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Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist

Posted By: SimonUK

Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 07:49 AM

Hello Forum - This is my first real post after the "reply to Welcome" so please excuse me if my ettiquete is not quite up to the mark.

I am a pianist, but not a particularly good one.
I have been asked to produce some music for a conglomorate of Dancing schools.
I am capable of banging out music for Tap dance, and I can do the Jazz stuff. However, to produce music for ballet takes a lot more flair than I posess.
I am hoping to find from this forum an experienced ballet accompanist who would be willing to record music which will be used for examination purposes.
I will supply information consisting of tempo suggestions, the dance exercise that each piece relates to, how many bars required, and so on.

I would like to find someone to record this music and send it to me as either a high quality audio recording or as midi files (I have a very good piano sound in my Yamaha Tyros 4 which will be used to record midis to audio).

The music will need to cover a range of age groups from around 6 years old upto adult, so someone with experience of playing for classes would be just perfect for me.

I will be selling this music on CD so I will also need the title of each track and the composer to ensure that royalties are paid where applicable.

With regard to payment to the musician who gets this job - I am open to negotiation, but as a guide I would think that it should be based on your hourly rate for playing for classes plus a bit more for the inconvenience of recording and annotating your work.
I am open to any offers of cost, and I realise that you are unable to commit to an exact price with the limited information listed here.

I would imagine that if you play for classes for an hourly rate then you are actually playing for about 45 minutes per hour. So if we were to say 45 minutes of music in exchange one hour of your standard rate plus an extra 50% on top - I'd say that's fair. Please comment if you think differently.

I am happy to do some kind of "pay-as-you-go" arrangement where you drip feed me the music and I'll drip feed payment. Or, I am happy to place the money into an escrow fund for your security.

This whole process needs to be done over the internet, so please, only apply if you are capable of recording your playing to a high standard and sending it over the net.

I will also need an email from you stating that the music you send me is all your own work and that you give me permission to use it in the manner stated above - This is just to protect me from someone sending me a copy of someone else's CD and I get prosecuted for steeling music.

Well forum ... what do you think? Is this a fair offer?
Please contact me via PM or reply to this post if you are interested.

Posted By: pianomouse

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 01:52 PM

Simon, as far as I know, there are recordings on the market especially for dance class training...
Posted By: Kreisler

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 02:51 PM

Are you covering recording costs as well? If you're selling the music on CD, then producing a professional-quality CD recording would mean hiring a recording engineer and renting a studio/hall. That could easily cost upwards of $250-500/hour.

Otherwise, the fee seems reasonable, provided you can find a professional ballet accompanist. They're somewhat rare - most ballet companies, at least here in the states, are using CD accompaniment these days.
Posted By: pointegirl

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 04:28 PM

Lynn Stanford has recorded several CD's for ballet classes. D used these CDs practice at home. There are variable speed CD players on the market since 1990's. These can solve all your clients' problems.
D who is studying accompanying in a conservatory in NYC grew up with ballet training with live piano accompaniment. From what I observed, the pianist just repeated the same piece if the exercise was longer than the music. Last summer D took a few lessons with an accompanist at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. Even with her extensive ballet training (she has attended summer ballet camp at Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington DC and was asked to join their year-round program, which I declined), she still feels it is hard.
Posted By: Peter K. Mose

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 07:36 PM

Our poster wants a pianist to make a CD, and receive no compensation beyond a onetime payment of maybe $100-$200? Then this CD will be marketed and sold by our poster, who finds it a fair offer? Am I reading this correctly?

Posted By: Kreisler

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 08:44 PM

It's my understanding that this is not for commercial distribution, but rather for the in-house use of the dance schools that hired SimonUK to produce the CDs.

In that case, the free market will likely sort everything out. SimonUK may find someone to set up a Zoom recorder and play the piano for $30/hour, but the quality won't be the same as if you spent $1500 on pianist, hall, tuning, and recording engineer.

My guess is that SimonUK is simply posting here to figure out what the ballpark is in terms of quality and budget.

One question that any pianist might have is what the expected repertoire is. Classical ballet repertoire? Modern music written for ballet? Popular styles? Latin? Ragtime?

As others have said, there are already a lot of dance class CDs on the market, so the big question on my mind is why these dance studios want to hire a producer and pay a pianist $30/hour to record music when they could spend half as much on commercially available recordings intended for ballet class use?
Posted By: SimonUK

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 09:02 PM

Thank you all for your comments, I'll try to address them all as best I can.

To those of you who have suggested using "off the shelf" CD's for ballet - the reason why this is not an option is because the music will be used for pre-set examination dances and exercises.
It may well be that CD(X) contains 10 suitable tracks, CD(Y) contains another 10, and CD(Z) has another 10. From a legal perspective it is far easier to comission all of the music than to jump through the legal hoops to re-produce music from existing CDs from multiple sources.

With regard to audio quality - In today's world I dont think there are many pianists who cannot access a digital piano. I realise that this forum is populated by some prolific players who may be adverse to digital over real pianos. The quality of some of the digital pianos can be questionable in terms of sound. However, it is completly feasable to record in midi and I can convert to audio with a very high quality piano sample.

As far as my compensation suggestion goes I feel it is a fair offer. However, I have stated that I am open to negotiation.
I plan to hire a pianist on a session basis as opposed to a royalty basis. As I have said, the music is designed for examination sessions with music specified by the examination board. The examination board is fairly new and doesn't have very many members yet - this obviously impacts CD sales.
I am prepared to pay a pianist up-front to produce music which will only generate about 20 CD sales. By the time I pay the pianist and cover the costs of production and distribution the pianist is getting a far better deal than I am. It may well be that the examination board explods in membership and I'll sell more CDs but I dont really think that it is fair to expect someone to record the work on a ryoalty basis on vague promise that CDs will sell in a higher volume.

If you are friendly with any pianists who may be interested in this venture please direct them to this post.

Posted By: Kreisler

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/29/13 09:06 PM

Aha! That makes a lot more sense. Thanks for the clarification!
Posted By: Scordatura

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 12:12 AM

Hi SimonukS!

Really nice seeing a post of this kind here!

May I ask, is the music you are seeking envisaged for class use only (to provide a welcome change from CDs sold by the various exam-boards, which consist of the music to be used at exams) or for actually accompanying the exam itself, as well?

I ask this in awareness that your project wouldn't be a simple and straightforward matter of supplying pieces of so many bars length, in such-and-such a time-signature and at a given set tempo. Most classical ballet-teaching is centred around exam syllabuses, and these are typically geared to bringing out certain dance characteristics favoured by the particular exam-board setting the syllabus. Those favoured by the Cechetti School, for example, differ very considerably from those sought by the Royal Academy of Dance. Teachers are strongly encouraged to use, and generally feel safer using, the board's published music for the syllabus, as this will have been chosen - on the bases of rhythmic pattern, texture, mood and musical style - especially to mirror and highlight the particular characteristics sought. So, for example, while the norm for Plies at the barre is to provide a slowish, broad, flowing 3/4, syllabus devisers might agree that a 4/4 possessing some special rhythmic emphasis would be more appropriate for what they want students to achieve - and the same "conditionality" goes for all set exercises.

Common practice is for an exam board to commission professionally respected ballet-accompanists to compose music that exactly matches current syllabus requirements and aims. It's a sensible strategy all round: far less time-consuming than searching the musical repertoire for equally suited pieces; obviously, the music's suitability is guaranteed, as is the certainty that teachers and examiners won't be distracted by music they're unaccustomed to hearing, don't like in some respect or - worst of all - have become accustomed to hearing in another balletic context, e.g an accompaniment to a different exercise in some other, maybe past, syllabus, or any extract from a familiar ballet score.

All in all, your "specialist" will not only need to have extensive background experience at a high level within the field but finely detailed, up-to-date knowledge of teachers' and syllabus requirements in order to provide you with a serviceable product, and for it to become a marketable one that ballet teachers can recognize as being in line with their teaching-needs, you would first, I'm sure, need to submit it to whatever exam-board(s) you're tailoring it to for approval and official endorsement. In that respect, it's worth bearing in mind that the first port-of-call for many, if not most, ballet teachers in quest of useful class-material is their preferred exam-board's own shop or product-catalogue.

Hoping this helps in any way (despite its somewhat cautionary spirit!) If so, and you think I might be able to add anything else of use, by all means PM me; I can't promise anything, but you never know...

Out of curiosity, are you able to tell us how many exam Grades (and hence, sets of exercises)and examination-board syllabuses you are aiming to cover?

And, are you wanting just a sufficient quantity and variety of appropriate kinds of music to cover all the exercises of an envisaged number of grades, presented as an anthology that you'd be able to arrange yourself into sets covering each grade? Or, rather, sets of pieces already arranged into grades?

All best wishes for your project's success! Keep us posted!

Posted By: Okiikahuna

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 03:31 AM

I put myself through college accompanying ballet classes, but that was a very long time ago. You'd watch while the teacher demonstrated the movements to the class to get the meter and a feeling of what to emphasize and to try to figure out the tempo. Then, the teacher would say "and" and off you go, hoping you guessed the tempo correctly.

Ballet teachers are not often noted for their patience, meaning you needed to come up with music fast: no teacher would wait while you leafed through a book. So, sometimes you would just improvise a theme, maybe in a sort of generic romantic style. Other times, I and others I knew would start with a composed piece of music, maybe a Chopin walze, and then modify it to fit the movements. Sometimes complete improvisation would be mixed in with well-known themes. You get a feel for when it helps the dancers to hear a definite beat, or certain accents or when the movement is aided by throwing in a flowery flourish. This is probably sacrilege to many here, but the important thing was the dance and helping the students accomplish the movements, not the music.

So, the best pianist for something like this would be somebody who can freely mix playing composed stuff with improvisation and who won't feel the music is too precious to be modified to better accompany the dance.

Posted By: Peter K. Mose

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 07:22 AM

Originally Posted by SimonUK
It may well be that the examination board explodes in membership and I'll sell more CDs but I don't really think that it is fair to expect someone to record the work on a royalty basis on vague promise that CDs will sell in a higher volume.

I agree with Simon. What would be fair would be to hire this pianist (or composer/pianist, or improv pianist) for a reasonable recording fee, perhaps US$1000-$2000, *plus* a royalty arrangement for each CD sold beyond the initial 20 units, in case of the explosion.
Posted By: SimonUK

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 07:45 AM

Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
I agree with Simon. What would be fair would be to hire this pianist (or composer/pianist, or improv pianist) for a reasonable recording fee, perhaps US$1000-$2000, *plus* a royalty arrangement for each CD sold beyond the initial 20 units, in case of the explosion.

Thank you for your input Peter, but I'm afraid I can't afford to pay upto $2000 for what is basically a market of only 20 customers at the moment.

1 CD = $100 and that doesn't take into account manufacture, of discs.
Posted By: SimonUK

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 08:18 AM

Hello Scordatura - thank you so much for your detailed contribution - clearly you know the ballet world well.

The music is purely for examinations (and obviously class lessons). I am orgnizing the music for the examination board to distribute to their members. They are a fairly new board so things are in their infancy and budget is refleted in the low number of members and subsequently initial potential sales.

The ballet course director has requested that I simply supply a selection of music in various tempos and styles and she would pick out each exercise to suit each piece of music submitted.

Obviously, if I can find a pianist who knows ballet then the process can be improved upon greatly by providing music specifically on a per exercise basis. It may be that the course director will change things about a little and mix and match music to dance differently but the core will be there.

I hope to find an experienced ballet accompanist (such as yourself) and I will provide a document containing all of the relevant information such as

  • Exercise Title
  • Tempo
  • Key Signature
  • Duration In Bars
  • Exercise Content
  • Age group for exercise (important to tailor it to correct ages)
  • Any other information which may be of use or any information requested by the pianist.

With regard to musical choice, it has been said that they would like to steer clear of well known ballet musical works as these are usually reserved for performance over examinations. Your comment about a well known piece of music being distracting is valid, but not really for the younger dancers with limited experience. Personally I think it may be good for the younger dancers to get to know some of the greats.

In answer to your question, there will be 7 grades in all covering Grade 1 - 5 and then onto Intermediate and Advanced.

CDs will be sold as Grade 1, 2 & 3 on disc one, Grades 4 & 5 on Disc two and Intermediate and Advanced on Disc 3. Each grade has around 10 - 15 exercises.

This project would probably be best suited to someone who knows the ballet scene and is either in possetion of a large repertoir or a very good improvisor.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my budget is limited by the relativly low number of members subsribing to the Examination Board. In no way do I intend to expoloit anyone, I am happy to pay for quality work but I am not in a position to throw money away and effectivly subsidize the members for their music.

Anyway - thank you for your contribution Scordatura - if you feel that this is something you'd like to be involed with please send me a PM.

Posted By: SimonUK

Re: Seeking a Specialist Ballet Accompanist - 01/30/13 08:26 AM

Thank you for your contribution Okiikahuna

You are absolutly right in all that you say here - especially
the important thing was the dance and helping the students accomplish the movements, not the music.

I have played for hundreds of dance classes over the years but not really for ballet. In the good old days before the CD I played for several schools in their Tap and Modern Jazz classes. Some of the elements you described are also valid for these subjects but they do tend to be more rhytmical and strict.

If this is a project you feel you'd like to get involved in please send me a PM

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