Panto Time (Oh no it isn’t!)
This winter I have mainly been working hard with a local community pantomime! And no before you ask I wasn’t the back-end of a horse!
I’ve been working with a local group since September as their accompanist and this was the first time I’d been asked to play piano for a production (sax / woodwind previously).
The rehearsals were as fun as lively as you’d expect for a panto. Lots of chopping and changing to keep me on my toes and transposing at sight to keep the brain sharp. And I was pleased the week before the show to finally get the last two missing songs and finally decide what key the finale was going to be sung in! (pesky singers!!)
Despite being full of the worst cold I’ve had for a long time and physically feeling absolutely terrible (there really isn’t anything worse that feeling so unwell that you need to go to bed, but know that there’s a whole cast relying on you so you can’t!) it really was a great experience.
What got me thinking about writing about this post was a comment a fellow tutor gave about accompanists the week after the show. We were discussing upcoming exams and booking rehearsal times. My colleague mentioned that they were having to use a different pianist as their usual go to player had recently started playing more at church services and pantos… so they felt that they’d dropped their standards. Now this might be unfair on them commenting on it – but it did get me thinking.
I’m not going to get in to the whole classical vs jazz/popular music debate on which is more technically demanding, because actually I believe all genres of music offer their own demands on a performer. And playing music for a local am-dram group couldn’t be any less demanding. But it is viewed as an ‘easy job’.
But here’s why playing for a local group is actually pretty serious work:
For our show I was accompanying 20 songs – with a broad range of styles from typical pop chart hits, through to well know classical hits for some of the funny dance scenes. So mentally and physically it was requiring a lot of change to how I played.
There would also often be a case of in rehearsals of being asked to try things faster, slower, add a few extra bars, or cut some out to make it fit, or just even randomly transpose it at sight to try it at a different pitch for the chorus. And the whole…. Can you play this song please…. *insert quick google for the chords* … and off we go.
Unlike other accompanying work – you also have a longer run of performances. Ours ran from a Technical rehearsal and full rehearsal on Sunday, dress rehearsal Monday then shows Tuesday to Saturday, including a matinee. So that’s a long run physically, especially when one Kyle song is 3 minutes of octave alterations for the bass line (my poor aching wrist!). It’s also a longer run mentally. It’s not like other concerts where you’re just waiting for a soloist to prepare themselves and start. With performers on a panto there’s always the chance of cues being missed, forgotten or replaced. So there’s less time to relax in between pieces. I think I must have read through the script every single night!
There’s also that extra degree of performance uncertainty. Will the Dame remember to sing the verses and chorus’ in the right order, usually the answer was no. So each night a different order, a different vibe and a different audience reaction. Will the singers suddenly forget the tune and will it need covering, or will they randomly start in a different key. All of this you tend to find less in more ‘serious’ accompanying work. I suppose you could argue that other situations *might* be more professional so it’s less likely… but as someone who’s worked in both fields I can safely say I found it as a different sort of challenge.
So is playing things like am dram and panto shows ‘easy’…. Nope. Is it less ‘serious’… yes. But in a good way!
Here’s to the next show run!
p.s. Congrats to the cast members that have been nominated a Cinderella Award later this month!
p.p.s Thanks to everyone else for their amazing hard work to make it a really slick show!