In this Frappe exercise, as usual David gives the listeners an overview of what Frappe means and the fundaments of the exercise before the pianists talk about music that is suitable and appropriate for this exercise
We learn that it’s a spritely exercise and the music should be nice and bright with a lot of accent, and the pianists all agree that this is where you can have some fun with the music and explore ways to enhance the brightness of the exercise with fun and lively music.
The team also dissect the ‘coda’ in terms of the structure of a full-length ballet, and what it means for musicians, as they are different.
David also educates the listeners in great detail about the Petit Battement and Battement Serre, and how generally speaking this step is added on to the end of the Frappe exercise.
The pianists then throw lots of tunes out that they like to play at this point in the class as a way of giving example to the type of rhythm they want to give and the character of the exercise, and they conclude that popular music and television themes are popular and exciting.
Music Referenced in this Episode
Transcription of this Episode by Jonathan Still
MG: Matt Gregory CH: Chris Hobson AH: Akiko Hobson DY: David Yow
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
V/O: You’re listening to the Ballet Piano Podcast: Lifting the lid on dance accompaniment.
CH: Hello listeners and welcome back to the The Ballet Piano Podcast. I’m Chris Hobson, and as always, in the studio with me is the podcast team. We have Matt Gregory
CH: Akiko Hobson
CH: And hashtag David Yow of Instagram
CH: [laughing] It’s never going to get old, the hashtag, is it!
MG: No, no!
CH: So this week, we are going to be talking about frappés, so we’re taking up the tempo, we’re going to a quick 2/4 or possibly a 6/8, a tarantella, and we’re going to strike. Is that true, David?
DY: It is indeed, Chris.
CH: So tell me: frappé
DY: Frappé is an, well, the barre work, as we’ve said earlier on is all about practising the actions that you’re going to do in the centre. And battement frappé is all about preparing to jump; jumping quickly, focusing on the lower leg, so that you’re pointing your feet very fast, and then relaxing very quickly as well. So that’s the action, so from a relaxed position we call cou–de-pied, the neck of the foot, so you’ve got your gesture foot relaxed or pointed against your supporting leg, and then you’re going to strike outwards to the air, or the floor, along the floor, to make a stretching movement very very quickly. So you can either do it to the front, to the side, or the back. And that’s really what it is, really, that’s the basic idea—that we can do it with the supporting leg, with your heel—of the supporting leg—on the floor, or you can do it en relevé of the supporting leg as well. Or fondu.
CH: I was just thinking as well, musically, and tempo-wise, if we just look back on the previous episodes which we’ve talked about, we’ve got you know, slower tempi to start with, plié and tendus, and we double the tempo or more than do that for glissés and jetés and then we go to back to this incredibly slow tempo for ronds de jambe and then we go up again after the fondu, for frappés, so there can be some big, massive, intense tempo changes, constantly really, isn’t it, from exercise to exercise, and this is another one.
DY: It is because you’re trying to actually exercise and train the different types of musles that you need for when you get into the centre. And battement frappé is one of those where you need your fast-twitch fibres to fire very quickly, so that you can get a reaction, like a rebound off the floor as if you’re on a trampoline. So for every movement that we do, just like piano, you start slowly, but then you, this particular exercise, you’re going to aim to be quite sprightly when you do it.
CH: I always think of frappés as being a little bit like the 100 metres. [AH laughs]
DY: It is.
MG: It’s a dash.
CH: It’s a dash through it, and sometimes you blink and you miss it. Or you could miss it, and as you said, it goes so quick. So, give us an example David, of how you would set, or usually set a frappé.
DY: So let’s say we have like four counts in, that’s [in rhythm] 5 6 7 and 8 on a 2/4, to prepare the gesture leg, and then maybe we’re going to say, we’re going to do one frappé to the front, and hold in the extension, and then two frappés to the front and a hold. So we’ll do one and hold and three and four. We might do that to the side as well, five and six and seven and eight. And if we do a double frappé which means that you do two beats against your, or around your supporting leg, [in rhythm again] “and a one and hold to the front, and let’s do the same to the side: and a three and four, and maybe we’ll do some very—something very quickly that we might combine battement frappé with, petits battements which is a very small movement around the supporting leg, for four counts: five and six and seven and eight and there would be your exercise, and then you’d just reverse that.
CH: So Matt, when you’re listening to David, I’m going to put you on the spot now, when you’re listening to David setting that, what’s going through your mind? What are you thinking about as getting ready to play that exercise? What are you listening to, and watching for?
MG: I’m thinking about where the accent is, and obviously you’ve got that hold in there as well, haven’t you, so, obviously, I’m thinking, accenting on that extension and then bringing it in. Yeah, it’s a nice bright 2/4 isn’t it.
DY: Yes, yes.
CH: What about you, Akiko, because you’ve not said anything yet, apart from “hello.” What are you are thinking, are you dreaming about your next Jaffa Cake, or are you thinking about what you were going to play for David.
AH: Sorry! Yes, I was just looking at those Jaffa Cakes, yes, sorry. No, but when I’m like watching a marking of frappé I’m always like, let’s have fun! It’s so many bright, fun, tunes that you can play, so it’s kind of, it is serious, but you can make it quite fun.
CH: It’s like, because one of us, maybe it was me or somebody else described glissés and jetés as when you can really start to have fun in the class, and now it’s like you’re taking that fun up another level when we get to frappés, and seems like, you know, because of music and tempo, we’re going to go on to more of a coda now as opposed to a reel.
MG: Yeah, I get the codas out for battements frappés
AH: I was always like, you know, wondering, “coda,” yeah, that’s not a musical term, is it. So for musicians, how to we say it?
CH: Well, because the coda is a tag on at the end, isn’t it, usually, in musical definitions.
AH: Is it?
CH: It’s a tag-on at the end, yeah, so you have your, let’s look at a grand pas de deux, you have the pas de deux
AH: Yeah, but that’s ballet
CH: And then you have the solos and then the coda, so, but it’s the name of the piece, it’s not the musical style of piece
AH: Yes, so if, you know, what is it as a musician? Because I’m so used to calling like coda, yeah, which is a fast 2/4.
DY: Is it like a finale
CH: It’s like a galop, isn’t it? Or it can be like a polka? Or the—what’s it called, Romeo and Juliet the dance, is it the Dance of the Villagers?
AH: The fighting scene?
CH: No, the [sings Act 1 No. 4 from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet* “Dance in the Morning”]
DY: Oh yes.
CH: That’s also coda-ish. You could play Tritsch-tratsch polka
DY: Anything that’s bright, I think, works in this instance. Because that’s exactly what you would. . . because the movement is very light as well because you’ve, you’re taking the weight right off the floor. In some instances, some people do battements frappés completely off the floor, so there’s no weight there to stop you getting . . . the speed going faster all the time, so that’s why it’s so exciting for us because following like the fondu or the rond de jambe it’s like the opposite side of what you’ve just been doing, so that’s why it’s really exciting for us, whatever you play is fantastic.
CH: What do you, I mean, where do you go with the petits battements at the end?
DY: So, petits battements means small beats, so you’re, what you’re trying to make on the floor, in the air or on the floor, is the shape of a very tight V, so starting, let’s say, if you put your heel of your gesture foot against the inside front of your ankle of your supporting leg, and you draw with the tips of your toes on the floor and not moving your thigh, a tight V so you go out so your toes go under your knee, and then back in behind your ankle of your supporting leg, with your heel of the gesture leg. That action, that very tight action of a V is half of a petit battement and the faster you go, just doing that repeatedly to the fron and to the back, becomes small beats, so you’re starting to think about how do you hold your thigh, and move your lower leg very, very quickly? Which is the ultra-fast movement of a beat.
DY: So a frappé is like a jump, you’re trying to find your feet very quickly from a plié and the petit battement might be something that you’re going to do with your lower leg in the centre, or start imagining what the shape of a beat in the centre when you beat your legs is going to be, it’s going to be a very tight V shape with both legs
CH: OK, so it’s preparation for . . .
DY: It’s preparation for those kind of things
CH: And then if you’ve been really cruel you could have had a relevé or a balance on the end
DY: You could indeed! [laughs]
AH: And straight to the other side
DY: Exactly, yes.
MG: And I don’t know, after the frappé exercises, I feel like that’s where the biggest balance is. In an open position.
DY: For me it’s like contrast all the time, because after ronds de jambe which has been very slow, you suddenly go much faster for your petits battements, speed it up for the, for the . . . sorry, for battements frappés, and then speed it up for the petits battements and then suddenly you stop completely and you start to balance, and your heart is racing, but you have to stand as if you are still, but you’re not still, you’re really lengthening your body in all directions, but it looks like you’re a statue.
DY: So it’s really difficult to do.
MG: Yeah, and I’ve been asked to play the balances a little under tempo, you know, it might just be eight counts, which on this quick 2/4 will be over very quickly. Or 16 counts, but you know, just to pull it back.
MG: Just so . . . because they’re finding that big open position.
DY: Exactly. Because it’s very difficult to go from one pace to another
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident] [09:05]
CH: So when we’re setting the frappés and the petit battements, what I’m always looking out for when I’m trying to plan my repertoire is: first of all, how long is the frappé exercise, is it, is it square, is it 32 counts long or 64? Then, is there a petit battements [section] on the end? Is there a balance on the end? And then does it go over to the second side or not?
CH: Because then you can start to work through your Rolodex of repertoire, or your databases of repertoire, and work out what you’re going to play for each section. Does anybody else either play different melodies or, the different sections of whatever you’re playing to respond with the frappés, the petits battements and the balance?
MG: Well, if I’m playing, if I’m playing a coda, I’ll keep that all the way through the whole exercise. And if they go for a balance, I’ll probably just pull it back in dynamic and tempo, and then it’s really exciting when they say, right, go on to the second side. And then you go back to that first tempo, which just is a bit brighter than the balance you’ve just done. And so, it’s like, “here we go again,” another 100 metres, and then we do it all over again, and it’s still quite exciting. I mean, I’ll probably change the tune up, use a different tune, but I’d deffo keep that metre, for sure.
CH: I like that, you know, “If something’s good, it’s worth giving twice,” isn’t it, damn right! I’m like really like—Akiko hates this, because it used to be my alarm clock for a while, but on a Monday . . .
AH: Oh gosh yes.
CH: . . . playing Boomtown Rats, tendus, “I Don’t Like Mondays.” My favourite frappé.
AH: Yeah. And I had to listen at 6 am on Monday morning when I’m waking up, it’s not fun.
CH: Where does everybody else sit with repertoire for frappés?
MG: I, er, anything that’s um-chah um-chah um-chah, so I play I Enjoy Being A Girl from Flower Drum Song which is Rogers and Hammerstein. And if I’m doing the balance bit, I will keep the um-chah, but take out the melody
CH: OK, so you just um-chah it.
MG: And so, and then, it just pulls it right back, and then when we go on to the second side, I’ll put the melody back in.
CH: For the balance, I always like to play The Final Countdown [sings melody, all laugh]
AH: I like, I think everybody does, but I like playing The Simpsons, I think it’s quite fun.
DY: Yes, it is fun
AH: And I always get some giggles from the teachers or dancers, which is quite nice.
CH: I think, I mean there’s a lot of repertoire isn’t there, and there’s a specifically TV theme repertoire that you can throw in, or old 80s things
MG: Or Broadway musicals that are [inaudible] twos
DY: Broadway musicals, yes. Brilliant.
MG: Yeah, it all works.
CH: I used to like Black Beauty for a coda as well.
DY: Oh yes, fantastic.
CH: And, what else was there, there’s the theme from Dad’s Army, [sings] “Who do you think are kidding Mr Hitler.” Dallas can be in there, Wallace and Gromit, there’s so many of them.
MG: I play In the Hall of the Mountain King, as well
DY: Oh great
MG: I can play it really low or really high.
CH: And nice and speedy.
MG: Yeah, yeah.
AH: Depending on the accent, but I sometimes play a very fast tango. And it does work quite good, but you’ve got to absolutely know the accent to make sure that it fits, because it doesn’t fit with every single exercise, but it does, if it does fit, it’s quite nice, crispy, you know, strong accent, to give it to the frappé exercise.
MG: Something else I do on frappés as well is, if I’m playing a melody, I’ll sort of make it a little bit dissonant, by playing notes that are a semitone apart, you know, because it’s just a little bit jarring, and the frappé action is just that, isn’t it, it’s nice and prickly, and that little bit of dissonance, it just makes it a little bit more intense.
DY: A frisson about it, yeah, absolutely.
CH: Does anybody else, I’ve not been asked to do it for a while, but frappés on a tarantella, or an incredibly quick 6/8.
AH: Sometimes, but not
CH: It’s not often is it, I tend to stick more with a coda.
MG: I’ve played frappé on a 3. But it’s not often.
DY: Usually when you’re trying to teach something first of all, then you slow it down for a, like a three, or something, but you’re trying to aim for that fast action, the firing of the muscles, that’s what it’s really about.
CH: Just thinking through my head then of a standard, a relatively standard frappé exercise [in rhythm about 144 bpm] one and two and three and four and five and six and seven and eight. And I was thinking back to the way that this teacher used to set the tarantella, it was [sings the same counts but in a tarantella rhythm, i.e. long-short, long-short]. So it was exactly the same meter, it was just you know.
MG: It was just the way it was divided up
CH: Maybe it was mentally it was to perceive that there was slightly more room in between the counts because it was three as opposed to two, even though it took the same amount of time, you know, in the real world.
DY: Well when you’re thinking about your tunes that you’re going to play, when you’ve learned them and you’ve learned them in a different key, how hard it is, when you have to think very quickly, and you want to actually segue into another tune, to think “now, am I going to play it in this key, where I learned it in the other key”? What’s that like?
CH: There’s two schools of thought here, aren’t there. Let’s go with clever clogs in the corner.
AH: Oh me?
AH: Well, because I’ve got perfect pitch, I could play, technically, in any key, but having said that, there are a few keys that you know, my fingers are not very comfortable with, and I plan to switch from one tune to the other, and then something happens with the transition, and I end up playing in the key that my fingers are not very comfortable with, and I’m just really sweating myself to just get through the exercise, without making any wrong chords or wrong notes, which is a bit. . . challenging!
CH: I’ve usually got it planned out of where I’m going to go, whilst the exercise is being set, and if, if I’ve ended up like going down a different road, and I’ve ended up in a different key than I intend on doing, I’ll just be really, really cheesy and just stick in the world’s biggest glissando, because you can from anywhere with that [laughter], just finish it off, and you can just up the glissando, up down, brand new key, no-one’s noticed, everyone thinks it’s great because you’ve had a load of notes, and then you can start again then, can’t you, it’s almost like flicking on to a new page of a book.
MG: I mean that semitone lift is quite easy to do, isn’t it, you know, I’m sure we all do that, but there’s things I know in every key, which is obviously very easy, if you’re going from one thing to another, you know it in every key, so that’s fine, but I sat, I don’t know if everybody know’s Ernest Cresswick, he used to play at the [London] Studio Centre, I sat and watched him play for class one day, and he played everything, but nothing was in the key that it was written in, like all these M[usical] T[heatre], all these classical music, he was playing everything, and I know them as well, and I know what keys they’re written in, none of them were in the keys that they were written in that he was playing. But like a third up, or something random.
AH: Sorry, I probably do the same.
CH: I was going to say, you do the same, because I walk past your studio
AH: I don’t know the reason, OK.
CH: In the days when I used to go outside often for breaths of fresh air, which I don’t do any more, but when I used to go out, every thirty minutes for fresh air, I’d walk past your studio, and you’d be thinking, “that’s not in that key!” and you’d be playing in D flat, and it would be in F, or . . .
CH: I just noticed it.
DY: Do you have a favourite key you like to play in?
AH: Easy key.
DY: Exactly, is there a key that’s you’re favourite?
AH: So, easy one, is for I think anybody, like, C major, F major, G major.
MG: Well, the guy that taught me to play for ballet class, who’s sadly no longer with us, he says the black keys are better, and I do sort of agree with him. E flat, A flat, D flat, G flat. I do like . . .
AH: G flat? [incredulous]
CH: It depends on what it’s for, doesn’t it, as well, like Misty, we’ve talked about Misty loads, but if you do that in E flat, in its traditional key of E flat, it’s got a much more welcoming and luxurious feel to it if you play it in D major.
CH: Which is only up, sorry, D major’s down one note, but they just, I don’t know, there’s something about the way that way it sounds.
MG: It’s probably where the melody sits on the keyboard as well.
DY: Right. Fascinating.
CH: But it’s also maybe because of the way that these songs have been sang, or you’ve heard them so often, so they’re ingrained somewhere in your head, in a particular key, even if you’re not musical, you know what they sound like because of what key they’re in, and you’ve heard it so many times.
DY: I’m just asking because, like, dancers always have a favourite side, like you’re right-handed or left-handed, and there’s one side you favour more than the other, even though you have to do both sides, but for pianists, I was just wondering whether you have a favourite key that you like to play in.
AH: And then, any key that we play, do the dancers notice?
DY: Yeah, it kind of like, emotionally stirs you in different ways when you change, that’s why I was asking, also, because it does make a difference.
MG: And they notice that little semitone lift, if I am to put that in, that’s always, yeah, they notice that.
DY: It feels like the home run, when you go up that semitone.
CH: That last sixteen bars of 3/4 up the semitone
DY: Here we are! We’re nearly there!
CH: Up the semitone. That could be our latest merchandise, a T-shirt that says “Up the Semitone” [all laugh]
AH: I actually have a question to the teacher, David, I always thought the frappés like as you explained, it’s a strike, and it’s quite like, you know, jolly, fast music, and I feel like you know, the dancer has to get on with the speed you’re given, and then sometimes I’ve come across—with the teacher, or the particular exercise—that the teacher says, “No no, we need it a lot slower,” the same music, but a lot slower, because, whatever the reason it is. And what’s the difference?
DY: It’s because the action you’re trying to train is so quick, that sometimes the students need more time to actually get their whole body around that action, so you slow it down, and you hold that position in the extension for that very reason, because you want to train the correct muscles, just like when you learn how to do like scales or something, you start very slowly, and then as you get more proficient at it you start speeding up, it’s the same thing with the action of frappé.
AH: So it’s more like a training purpose?
AH: In the process of
DY: Exactly, yeah.
MG: And in the technicality of that exercise, do you want them to focus more on the out, the extension, or spend more time in the out position, because then it’s quick in to go back out again isn’t it.
DY: I tend to, because that’s the action of rebound off the floor, that I want the students to understand, that’s different, and to stand what we call, when we’re jumping, to look as if you’re standing in the air, I want them to actually hold the extension for longer so you get the extension, the muscle tone in the correct way when you’re holding it for a long time. So that’s what it, what I’m trying to, when I’m doing frappés, that’s what I want them to do, I want them to stand in the air, so I hold, I ask them to hold the extension for longer.
CH: When you’re doing frappés, is it helpful or unhelpful if we start messing about? [AH laughs] Hang on, hang on, let me just say, with things like, when you’re on the balance at the end, or whatever, or start playing on the offbeats, or just doing one chord every few counts, to see what happens.
DY: I guess it depends on what you’re aiming for that week, perhaps if you have a themed class of that week, so what I love about what you play is that, at the beginning of the week, it’s very straightforward, and by the time we get to nearly the end of the week, you’ve then started to adapt, and that’s what’s exciting, because it’s never the same anymore, and so it doesn’t become boring, because the students have to listen carefully because they don’t know what’s coming next. For me, I really enjoy it.
CH: Yeah, if you’ve got the same teacher, and the same dancers for five days, you know that you’re going to do a similar class, or your can sort of musically go on a journey, not just through that one class, but for the whole week, can’t you?
MG: And it breathes new life into the exercise, you know . . .
MG: . . . the choreography will probably be the same, and the technique is the same, maybe getting a bit quicker, but your music, you know, it’s going to breathe life into the exercise.
CH: Do you know what I did after the last break that we went on, or maybe it was the backend of last year, straight back into the studio, petits battements, I was like, not played the piano for three weeks, fight scene from Romeo and Juliet, what a mistake that was! [laughter] That was 16 bars of self-created hell! It was just like blublublublu, I was like, God!
AH: I saw one pianist play the Chopin study, I think Opus 10 No. 4, G# minor—no, C# minor, C# minor.
AH: I was like why do you make such effort for one-minute long exercise. But he was managing.
DY: Were they showing off, or was it just . . .
AH: I don’t know. I don’t really know why he played it, but it must be his rep.
CH: At the same time as you’ve got me upstairs or next door possibly playing the theme from Black Beauty or Wallace and Gromit. [laughter]
MG: When choosing repertoire though, you’ve got to think, who are you playing for, who’s the teacher, what day of the week is it, what time of day is it, where are they at in their season, or in their term, you know, because sometimes if the teacher’s being, you know, quite strict that day, or you’re disciplining, you want to support them. You know, you don’t want to distract from their teaching style that day.
CH: And depending on how the class has been going, if you then rock up and play the theme tune from Teletubbies [laughter] it can look like you’ve completely taken the mickey out of the . . .
MG: What the theme tune for the Teletubbies?
CH: [singing] “Tinky Winky, Dipsy”
CH: I know, well, on that note, I’ve confessed my love of TV theme tunes, including Teletubbies so I think I’m going to probably going to bring the episode to a close now before I really do say something I don’t think I should do. So yeah, anyway, so that’s it, and make sure that you join us next time, when we are going to be discussing adagio and ronds de jambe en l’air, and also, sharing is caring—we all know that sharing is caring, don’t we Matt, so what we’d like to ask is if you’re enjoying our podcast, you’re enjoying what’s coming in to your ears, why not just tell one of your friends or colleagues about it, because there is no recommendation like a personal recommendation. That’s sounds cheesy, and it is, but it’s true. And on that note, it’s goodbye from me.
MG: Goodbye from me.
AH: Bye bye
[MUSIC: Ballet Piano Podcast ident]
. . . ENDS. . .
© 2020 Ballet Piano Podcast (Christopher Hobson, Matt Gregory, Akiko Hobson, David Yow)
Producer: Christopher Hobson
Transcription by Jonathan Still 6/5/2020