Why do pianists get somebody to turn the page for them?
April 24, 2015 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What about for violinists, clarinetists, and stuff like that? Is it because, since they're basically playing one note at a time, they're expected to memorize the entire score, unlike the pianist? Why don't you ever see somebody turning a page for a violinist?
posted by Opengreen to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In an orchestral setting, strings and many of the other instruments have stand partners who can turn pages without causing a significant impact on the sound, even if they're missing part of a measure.

In general, pianists generally have fewer rests in which they have a free hand to turn the page - they're often responsible for a bass line and a melody line. Parts for instruments like the violin have more rests.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:51 AM on April 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Violinists do memorize more often than other instruments. It's not as required for winds, for whatever reason (tradition?). Sometimes wind players will cut and paste a score so that it all fits on one stand, especially, since, as you note, they are usually only playing with one clef, and their sheet music is already more compact than that of a pianist.
posted by Malla at 10:51 AM on April 24, 2015

I have been a page turner many times for a pianist only, at Carnegie Hall. Most pianists can turn their own pages, but they play an awful lot better when they don't have that extra thing to think about.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:52 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Why do we even use printed music at all anymore?

Why not a tablet where the music scrolls forward at the proper pace?
posted by Oktober at 10:52 AM on April 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

They exist. I think people are afraid that the battery will suddenly wig out or something, but I've seen a few people use them in smaller groups.

And yeah, what Salvor Hardin said. When 10 violinists are playing the same part, it's ok when one of them skips a beat or two to turn the page. Not the case for a solo pianist.
posted by Melismata at 10:57 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Piano scores typically have two clefs, as opposed to a violin score's single clef. So, if nothing else, the pianist will have to the page twice as often.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:57 AM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

When 10 violinists are playing the same part, it's ok when one of them skips a beat or two to turn the page. Not the case for a solo pianist.

Will there be multiple versions of the score with different page breaks for the same part? Otherwise all 10 violinists would have to turn at the same time!
posted by moonmilk at 10:58 AM on April 24, 2015

Scores are also written out and spaced so that page turns happen during a measure or two of rest if at all possible. You don't notice most page turns in an orchestra for this reason.

For solo pianists not playing with an orchestra, or pianos accompanying a choir or something, it just doesn't happen that often.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:04 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

From what I've seen in professional orchestras, they all turn the page at slightly different times. They memorize different amounts, I guess. How they coordinate that so perfectly I have no idea. That's why they're professional, and I'm not.
posted by Melismata at 11:10 AM on April 24, 2015

Will there be multiple versions of the score with different page breaks for the same part? Otherwise all 10 violinists would have to turn at the same time!

They *will* have to turn at the same time, but it will be during the five-measure tuba solo!

I stand behind orchestras a lot (choral singer) and most of the keyboard players have to turn their own pages, the same as anyone else. But I'm talking about keyboard players playing along with an orchestra, not, like, a solo keyboard player in front of the orchestra. A rhythm pianist or someone playing continuo harpsichord/organ generally has to turn his/her own pages.

A solo piano generally needs someone to turn pages for them because they don't have breaks; a "solo" violinist or oboist or whatever probably has a piano accompaniment and turns his/her own pages during a piano break.

Also I think piano music is usually printed on smaller paper than orchestral sheet music, so even leaving aside the question of having twice as many staves to the music, you still can't fit as many measures of music on the page. *And* there are spacing issues with piano music that you don't get with single-part music, which also make piano sheet music "longer."
posted by mskyle at 11:12 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Usually, string players have a stand partner who reads from the same music as them. Only one of the two needs to stop playing to turn the page. Usually, you memorize a few bars before and after the page turn so that you don't have to stop while your partner is turning. People also stagger when you turn the page so maybe two stands turn here, one turns the page here, and so on. Since everyone is playing the same music, you don't really miss much, and page turning only take a few seconds so there's not a significant detriment to the overall sound.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:18 AM on April 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was the designated page turner for my stand (2nd violin) in the community orchestra I used to play with. Good sheet music would try to put the rests in places that gave you enough time to turn the page, or would confine a movement to one page or something. Other times I was definitely pausing to turn while my stand partner continued playing.
posted by fanta_orange at 11:37 AM on April 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Professional concert pianists most of the time play from memory and need no page turner.

For the pianist in chamber music: it really depends on the piece and the player's preparedness to fix up her/his score by means of extra flaps, photocopies and scribbled-in cues. In most of the repertoire, you're required to play bucketsful of notes and there are scarcely any rests to allow for any sane and safe page turns. Instead of adding more stress to the already stressful stage-nerve-combo, most players prefer a page turner (I usually don't because I'm uncomfortable with someone near me on stage but sometimes you simply can't do without).
posted by Namlit at 12:03 PM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Where I've mostly seen page turners is for accompanists. Not only do you have the two staves for the piano, but an additional staff at LEAST for the solo instrument, more for choir. You can fit fifty measures of solo violin music on a page, but I've performed choral works where each page only had three measures of music. There's no way a pianist can turn their own pages under those circumstances.
posted by KathrynT at 12:24 PM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pianists are soloists unless they are accompanying a symphony or are part of a band. When you are in a violin section you have a stand partner and the rest of the section playing the same part as you. If you miss a note as you're playing the rest of the section fills you in. If you are a flutist and you're the only one playing your particular part, the loss of a few moments is not noticeable if the entire orchestra is surrounding you.

The vast majority of virtuoso concert pianists memorize the entire pieces, including lengthier ones. In less formal settings, there is a page turner because if the piano part stopped for 4 seconds it would be very noticeable.

Virtuoso soloists who play other instruments (clarinet, tuba, violin, whatever) would typically memorize their solos. And if not, they would have a page turner. (Or have all pages of their solo spread out on their stand so page turning was not required.)
posted by mermily at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2015

Re. tablets: there are a bunch of apps for music with nifty page turning and annotation functions, so yes, the world is definitely changing when it comes to that. I have seen recitals on the clavichord (!) where someone used an iPad. It's especially practical when you're traveling and want to avoid hauling all your music books for a recital along with you.
posted by Namlit at 12:58 PM on April 24, 2015

I have on occasion seen page turners for professional solo violinists in concert.
posted by stray at 9:58 PM on April 24, 2015

Best answer: I studied piano up to conservatory level (was originally a piano performance major).

Pro-level solo pianists memorize their pieces. I can still play pieces I memorized 20 years ago. Here's our little secret, though: sometimes we forget bits and improvise until the rest comes back. (You practically have to be a pro-level musician yourself in order to recognize these improvised bits as an audience member.)

If a pianist doesn't have time to memorize a piece, then come the page-turners. As others have said, we use both hands, both staffs, a third when accompanying. Plus, when accompanying, we're not the ones leading the music, we're truly accompanying – we follow the soloist's/chamber's lead. As an aside, this leads to some pretty neat, measurable effects in how pianists use their brains (PDF, here's one journalist's take on the study). It's different from any other instrument.

We definitely need a page-turner when accompanying and as a soloist if we haven't had time to memorize. Accompanists can also memorize, I did it often, it's so much easier to follow when you have the piece in your mind. And as another aside, it's not only in your mind, it's in your hands and body as well. I wouldn't be able to rewrite the Bartók or Beethoven pieces I've memorized, but put me in front of a piano, remind me of the first few bars, and the rest comes as if my body knew it by heart, because in a very real way, it does. All the professors I had emphasized practicing memorized pieces with my eyes closed and "learning my body" as I played. Scale and chord exercises also teach you to know where your fingers are and what they're doing at any time. Memorize your scales and chords, know which piece you're playing (thus its key and thus many of its scale-based bits and chords), and you're already halfway there. This frees up a lot of mindpower that can be used for interpretation and accompanying.

As for other instruments, yeah, most are doubled-up in ensembles, only one staff is used, and sheet music is, ideally, arranged so that rests are around page turns. Only having one staff is in itself a pretty huge benefit though. I also played baritone saxophone in classical and jazz ensembles, and so was on my own, but my sheet music was rarely more than 3 pages. I could copy the second page – if it wasn't printed to fold out flat – and fit it all on my stand, never needing to turn it. Otherwise, yeah, you memorize parts around the page turns; it's not too hard, again, since you only have one note to play at a time. Unless you're doing a contemporary piece with overtones or fancy fingering, but well.
posted by fraula at 5:52 AM on April 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

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