en-es  Turn Over, Please
TURN OVER, PLEASE NOTES FROM BEHIND THE PIANO By Jackie Hinden In the musical pecking order the anonymous figure who sits next to the piano ready to turn pages ranks lower than the three-chord guitar player or the singer in the bath. Unpaid, usually unthanked, but absolutely essential, only a wife, a sweetheart, or a devoted pupil would do it. A page turned too late and the boat is rocked. Two pages turned instead of one—shipwreck. And worse things can happen at sea.
Taking up the position. The page turner’s problems begin the moment she steps onto the platform, last and very much least. Can she squeeze between the immovable bulk of the Steinway and the back wall of the pocket-sized stage? Can she slink round the bend of the piano before the soloist stations herself there? If she accomplishes this safely, she will surely collide with the accompanist taking his bow. And it’s not good form to creep under the piano on all fours in an attempt to reach sanctuary.
A word about dress. If male, no problem. If female, something modest and self-effacing, and if the soloist is female and not noticeably young or slim, then something as near to complete purdah as can be contrived. No glittering jewellery, no bracelets that jingle-jangle at every page turn. And no long beads that catch the edge of the music desk, break, and scatter across the stage, guaranteeing a spectacular exit when the time comes. Think it can’t happen? I assure you, it can.
It is not an easy job. As well as a superficial knowledge of music so that you can follow which notes are being played, you need great powers of concentration and nerves of steel. Let your eyes start wandering—is that Uncle Algernon in the audience?—or start listening to the music instead of following it note by note on the page and all is lost. You try to spot where they’ve got to, but it’s too late. The pianist, with a venomous look, abandons the bass to do your job.
How to judge when to stand up. The pianist starts the right-hand page with a fine surge of allegro con brio, the barlines whip past like telegraph poles from an express train, you leap to your feet, ready to turn subito, when suddenly there’s a bit you hadn’t noticed, an abrupt change to meno mosso followed by a pause and a line of adagio before the turn—and there you stand, fingers poised, frozen into position like a child playing musical statues.
The turner-over’s nightmare. Or is it “turner-overer”? The job doesn’t even have a decent name. The Germans, as always, have made one up. “Where is your umblatterer?” they ask the accompanist when he arrives in a German concert hall. The turner-over’s nightmare is French music. It’s never stapled together, it’s always too tall for its strength, and it tends to buckle in the middle. More often than not it’s also grey to the point of invisibility. I once turned over for my husband at a recital which included a performance of Ravel’s “Scheherazade.” There is a passionate piano interlude in the middle of the first song. He nodded for me to turn, my fingers slipped, and the flimsy music fell into his lap. He went on playing from memory. I scrabbled around in his lap while the slippery sheets slid down his legs to the floor. I fished them out from between his feet and got them back up on the desk just in time for the singer’s entry. For the rest of the song I stood, fingers glued to the music. Somehow the performance lacked its customary magic, and the singer has never asked my husband to play for her again.
Talking of soloists, their relationship with page-turners is delicate at best. A soloist expects all eyes to be on her and her alone. If the accompanist is a man, no problem. Even the grandest cummerbund cannot compete with the prima donna’s floating draperies and glittering jewels. Even so, some singers demand that the turner-over be male, mouselike, and over sixty, and others ban the poor harmless creature altogether. When the accompanist protests that he cannot turn pages with his teeth, the resourceful lady soloist produces sheets of music sellotaped together in concertina style. She spreads them across the grand piano with a flourish, her mind at rest. No matter that the accompanist has to play the song with a pendulum swing of the body from left to right. No matter that he risks internal damage when both hands have to play high in the treble on page one.
There is always the odd occasion on a provincial tour when the artists arrive at the local hall, are introduced to the venerable upright and—lo, no music desk! We grope inside its top, where sometimes they’re folded to rest, but no luck. The music club secretary is full of apologies. This is not their usual venue, but Lady Thing’s drawing room is being redecorated and they’ve had the piano tuned but no one noticed its naked appearance. The concert starts in five minutes. What can be done? You’ve guessed, of course. Muggins stands there with aching arms holding up weighty volumes of Schubert and Brahms.
Repeats are another problem, and cuts are almost as bad. Combine them in one piece of music, add the tatty piece of manuscript provided as a link between the cuts, and it’s fasten your seat belts and God bless all who sail in her.
Instrumental recitals have extra hazards. When writing out an instrumental part, it’s usually possible to find convenient turning points. But sometimes the player finds himself scraping away con fuoco and not an empty bar in sight. On these occasions he calls on the faithful page turner. Chances are that the pianist is playing con fuoco too and his page turn comes split seconds after the soloist’s. Put yourself in the page turner’s place. Up from the piano in plenty of time, you arrange yourself by the music stand, steering well clear of bowing arms, and turn. The lightning dash back to the piano must be accomplished without knocking over anyone’s music or music stand, or attracting anyone’s attention in any way. Blending in with the wallpaper—that’s the thing. In any other job, danger money would be demanded.
What does the future hold? In 1851 at the Great Exhibition an ingenious inventor displayed a mechanical page turner operated by the foot. It never caught on, nor have the many similar devices registered at the Patent Office since. If I ever take up the piano seriously—which I may do one of these days—I’d like to give one a try. No, on second thought, I’ll let my husband do it.
unit 3
A page turned too late and the boat is rocked.
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Two pages turned instead of one—shipwreck.
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And worse things can happen at sea.
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Taking up the position.
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A word about dress.
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If male, no problem.
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Think it can’t happen?
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I assure you, it can.
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It is not an easy job.
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You try to spot where they’ve got to, but it’s too late.
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The pianist, with a venomous look, abandons the bass to do your job.
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How to judge when to stand up.
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The turner-over’s nightmare.
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Or is it “turner-overer”?
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The job doesn’t even have a decent name.
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The Germans, as always, have made one up.
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The turner-over’s nightmare is French music.
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More often than not it’s also grey to the point of invisibility.
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He went on playing from memory.
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For the rest of the song I stood, fingers glued to the music.
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A soloist expects all eyes to be on her and her alone.
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If the accompanist is a man, no problem.
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The music club secretary is full of apologies.
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The concert starts in five minutes.
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What can be done?
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You’ve guessed, of course.
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Repeats are another problem, and cuts are almost as bad.
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Instrumental recitals have extra hazards.
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On these occasions he calls on the faithful page turner.
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Put yourself in the page turner’s place.
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unit 68
Blending in with the wallpaper—that’s the thing.
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In any other job, danger money would be demanded.
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What does the future hold?
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No, on second thought, I’ll let my husband do it.
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TURN OVER, PLEASE
NOTES FROM BEHIND THE PIANO
By Jackie Hinden

In the musical pecking order the anonymous figure who sits next to the piano ready to turn pages ranks lower than the three-chord guitar player or the singer in the bath. Unpaid, usually unthanked, but absolutely essential, only a wife, a sweetheart, or a devoted pupil would do it. A page turned too late and the boat is rocked. Two pages turned instead of one—shipwreck. And worse things can happen at sea.
Taking up the position. The page turner’s problems begin the moment she steps onto the platform, last and very much least. Can she squeeze between the immovable bulk of the Steinway and the back wall of the pocket-sized stage? Can she slink round the bend of the piano before the soloist stations herself there? If she accomplishes this safely, she will surely collide with the accompanist taking his bow. And it’s not good form to creep under the piano on all fours in an attempt to reach sanctuary.
A word about dress. If male, no problem. If female, something modest and self-effacing, and if the soloist is female and not noticeably young or slim, then something as near to complete purdah as can be contrived. No glittering jewellery, no bracelets that jingle-jangle at every page turn. And no long beads that catch the edge of the music desk, break, and scatter across the stage, guaranteeing a spectacular exit when the time comes. Think it can’t happen? I assure you, it can.
It is not an easy job. As well as a superficial knowledge of music so that you can follow which notes are being played, you need great powers of concentration and nerves of steel. Let your eyes start wandering—is that Uncle Algernon in the audience?—or start listening to the music instead of following it note by note on the page and all is lost. You try to spot where they’ve got to, but it’s too late. The pianist, with a venomous look, abandons the bass to do your job.
How to judge when to stand up. The pianist starts the right-hand page with a fine surge of allegro con brio, the barlines whip past like telegraph poles from an express train, you leap to your feet, ready to turn subito, when suddenly there’s a bit you hadn’t noticed, an abrupt change to meno mosso followed by a pause and a line of adagio before the turn—and there you stand, fingers poised, frozen into position like a child playing musical statues.
The turner-over’s nightmare. Or is it “turner-overer”? The job doesn’t even have a decent name. The Germans, as always, have made one up. “Where is your umblatterer?” they ask the accompanist when he arrives in a German concert hall. The turner-over’s nightmare is French music. It’s never stapled together, it’s always too tall for its strength, and it tends to buckle in the middle. More often than not it’s also grey to the point of invisibility. I once turned over for my husband at a recital which included a performance of Ravel’s “Scheherazade.” There is a passionate piano interlude in the middle of the first song. He nodded for me to turn, my fingers slipped, and the flimsy music fell into his lap. He went on playing from memory. I scrabbled around in his lap while the slippery sheets slid down his legs to the floor. I fished them out from between his feet and got them back up on the desk just in time for the singer’s entry. For the rest of the song I stood, fingers glued to the music. Somehow the performance lacked its customary magic, and the singer has never asked my husband to play for her again.
Talking of soloists, their relationship with page-turners is delicate at best. A soloist expects all eyes to be on her and her alone. If the accompanist is a man, no problem. Even the grandest cummerbund cannot compete with the prima donna’s floating draperies and glittering jewels. Even so, some singers demand that the turner-over be male, mouselike, and over sixty, and others ban the poor harmless creature altogether. When the accompanist protests that he cannot turn pages with his teeth, the resourceful lady soloist produces sheets of music sellotaped together in concertina style. She spreads them across the grand piano with a flourish, her mind at rest. No matter that the accompanist has to play the song with a pendulum swing of the body from left to right. No matter that he risks internal damage when both hands have to play high in the treble on page one.
There is always the odd occasion on a provincial tour when the artists arrive at the local hall, are introduced to the venerable upright and—lo, no music desk! We grope inside its top, where sometimes they’re folded to rest, but no luck. The music club secretary is full of apologies. This is not their usual venue, but Lady Thing’s drawing room is being redecorated and they’ve had the piano tuned but no one noticed its naked appearance. The concert starts in five minutes. What can be done? You’ve guessed, of course. Muggins stands there with aching arms holding up weighty volumes of Schubert and Brahms.
Repeats are another problem, and cuts are almost as bad. Combine them in one piece of music, add the tatty piece of manuscript provided as a link between the cuts, and it’s fasten your seat belts and God bless all who sail in her.
Instrumental recitals have extra hazards. When writing out an instrumental part, it’s usually possible to find convenient turning points. But sometimes the player finds himself scraping away con fuoco and not an empty bar in sight. On these occasions he calls on the faithful page turner. Chances are that the pianist is playing con fuoco too and his page turn comes split seconds after the soloist’s. Put yourself in the page turner’s place. Up from the piano in plenty of time, you arrange yourself by the music stand, steering well clear of bowing arms, and turn. The lightning dash back to the piano must be accomplished without knocking over anyone’s music or music stand, or attracting anyone’s attention in any way. Blending in with the wallpaper—that’s the thing. In any other job, danger money would be demanded.
What does the future hold? In 1851 at the Great Exhibition an ingenious inventor displayed a mechanical page turner operated by the foot. It never caught on, nor have the many similar devices registered at the Patent Office since. If I ever take up the piano seriously—which I may do one of these days—I’d like to give one a try. No, on second thought, I’ll let my husband do it.