July 2011

Turning the Pages

During the opera season, our Portland Opera Studio Artists each give a solo recital. Rob Ainsley, our associate music director/principal coach/pianist, always asks me to turn pages for him. And by "asks" I mean he knows exactly how to use flattery to his advantage. "I mean, who else could I possibly get?" he will say. "There is no one better."

Insert eye roll.

Page turning is a funny business. In one special way, it's just like being a music librarian: if you're very good at it, no one will notice you at all. It's also incredibly terrifying. I've met very few people who've ever turned pages who aren't petrified at the task, and I've only met one person who likes doing it. Why is it so awful? Observe:

1. You're likely sight-reading.
1a. You're likely sight-reading very difficult music, and/or music whose vocal line is in another language.
1b. On rare unlucky occasions these two things collide to produce something like Mussorgsky. It's next to impossible to follow the piano part at sight and when you take a panicked look at the voice line you realize it's in Cyrillic. Then you speak in page-turner code: you look directly down at the piano player with a veiled but stricken look on your face. This look says "IF YOU DON'T NOD VIGOROUSLY AT THE PAGE TURN WE ARE BOTH GONERS."

2. You have to constantly get up and down and you hope that nobody notices you.
2b. You have to do this without touching the piano or getting in the way of the pianist.
2c. You have to time your getting-up so that you're not poised over the music for an excruciating length of time, hovering over the pianist for the next five minutes.

3. You have to turn the pages.
3a. Just one page at a time (if you're lucky).
3b. At the right time.
3c. Quietly.
3d. In the right direction. (Sometimes you have to turn back, instead of forwards).
3e. Without the music then folding back to another page.