with a knowledge of how a ballet class is structured, to knowing the French terminology, playing was a whole other animal! I was challenged in a way I've never been before. My dance and my music, that has walked side by side with me finally collided. Perhaps it's because I have ADD. But to play music and have a teacher hollering at the students as they danced across the studio was so exciting to me. There were so many things going on, I have found my calling!

There were things about the dance world that I learned very quickly. I learned to fend for myself because not all teachers can convey what they want, and some teachers really don't know what they want, and some teachers automatically assume I know what they want. I also learned early on, that the music world is small, and the dance world is even smaller. In so many words, I learned not to piss people off. I learned to never argue with the teacher, even if you disagree, the teacher is ALWAYS right. I also discovered if I wanted to pursue a career as a dance musician, I needed to catch up to the rest of the other working dance musicians who already had over 20 years of experience under their belts. I quickly got into graduate school and got my master's degree in piano performance with an interdisciplinary in ballet music literature. (Oooo...fancy!!)

Seven years later, and I still love what I do. Like every job, it has its moments. But I find myself laughing every day, whether it was something the teacher said, or because I tripped on a note. I decided to start this blog, so people can see my world, through my eyes, from the piano. Sometimes it'll be funny, and sometimes I'll be upset at the petty things that tend to happen. But my view of "Ballet from the Piano" is quite interesting. I find myself doing the exercises with the teacher as they demonstrate it, but because I'm constricted to the piano, I feel like I'm in a bird cage. However, even in a bird cage, I love the view, and I love the people in it!