Online Journal
Ros Holgate

Ros Holgate, Head of Music at the Northern Ballet School, talks to about her career.

  Had you always planned a career in music?
  Yes, from being a small child I knew I always wanted to be involved with music.

  Who influenced you and why?
  My greatest influence from a teacher was probably from Shirley Blakey who taught me when I was a Junior Exhbitioner at the Royal Manchester College of music and later at the RNCM. She introduced me to the music of Debussy and I have loved playing and listening to his music ever since. In fact I judge any piano I come across by the 'ping' factor; if you can make Debussy sound okay on the instrument then most things will. Similarly a great musician to me is one who can make the music of Debussy and Ravel sound magical. One such person was Colin Horsley who taught me as student.

  What do you think shaped your musical tastes and what drew you to the world of dance?
  read My musical tastes, like most people‚Äôs, were probably shaped by personal experience. A dance accompanist is expected to play a wide variety of styles and types of music and hopefully one never stops adding to the collection. I was drawn to the world of dance rather by chance! Whilst in my final year at the RNCM I saw an advert for company pianist with Northern Ballet Theatre. I went along for an audition, mostly for the experience, never dreaming that my ability to improvise would get me the job! Working with NBT was a 'baptism of fire' as I knew nothing at all about ballet. I had to play for company classes, rehearsals and performances on tour around the country as those days they didn't have an orchestra. There had to be a very steep learning curve.

  How did your musical education prepare you for your profession?
  Only partly. Obviously my training at the RNCM was second to none; I trained as an accompanist, but dance accompaniment is something different and has to be learnt on the job. It is an entirely different skill to that of accompanying singers and instrumentalists, requiring a knowledge of all forms of dance and a feel for movement. Sight-reading, a vital skill to any accompanist, might be developed in colleges but the skill of improvisation is not taught as fully. I may be standing on a soap box, but I feel strongly that the profession I am in is undervalued generally. Many see a ballet pianist as little more than someone who plays for small children in a draughty church hall; there is so much more to it than that. I have heard and seen some excellent pianists flounder when confronted with a 'free' ballet class, since no music is provided and the pianist must follow the dance instructor's commmands: it is a very difficult task.

  What do you feel is the most exciting aspect of your professional life?
  Most dance classes are improvised and unrehearsed by the musician so there is scope for a fair bit of artistic freedom. Therefore a certain amount of 'frisson' can be felt at the beginning of class particularly with an unknown teacher. Of course, for any performer, the most exciting aspect of my job is when the opportunity to play in public arises, either at an open class or in the theatre accompanying the dancers.

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