Thursday, February 19, 2015

Page Turning 101

Every collaborative pianist knows that some page turns can make our jobs very difficult. If technology is not being used, it is essential to find a good page turner that you trust. Turning pages in a recital is not for the faint of heart and can be incredibly stressful. Here are some of the pieces of advice I share with neophyte page turners that work with me.

  • Preview the pieces before going on stage and ask questions.  There's nothing worse than trying to figure out exactly where the Da Capo goes back to while you are sitting under stage lights. Take the time necessary to familiarize yourself with repeats, first and second endings, and codas. If you are uncertain about anything, ask the pianist before the concert begins. It's also a good thing to make sure you are certain where each piece ends!
  • Prepare the pages for smooth turns if necessary. The pianist has probably made most of the page turns in rehearsal using the bottom corner of the score. That means the upper corners that you are using are still in fairly good condition. You want to make sure that pages are not stuck together and that you are aware of the paper's thickness.
  • Always stand to make the turn. Standing ensures that your arm will not inhibit the pianist's sight line and keeps your body out of the way of the physical activity.
  • Watch out for leaping bass lines! Inevitably, the publisher will place busy passages in the lower registers of the piano at the page turn. This is where issues of the page turner's height and arm span come into play. If you are afraid you will get in the way of the player's left hand, consider standing at the very end of the piano and making the turn.
  • When do I turn? The answer to this question will vary for every pianist and for every situation. When you are just beginning to turn pages, pianists will often give a nod at the time for the page turn. However, the ultimate goal is to develop enough of a relationship on stage that such cues are not necessary. When making the decision, it is important to consider the complexity of the passage, the tempo of the piece, the performer's body language, and any cues written in the score. These will generally give you an idea of just how comfortable the collaborator is with the material that is coming next.
  • Turn the page! This is not the time to make a slow graceful turn of the page. Grab hold of the corner and TURN! (Just make sure you don't fling the entire score into the floor! That creates an entirely different problem....and, yes, it really did happen to me.)
  • If a problem occurs, be proactive. Pages may blow in a breeze from the air conditioning unit. A page might have been inserted into the binder upside down. Maybe you turned too many pages. Don't just sit there.....react! You are an extension of the pianist and are allowing him to keep his hands on the keyboard. The more proactive you are, the more confident the performer is that everything is going to be just fine.
When playing in a college setting, I generally recruit a single page turner for the entire semester. Yes, it makes things easier to simply have to make one request and have all of my engagements staffed, but if I ask you to repeatedly turn pages for me, it is intended to be a compliment. I trust your musicianship as well as your comfort on stage. That trust means that I can breathe a little easier and keep my focus on the task at hand -- making beautiful music.

What advice would you give a new page turner? Have you had a page turning nightmare? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.