Judgemental Band Geek

Pet peeve time! You know you love it!

I am continually baffled by the fact that many dancers can’t count music to save their lives. Do we need to start instituting mandatory Music Theory for Dancers? ‘Cause I’ll teach it! (Along with Anatomy for Dancers… I am a full-on liberal arts dance fan.)

I’ve always had a fondness for music and I’m pretty sure I learned to read music around the same time that I learned to read words. I would sit by my grandmother’s side as she tried to teach me to play the piano. Never did turn into a pianist, but I had a good run with the horn (that would be a “French” horn for those of you who are not orchestrally inclined). I was in band throughout 5th-12th grade, including a loathed stint with marching band in high school (had to march if you wanted to do concert band; I picked my college based on the fact that they had no marching band… well, that’s not true, but it was an added bonus.) College gave me orchestra, brass choir, woodwind ensemble (always amused me to be the only brass player in the woodwind ensemble, but apparently there’s no woodwind that plays in that range, so they use horns as filler or something). Even briefly flirted with double-majoring in music until I got to my first music history course which did not go well and led to me deciding that perhaps music was best kept as a hobby.

So, yeah, lots of musical background. And, as boring as band music was for a horn player, I learned a lot about downbeats and upbeats playing all those Sousa marches (horns are terribly shortchanged when it comes to marches and I hated them… which makes the fact that I won the John Phillip Sousa Band Award my senior year rather ironic). And, as much as I detested marching, I learned a lot about moving in time to the music. And with all the other playing experiences and music theory classes and whatnot, I’m uber-aware of musical phrasing and counts and such.

Which leads me to ballet. And the fact that my recent experience leads me to believe that no one knows how to count music. Exercises are pretty much always given on an 8-count. And usually they start out alright. But then I start looking around and realize that everyone is doing her own thing, no one at the same time! Argh!!! This drives me batty. As much as I try to insist on following the music, it’s really awkward being the one person in class marching to the beat of her own drummer, as it were. Sometimes I just give up and try to keep pace with whatever the overwhelming majority is attempting, meanwhile seething inside that we’re off the music. When I was teaching (oh, how I miss teaching) I turned into Ms. Snappy-Pants in an effort to get my students to hear the music and match their movements to it. Music is not just some pretty background noise to accompany you… you gots to work together, yo! Therein lies the magic! Dance is a physical expression of music!

I rather wish these things didn’t take up so much of my mental energy. I know it’s probably not worth getting all wrapped up in it, but seriously. It’s just counting to eight, people!

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10 thoughts on “Judgemental Band Geek

  1. I KNOW!! I have been a musician for a very long time and keeping time was always one of my biggest strengths. It used to drive me batty when fellow concert bandmates counted wrong or sped up/slowed down. Consequently, it drives me insane when dancers ignore the music. I remember one class I found myself being off time and I was humiliated with myself!!

  2. Woah! Everything makes sense now!
    See, we always do the barre pirouettes to this particular piece of music with a really distinct third beat, so it’s “and a one (developé to side) and a two (fondu) and a THREE (drive heel down, pull up into relevé, whirl around) and a four (finish up in passé)”
    Except a lot of the other girls do the whirling on and-a-two. And I’ve always been like, “dang, pirouettes is hard enough without fighting the music like that.”
    But ya know, after reading your post, I’m thinking they’re not fighting it at all, they just plain don’t hear it.
    But how? How can you not hear it?! That music is opinionated to the point of heavy-handedness!
    As is a lot of ballet music, come to think of it.
    Weird.

    • roriroars says:

      “That music is opinionated to the point of heavy-handedness.” Yes! Best line ever!

      Seriously, ballet music is pretty damned clear. I own a fair amount from teaching, and hell, a lot of the time you can tell which exercise you are supposed to do just from hearing the music. There’s the frappé music, the rond de jambe music. Pretty damned clear. To me. Apparently not to everyone.

  3. thepimwithacapitalt says:

    I have the musicality of a dead duck, seriously, and sometimes finding the beat is completely and utterly beyond me. Accent in? Accent out? I am totally lost sometimes. In my head I count like mad until I get confused and then lost and then ARGH! So that said, I like it when my teachers use the same music class in,class out because there’s a teeny tiny chance I’m going to be able to find the beat and actually be a vague semblance of in time with the music rather than just crossing everything and hoping for the best!

    On a slightly related tangent, a couple of years ago I went to a masterclass at the Royal Opera House – Yuhui Choe & Ricardo Cevera being coached in Rubies – and there was a bit of a Q&A after. One of the questions was on how they both hear the music, turns out Yuhui prefers to ‘feel’ the music and just ‘kind of knows’ where the counts are whereas Ric was very much a counter. /random anecdote 😉

    • roriroars says:

      Ah, poor dead duck! Good point on repeating music for multiple classes, though. I used to do that and I think that it does help to get people to hear the beats a bit better. To be fair to my classmates, we do have some funky music in the rotation where the counts aren’t always clear.

      And yeah, I’m actually more of a “just kind of know” girl, I think because I’ve internalized counting so much that it goes on in my subconscious. Good thing, ’cause my consciousness has enough to deal with! 😉

  4. Eeva says:

    I have to admit that… I SO feel your pain!!! 😀 As I am a musician by profession (flute is my instrument), I’ve been counting stuff forever. As a child & teenager our ballet-Madame gave us always strict countings and demonstrations, there just was no option of being wrong. But now, as an adult with the other adults (and those of even grandma-age), it’s very different… At the moment I’ve got classes with 3-4 different teachers and only one of them shows her routines with this “strict” counting. And I find it Very Annoying when the others aren’t always so accurate, because then us dancers aren’t (except me, haha…) and the others, they Never Ask if the counting isn’t clear to them. I do, I ask (and then feel a bit stupid, when the others don’t seem to care). Actually what I ask usually is: do we start with off or on beat? I think it is quite a relevant point to know… 😛

    About feeling music… I love playing it, but also love dancing to it. I need to know the basics (well, counting a little ;)) and after that – it’s all feeling and imagining and so on… ❤

    • roriroars says:

      I have had the same experience as an adult. I did take one class when I was travelling on business where the teacher was very focused on counts and moving to the music (not against it). I wish I lived there so I could take more classes with him!

      And yes, totally agree on the feeling, imagining, etc. Once you know the music it’s fun to lose yourself in it and give way to the artist within! 🙂

  5. Kaija says:

    Another child musician (piano) and band/orchestra geek (trumpet and euphonium) here…I also just know the structure of the music and where the beat is and it drives me nuts when people are off of it! I’m grateful now for those stupid piano lessons (practicing under the watchful eye of my mother and an egg timer) and the uncool euphonium parts that were mostly countermelody so that now I can follow any string in the music and not just the melody 🙂 I can also improvise sung harmony with just about any song without much effort, which amazes and mortifies my friends…tons of useless knowledge stuffed somewhere in my head…

    I’m sorry to hear that your music history class turned you off of music as a major. 😦 I had just the opposite experience with a wonderful music history/musicology professor who opened up a whole new world of tying together world, music, and art history in an intriguing way. I ended up taking a sequence of musicology classes as a result, which involved having more than one protracting struggle session with my undergrad advising office that pushed “electives” like economics for the science and engineering majors. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten 64,000 time more out of musicology in the years since university than I ever would have out of Econ 101!

    Hooray for music and dance 🙂

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