Archives for posts with tag: Modern

Paul Pavey ` wolf instruments`` Visual and Aural Counterpoint `. In Part 1, the previous blog, I covered my approach to commencing a dance improvisation class. This is the continuation where I will attempt to write about the use of counterpoint between what you see and what you hear.

Whereas in a technique class, the musical accompaniment  supports and follows the movement sequence, in an improvisation class the music may take on a compositional aspect. I always look for opportunities to play some `visual and aural counterpoint` which may increase the effect and experience of any given situation. For example; open atmospheric sounds against fast frenzied movement or happy and jolly musical themes against melancholy or aggressive movement.

Only using counterpoint may prove less effective than if it is used after a period where the music has followed either movement or a narrative. Counterpoint is neither easily understood by  children or inexperienced dancers/ performers and can lead to confusion. I would usually avoid it when playing for  those type of classes.

Here is a clip of Foofwa d’Imobilité interviewing Merce Cunningham discussing a point that music and dance do not always noticeably `fit` together and how and possibly why an audience is now accepting of that.

I think that aural and visual counterpoint increases the effect upon a third party/ audience providing it is used with purpose.  Definitely an effective tool in the creative box!

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There may  be  an exercise during  a dance class or indeed an entire class dedicated to movement improvisation. Here are some ways that I approach music for this environment.

Possibly, whoever is leading the improvisation may give  a specific musical direction for  the music.

Quite often, the dancers are given a brief form of direction and the musician is then asked to `play when ready`.  My first response in this case, is to wait and  envelope the ambience of the room listening to the general environment for sounds. It is a very rare occasion that you will ever find silence (don`t think I ever have). I usually begin to play quietly and attempt to blend with the environmental sound scape attempting not to affect any one particular person in the space. Whatever the instrumentation, I am looking to create as varied a timbre as possible.

I may react and make a dialogue with any one of the environmental sounds and have found that this  opens  the ears and encourages sensitivity,  inspiring  fellow protagonists to create their movement from yet another dimension.

This clip shows Michael Schumacher in the process of developing a student choreography,  a fantastic performer, choreographer and teacher of Improvisation.

To be continued.

There may not be so much to play for the warm down of a dance class. If it is the first class working together with a teacher then  look for signs of how much or rather how little music there needs to be.  I would usually play this part of a class as calm as possible. It  depends upon how the class has gone and what mood  everyone is in ( as an accompanist, you need to have a sense of the general mood swings of your fellow protagonists). If the mood appears quite clinical with a simple stretching exercise, a straight forward calm piece of music will do fine. If  however, everyone in the class has just `given it their all` then it may be appropriate for the music to take a slightly emotive direction.

  Here are some instruments I use for accompanying a dance class.

Usually a dance class commences in a calm manner,  likewise the music should also. As  the musician watches the teacher `marking through` an exercise it`s important at this stage to determine if the underlying rhythm is a 2 or a 3, (regardless  of  the  movement phrasing which thus determines the overall musical phrasing). The smallest division of beats break down to either 2`s  or 3`s  or combinations thereof  (I only ever count in  very fast 1`s occasionally playing Eastern European music). There you have your underlying rhythm for the exercise.

Now give attention to the phrasing. Watching the dancers `mark through` an exercise while listening to the  teacher, helps an accompanist grasp the phrasing,  feel and atmosphere of the music.  It`s always worth watching the movement (just in case you get lost, which happens sometimes in long phrases), so you will know when the exercise has finished. Ideally, an accompanist  plans how many musical phrases one has to work within  to help create a rounded piece of music. Quite often, an exercise will repeat as  dancers take the movement to  the opposite side or  different positions and it is a good idea to develop the music slightly with each repeat.

In a modern/contemporary class, the teacher usually counts in (or down) the exercise (this is called an introduction). It helps when the spoken introduction  is in the correct tempo and rhythm and here, I also feel the general atmosphere for the music from the tone of  the teacher`s  voice. It does not always work out as clearly as one would like so a musician must be ready for subtle tempo changes when the exercise starts.  Like in many situations, it`s important to build a relationship with the people you work with to gain understanding and trust. If something is unclear, just communicate in simple terms until it becomes clear what music is needed. (I will make a list of basic dance terminology that a musician is going to hear in  class later).

Sustained melody and comfortable supportive rhythm is a good basis for approach to music in the warm-up and I would advise nothing too discordant in the harmony either. Providing a clear downbeat is essential, especially for younger dancers or if you are unfamiliar with the teacher. Work within the boundaries of each exercise and make music!

As a musician for dance, you must understand the need, purpose and function of a dance class. Here I am attempting to give the general environment that you may well experience from a contemporary class.

Essentially, a dancer takes a class in order  to develop the body and mind enabling them to perform incredible athletic feats or subtle movements while at the same time not becoming a broken wreck (over the last 30 years so much more care has gone into developing  dancers training, allowing  an increased work span and much less injury). A standard class usually has  warm up exercises, centering exercises which lead to small jumps, movement across the floor and more jumps. Other class exercises that a musician may play for include choreographic sequences, improvisation and a warm down (I will cover these elements singularly in due course). A class is usually around one and half hours.

A musician has to ‘work out’ what music suits a teacher best on the first few classes working together, attempting to build a relationship of mutual taste towards the music.You should be able to communicate with spoken word, occasionally it is necessary to judge from the body language of the teacher if they enjoy the music you play or not. There are three elements or protagonists within a class situation, Teacher, dancers and accompanist.  It`s the musician`s ( accompanist) job to give the rhythm and atmosphere that the teacher requires in order to communicate their lesson to the dancers. Usually, I find when that works the dancers enjoy the class and can give more focus to their bodies.

There are four main class based techniques ( contemporary dance) for which each require a completely different approach to the musical accompaniment style. That is not to say there are no other movement techniques that have  developed, but these really are the main four used to describe class style. Many teaches these days are combining ideas from different techniques and styles to suit their own work and doctrine towards a dancers health.

Graham Technique : a passionate, spiritual and physically strong technique based on the original method developed by Martha Graham ( see http://marthagraham.org/center/ ).

Cunningham Technique : an architectural style of movement through space developed by Merce Cunningham ( see http://www.merce.org/about/ ).

Limon Technique : developed upon the work of Jose Limon this technique demands  the use of gravity, weight and energy ( see http://www.limon.org/About/History.html ).

Release Technique : uses breath and fluid movement to minimise muscle tension and many exercises associate with therapeutic movement research ( see a great British exponent of this work  http://www.siobhandavies.com/dance/company/vision-mission-values.html ).

The adjectives used above for the movement styles can also be applied to describe the musical style of accompaniment. I will go further into describing my thoughts and experience on playing for these different techniques in later blogs.

Paul Pavey with socks

Hello and Welcome

In this blog, I will talk    about my experiences  accompanying  modern and contemporary dance classes,  something I have done since 1984.  The first classes I played  were  held in Chichester College of Technology, Drama and Dance Department.  Over the years, I have travelled the world, playing classes for companies, schools and academies and various associations and have had the pleasure to work with some wonderful inspiring teachers and some absolutely stunning dancers.

I  also give workshops to musicians on `how to approach playing a contemporary dance class` and on occasion have been sponsored by the British Council to do so.  Here is a link to some of the schools and companies I have played for Class Accompaniment-pavey

I plan to make this blog less personally reflective but more as informative as possible and hope that this may be of interest to accompanists and any musicians who are preparing to play for a dance class.  It may well be of interest  to dance students and teachers also ! Please feel free to post comments and especially questions..