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Turning Music Pages.


Do not fail to teach your pupils how to “turn over” the pages of music when there is no one handy to turn for them—that is, if you understand the art yourself. This may seem to be an exceedingly trivial detail at first glance, but I have seen many a good musician make bad breaks at the “turnings” just because he had not made a study of doing it skillfully.

It is, of course, preferable to have some one turn the music if he can do it correctly and skillfully; but too often the person who is asked to turn turns over two leaves at once; turns in the wrong place; or does not turn until too late, with disastrous results to the performance if the pianist does not know the music well enough to go on alone for a few measures until the music is set straight.

Every pianist who is obliged at times to play accompaniments in concerted pieces, for dramatic work, or even for solo work in public where it has to be done from music, should be prepared to turn his own music, so that he is not obliged to miss a single measure of the music. It is obvious that a singer or instrumental soloist in a public concert cannot make a series of involuntary holds (as he is so often obliged to do, when accompanied by amateurs in drawing-room performances), until the pianist gets his music turned over. Nor can the action of a dramatic composition wait on the turning of the music.

The first and most important thing for the pianist to do is to have the music in good shape for turning. He should turn up the lower corners so that they can be easily grasped, and he should also be careful to look all through the music to see that consecutive pages follow each other, and that none of the leaves are lost.

Many a bad break has been made by an accompanist’s coming to a jumping-off place in the music, where page 5 follows page 3 or page 11 is next to page 7. Such breaks are always disconcerting to the performers and annoying to the audience, which is always slow to catch on to what the trouble really is.

If the music has been brought to the concert-room in a music roll, rolled as tight as a fifty-cent Roman candle, it must be unrolled again and again until all the kinks are out of it, and it will lie perfectly straight on the piano-rack. If the music is of that “tattered and torn” variety which so many performers are fond of carrying, it should be stuck together with pins and made as straight as possible before it is played. I once knew a professional accompanist who made a regular business of accompanying professional performers of every description, who always carried a pocket repair kit, containing mucilage, paper, transparent tape, etc., with which to repair the much tattered accompaniments which were brought to him. He said that he frequently got parts that were so bad that they simply would not lie on the piano-rack without a vast amount of patching up.

The next and most important part of all that claims our attention is that of keeping the music going with one hand while the other hand turns the page, and this is where good musical judgment and wide experience stands the performer in stead. It is clear that no invariable rule can be laid down as to just what shall be played and what left out. Of course, if there happens to be rests in either hand just at the bottom of the page the matter is simple enough, as the hand which is free does the turning. If, however, both hands are occupied with important parts it is sometimes quite difficult to make the passage sound passably well with one hand. If an accompaniment to the voice or another instrument is being played the accompanist should play the most important part of the accompaniment at the turning point, no matter in which hand it happens to lie, leaving the other hand to turn. If the accompaniment at this point has the bass in one hand and the chords or arpeggios in the other, he must manage to play both the bass and the chords or arpeggios with the same hand, even if it is necessary to change or simplify the passage, at the same time preserving the characteristic harmony.

If in an accompaniment to a voice or instrument the left hand should contain all the harmony and the right hand counter-melodies the turning should be done with the right hand, the left hand playing the accompaniment meanwhile. There might be many exceptions to this rule, however, for in some cases the counter-melodies are of such importance in giving a passage its characteristic effect that to break their continuity even for a space of time sufficient to turn over would ruin the effect.

In many cases a skillful musician can so combine the passages of the right and the left hands, leaving but a part of each, that the turning will be scarcely noticed. It is plain that there is room in doing this for musical talent and knowledge of the highest order. The ideal musician would recognize at a glance the most important and characteristic parts in each hand and combine them for one hand as well as it could be done, while the turning was being done. Some of the best accompanists I have ever known would make it a point to always carefully examine the passages at the bottom of the pages which had to be turned, and mentally settle what they would do with each in the way of combining them, if possible, for one hand. Some of them are marvelously successful in this, and I have no doubt many of my readers have marveled at concerts where the accompanists turned their own music to see how neatly they got over the “turnings” without the slightest break’s being noticed. It is akin to the same remarkable talent which some eminent musicians have of putting an orchestral score on the desk of their piano and playing a creditable piano arrangement from it at sight. We can imagine nothing higher in the way of musical skill than this. The problem of the accompanist in arranging the work of two hands for one hand at the “turnings” is much simpler than this, but at the same time calls for the exercise of great musical skill.

The piano soloist should, of course, play from memory, but in case he is obliged to play from music from lack of sufficient preparation or other reason, he should try to have some experienced musician turn for him—one who can follow the music as he plays it, and turn at the proper time. If no one who can be trusted to turn properly is at hand, lie should study the “turnings” so that he can turn for himself, as nothing is more insufferable than to hear the continuity of a musical composition broken by continual stoppages.

Of course, the important point is to keep the continuity of the melody or subject unbroken while the turning is being done, consequently the hand which is playing the melody, whichever it is, must be kept at work while the other is turning. In the case of a musician of great talent he would combine the passages of the right and left hands so far as it would be possible to do so.

Outside of professional accompanists this matter of making good turnings is rarely given a thought even among fairly able musicians, while amateurs usually make a dead stop at the turning, claw wildly at the music with both hands, turn over two pages at once, turn back with splutter, and probably end with dropping the music on the floor.

One frequent mistake is to wait too long before turning. The best way is to stop playing with the hand which is to do the turning several measures before the end of the page, grasp the corner which has been previously turned up quietly, wait until the mind has grasped the passage which ends the page, and then turn over quietly and deftly, the eye lighting on the notes at the top of the next page and the music proceeding without a break.

Where one has to depend on some one to turn, it is best to arrange that the music shall be turned at the nod of the performer’s head, for very few people can be relied on to turn at precisely the right point.

A rapid sight-reader always reads a measure or so in advance of the notes his fingers are actually playing. Liszt is said to have been a phenomenon in this respect. A gentleman who once turned for him said he always gave the sign for turning at the beginning of a full stave of the music ending the page, showing that his mind had taken a mental photograph of six, eight, or even ten measures of music beyond what his fingers were actually playing.

In conclusion I would strongly advise pianists who have to stop to turn over their music, to practice the turnings on the “continuous performance” plan, and to teach their pupils to do it also.


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You are reading Turning Music Pages. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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