Today on 10 Questions With… we have Robert Long, a musician who plays for dancers…
1. Can you tell readers a bit about how you got into music?
I started in music the way most kids probably do. There was a lady in the village who gave piano lessons, so off I went. I was 7 or 8.
2. How did you wind up playing for dancers?
I had finished university (Mus. Bach, M.A., University of Toronto), and couldn’t find any employment.Through friends I received some contacts for ballet schools, so I decided to give it a try, even though I had no idea what to play.
3. What are the special considerations you must address when arranging music for dance class?
For me, the considerations to be addressed involve the instructor I’m working with. Some like quicker tempos, some slower; some like lengthy exercises, some shorter, and so on. Beyond that, an instructor could have personal preferences: ragtime, tangos, habaneras, adages in 4/4 instead of 3/4, continuous exercises at the barre with 4 counts to turn the middle; things like that.
4. What do you enjoy most about working on this type of music?
Since I work mostly with students at early to mid levels (as compared to professional dancers or highly advanced majors), I enjoy the challenge of playing music which (I hope) will help the students feel the relationship of the music to their dance steps and movements. I sense that this is a difficult challenge in dance instruction: young students with their quick minds can probably snap up any dance exercise you can throw at them, but they may find it difficult to relate their movements to the music.
5. Is classical music your only passion, or do you like other types of music as well? If you do, what kind?
In recent years I have done some playing and back up vocals for local singers and bands (new country, top 40 classic, jazz/blues). In the past, I worked for several summers as a variety show accompanist/arranger. I have been a church musician for several years, and at one time played an organ. The church decided it wanted newer sounding music (perhaps a polite way of saying they didn’t like my organ playing), so now I do Sunday mornings on an electric piano.
6. Do you have a favorite piece of classical music?
I seem to have different favorites at different times. Maurice Ravel’s “Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Faure” has been a favorite, as well as his first song (“Soupir”) from “Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarme”. Claude Debussy’s “Nuages” from the “Nocturnes” for orchestra has been a favorite, as well has his Sonata for flute, viola and harp. Ballerinas will cringe, but I still love the music of the Nutcracker.
7. What is the greatest challenge in doing ballet class music?
I think I touched on one of the challenges in my answer to question 4: helping students to dance musically. But there are others. I have played syllabus classes (mostly Royal Academy of Dance) and while the music is generally wonderful, it can be very difficult(!). To make matters worse, I have never been a great sight reader. But my biggest problem (going back to non-syllabus classes) is keeping track of how long an exercise is (how many music phrases are required). When an instructor demonstrates or “marks” an exercise, the first thing on my mind is the music quality (as compared to quantity). From there, I start thinking about what to play, and by this time, I’ve long since lost track of the number of phrases, counts, etc. This has led to some embarrassing moments.
8. Has a dancer (or teacher) ever told you anything about your music that surprised you or made you feel good?
When an instructor says “that music was perfect for this exercise”, I feel that my presence has been worthwhile.
9. How do you go about selecting the music for your CDs?
Both of my albums consist of original music, written by me. I was fortunate to receive helpful advice from students and teachers, especially for matching my selections with appropriate exercise.
10. What is next for you?
I am in the early stages of making a third album of music for ballet class.
Bio: Robert Long has worked as a ballet pianist-accompanist for over 22 years. He has played for Royal Academy of Dance Exam Syllabus classes as well as “open” classes, where the instructor sets the exercises and there is no set music. He has composed two albums of original piano music for ballet class: Ballet Etudes, released in 2000, and Etudes II, released in 2005. Robert has also worked as a church musician for several years, as well as a variety show accompanist/synth arranger. He has appeared in an episode about ballet on a syndicated children’s TV show (“This is Daniel Cook”) and recently has been performing locally in the pop/rock scene. He currently resides in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada.