There's one musical task that's even more nerve-wracking than playing the piano. Namely, turning the pages. Trouble is, everyone thinks it's easy until they try...
Blithe volunteers or conscripts ("Now, darling, you won't mind turning for our guest trio's pianist, will you? You'll have time to prepare the interval tea urn too") often don't know what they're letting themselves in for, and a pianist who's already jittery about the concert may turn several shades paler upon the arrival of a jolly-hockey-sticks who declares she's "never seen a page of music before, but of course that doesn't matter, does it...?"
Here are five DOs and five DON'Ts lest you should be unfortunate enough to find yourself facing what might just be the worst job in all music.
1. Check with the pianist in advance which repeats s/he is doing, if any, and exactly how they work.
2. Dog-ear the top right hand corner of each page for easy grabbing.
3. Make sure you've got something to sit on and can see the music clearly.
4. Remember that a lot of pianists read ahead so may need the page turned several bars before reaching its apparent end.
5. Agree with the pianist what signal s/he will give to alert you that it's time to turn.
1. Wear anything intrusive: plunging necklines, dangly necklaces or ties, long floppy sleeves and bright colours are real no-nos and could distract in a variety of ways. (Of course some pianists might enjoy the plunging neckline, but that leads to a whole different set of problems.)
2. Obscure the music from the pianist's view with your arm while preparing to turn.
3. Simply smile sweetly back when the pianist smiles sweetly at you. He's probably indicating that if you don't turn that page NOW, he will put you through the mincer.
4. Eat anything containing garlic before the concert.
5. Take a bow.
As an Easter treat, here's a little aid from Victor Borge. (And if you want another good laugh, see the French movie The Page Turner, which came out a few years ago. I went with a pianist friend and we were rolling in the aisles, though it isn't meant to be funny...)
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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