Welcome to the first episode of the Ballet Piano Podcast!
Exciting times ahead as the listener gets introduced to the team individually, and learns about their journey to the podcast recording studio from their backgrounds within the field of ballet playing, and ballet dancing and teaching.
The listener gets to hear how each of the pianists began in this line of work from humble and unexpected beginnings, to playing for major ballet companies and schools globally. The team have sixty-four years of experience between them, that they can bring to the podcast.
And did you know, two of the team met in a former life? And two of the team members auditioned for the same job, but ended up marrying each other instead! Listen to find out how!
David Yow, the resident ballet expert of the podcast talks about his unique route into teaching from being a principal dancer, via a Psychology degree.
Music Referenced in this Episode
Transcription of this Episode by Jonathan Still
MG: Matt Gregory CH: Chris Hobson
AH: Akiko Hobson DY: David Yow
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V/O: You’re listening to the Ballet Piano Podcast: Lifting the lid on dance accompaniment.
MG: Hello podcasters, and welcome to this, the first episode of the Ballet Piano Podcast. I’m Matt Gregory, and in the room with me is the podcast team, Chris Hobson
MG: Akiko Hobson
MG: And hashtag David Yow of Instagram
MG: So we are three ballet pianists, and David is a ballet master, and this podcast will be us, talking about playing for ballet class, the dos and don’ts, the philosophy and science behind it; and we’ll talk about our own experiences as we go along, with some funny anecdotes, and we hope that you the listeners will take away something insightful, or even enjoyable. But this episode is about meeting the team, and finding out how we got to where we are today, and a bit about our backgrounds, and how we got into this line of work. So Chris—why don’t you tell us how you got started accompanying dance, and how you ended up being sat around this table with us three.
CH: Well, hello Matt. I don’t know, I think I got into accompanying dance like everybody does, and it was never. . . well for me, it wasn’t a planned way into it, it was by accident, so I was on a gap year, pretty much, I wasn’t working, and through a friend of a friend, found out that there was a job being advertised at Northern School of Contemporary dance in Leeds, and met with somebody from there, and he said, you know, we want somebody to come and play for us, it’s £15 an hour, and this was back in the day—it was 2003, I think—so, £15 an hour when you don’t have a job, and you’re young. . . I was 17 at the time. It’s a lot of money, even for only doing 12 hours work a week. I said, yes, go on, I’ll give this a go. So I went and sat in a studio in Leeds, thinking what the heck is going on here, which sometimes I still do with contemporary dance, but I loved it, and it was great, and it was this whole thing about being able to be collaborative, and enjoyable, and not knowing what was coming at you in the studio, which was great, so I did the contemporary side of it for a couple of years, and then got into playing for ballet, so I did a little bit down at Elmhurst briefly, and then freelanced around for a while before taking a job at Northern Ballet Theatre as it was then called, doing a lot of new ballets, really, and new repertoire, choreographed a lot by David Nixon and things, which was extraordinary, it was a great learning curve to be able to get all these scores under your fingers and be in a studio while things were being created. So I worked there for a few years, nipped over to Slovenia and worked with Irek Mukhamedov for a little while
CH: Because he asked me to go over and be his pianist, so I was over there for a short while which was, again, completely different, it was a similar sort of job as being in Leeds, but again, completely different, I’d never lived abroad before and I was only in my early twenties, so it was a good, a good learning experience for me. And then I came back to the UK, freelanced around for a while, and now it’s two thousand and [pauses to think] twenty and I find myself sitting in London with a group of people who’ve become very close friends [MG: Ah] so there’s you who I met through working at my job down here, there’s David Yow who I met in Birmingham first off at the school up there, and then we now both work in London, and there’s Akiko, previously Nozaki, now Hobson, so we can all work out what happened there, we started working together, and then somehow we got married.
AH: I don’t know what happened!
CH: I don’t know, it’s all a blur.
AH: I still don’t know what happened.
CH: I don’t know, but that’s another story for another podcast isn’t it. [All laugh] So yeah, so I mean it was a strange one because I started off in contemporary, and don’t know many people who’ve started off in contemporary and then moved over to ballet, I’ve known people who’ve done it the other way around and started off in ballet and then moved over, but there’s something about ballet that I particularly enjoy. I still enjoy doing the contemporary side, but the ballet side is, for me, I think it must work for my head, it’s very structured, it’s very what-it-is, and I suppose, I learned the counting side of things in contemporary you know, and of course, there’s some strange counts in contemporary, it can be on phrases of seven, or phrases of whatever, and so then, going into ballet after a couple of years, it seemed actually quite easy and quite straightforward because everything was very structured, it was all in square phrases, so by square I mean, you know, eight lots of eight bars, it was just. . . it worked for me, and I really enjoyed it, so yeah, that. . .
MG: And so you started in 2003, about 17 years ago
CH: Seventeen years ago, yeah, and if you think I’ve not, when I think about my career, I think wow, that’s nearly, well it is—it’s over half my life that I’ve spent in a ballet studio, or a studio of some description. [to Matt] Go on then, tell me about how you got into this.
MG: Well, I started by playing tap classes first, because I trained at Doreen Bird’s in musical theatre, and then when I graduated and had the summer, I needed something to do between performing jobs, and I’d heard they were looking for a pianist, and I had no repertoire, I didn’t even, I had no real technique I’d imagine,
CH: I’m sure you did
MG: Not for class playing, and so I sort of learned there, really, got myself a Fake Book, got all of the repertoire, we’ll talk about that later on, we’ll get to that.
AH: But you surely had experience of like, somebody playing for you for a long time? Does that help?
MG: Yeah, erm. . . yeah.
CH: I suppose you knew what a rond de jambe was, or a plié was, before you went to be a ballet pianist, whereas when I started, or Akiko started, we didn’t have a clue what either of those things meant.
AH: I had no clue of English. I didn’t understand what the teachers were saying sometimes.
MG: Yeah. I mean I knew the structure of a ballet class, and all the terminology, so that was a given. But for me it was the repertoire and the actual technique, but then I was at Doreen Bird’s for five years, sort of pretty much full time, and then, like you, I just started freelancing in London, coming up to London, started at the companies, at DV8, firstly, then Random as it was, now Wayne McGregor, and then I did a bit at Rambert, and then all the London schools, Central [School of Ballet], and ENB School and stuff like that, yeah, and that was about 12 years ago when I started.
AH: Do you do contemporary?
MG: No. And the couple of times that I’ve been forced to, I mean. . .
AH: How was it?
MG: Not good! [all laugh] I feel so fraudulent when I have to play for contemporary, I try and fake it as best as I can. I’m definitely classical all the way.
CH: There’s a lot to be said for being able to just somehow blag a fake, though, isn’t it? I don’t know how we do it, but if you can blag a fake. But you don’t feel good about yourself sometimes, do you.
MG: No! But erm, yeah, so Akiko how about you?
AH: Oh, I was a student. I studied in Japan, undergraduate, and I came to London, to do a masters degree, and then while I was a student, I met a boy who was studying at the Royal Ballet School, and he was a Japanese boy, he’s actually now doing very well in Joffrey Ballet, Yoshi, I call him. He was a first year student at the Royal Ballet School, and he invited me to watch one of the parents’ days, and I just thought, wow, a bit posh, and it sounds really fun, Royal Ballet School, Covent Garden, so I went, and I saw my very first ballet class, and I just fell in love, and I just thought, I can do this. So that evening I got home, made my own CV, sent me CV to absolutely every single big, small, local, any ballet school, I need experience, give me some work. And after a year, I was playing everywhere.
CH: [to AH] And now, how long have you been playing for ballet?
AH: I think it’s something like 12, 13 years.
MG: Because we thought we were working together at one point, didn’t we, and we didn’t realise.
AH: Because I was at one point, er, playing at Bird College.
MG: Yeah, when I was.
DY: Oh no, wow!
AH: I might have played for you, I don’t remember.
CH: Akiko and I were offered the same job, weren’t we, do you remember, we were talking about this, I think it was 2004 or 2005, it was. . .
AH: Yeah, I was doing the final year
CH: Yeah, you were doing the finals. So you were offered a job at Central School of Ballet by the director then, and I was offered the same job, so one of us didn’t take the job, but we don’t know who was offered the job first!
AH: I’m sure Chris was offered and he said no, so they said, OK so let’s give it to Akiko.
CH: Yeah, but I think you’re much more glamorous than I am, as well, you know, and I wasn’t very good, so I presume I was second choice.
AH: Well, your English was better than me
CH: Not necessarily!
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MG: So David, tell us about your teaching career, and where you started teaching and how you got into that.
DY: It was really interesting listening to Chris saying how he fell into playing for contemporary dance and everything. I didn’t set out to be a teacher, I never felt when I was a dancer—I had a dancing career for almost 15 years—and I kind of like fell into the teaching because I wanted to do something else. I wanted to find out through psychology, how to make the transition from being a dancer to not being a dancer, because I’d watched people struggle so much in my career, and I thought, we need help, because at the time, nobody was helping at the time, it wasn’t known. So I set out to do a degree in psychology, and to support myself whilst I was doing the studying, I knew of a friend, a few friends, who were actually doing a one-year teachers’ course for professional dancers at the Royal Ballet School, which is where I trained anyway as a dancer, and that’s what happened, I kind of like listened to them, and made enquiries, and I kind of blagged my way in, as it were. And I was very grateful, because you know, because I, it was like, how am I going to support myself. So I thought, well, I know more about dancing, so I thought, well, give it a go. So I went along, not really knowing what to expect, but knowing I had to do something, because I needed to support myself, and no joke, there was four of us on the course, and every day, somebody cried. It was just so stressful, but really weird. . . I’m so grateful that I did it, because I learned so much, it was like really really intense, but I’m very grateful to all the teachers and all the people who’ve like helped me along the way, it was a fantastic course, and so, as I was studying psychology, I was teaching, so I was studying for my degree at Goldsmiths College, and next door was the Laban, the old Laban, and I knew one of the teachers there who was a very old friend, who had been a ballet master in the company that I’d just left, the last time I’d danced, which was Hong Kong Ballet, so it was kind of like very fortuitous that he just happened to be teaching next door, and I said, you know, are there any chances of having any work there? And he went, well, let’s see, and the next thing was, I was doing part-time teaching as I was actually studying, which was a fantastic, you know, entry into teaching. So once I’d graduated, I then kind of flitted around here, at different other schools, and I ended up sharing my teaching with one of my mentors, Richard Glasstone
AH: [with awe] Oh Richard
DY: I know—who is a fantastic teacher, he was very stern when we were like very young, but looking back now, I realize what he was trying to do and what he was trying to give us, erm, as very young, talented people, and I am forever grateful to him, and all the other teachers that I was so fortunate to have at the time, but him especially. And we both shared a teaching job at Central School of Ballet.
MG: Was that the first school you worked at?
DY: Well, I was kind of like co-teaching at Central School of Ballet and the Laban at the same time. But just being able to actually share a teaching position with somebody of that calibre and that knowledge was just amazing. Because it was like having an encyclopaedia on tap. Whatever question I had, there was an answer. It was amazing.
MG: You were so lucky. That’s what it was like for me when I was learning to play as well, I was surrounded by some really great people, like I say, you know, “How do we do that?” or “What’s that intro? Or those tips and tricks, you know, they were on tap, so you know.
DY: They’re little gems, aren’t they, those pearls of wisdom. So then I was kind of asked if I would just, you know, go along to the Royal Ballet School and just give a class, and I was very lucky that they liked what I did, and they invited me to teach there, and I then taught there for like 10 years, and I then left and went to Elmhurst, for three years, and now I’m at English National Ballet School, and it’s been great.
MG: Wow. And how many years teaching.
DY: Over 20 now.
MG: Gosh. Longer than I’ve been a dancer.
CH: I mean we’ve got, I was just doing the maths before, we’ve got roughly 43 years playing experience between us three and 20 years on top, so we’ve got 60 odd years worth of experience.
DY: That’s not bad going, is it!
CH: Considering we’re all only 20 years old! [all laugh] Let’s say late 20s.
DY: All right!
MG: So yeah, that’s it podcasters, for this episode, please join us next time, where we’ll start to delve into the exercises of a ballet class, starting with the warm-up. Don’t forget to like and subscribe via your podcast provider, and find us on Instagram and Facebook at The Ballet Piano Podcast.
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