David Mead on Serendipity by Arshak Sirunyan
There are hundreds of commercial CDs and ballet music anthologies out there designed explicitly to accompany ballet classes. Most of them go down the now traditional solo piano route, although a few combine piano and strings. And why not? After all, there was a time when a solo violinist was the musician of choice in the studio.
All teachers and many students have their musical preferences too. I’m one of those who reels back from ballet repertoire and well-known classical concert works preferring Broadway, West End or film musical tunes, maybe some pop and jazz (if you can manage a dash of syncopation, even better). Anything, in fact, that’s a little bit different and puts smiles on faces. I also like music that’s occasionally challenging, at the right level of course, and makes students listen as well as do.
Arshak Sirunyan’s new class CD, Serendipity, certainly falls into the ‘different’ category. Shifting away from the traditional accompaniment, his 27 newly composed tracks bring together piano, solo cello, and symphonic strings. At times it sounds like, and could easily be used as, a contemporary class CD.
Serendipity is subtitled A Ballet Masterclass, and it is definitely music for the more experienced students. It will also challenge teachers too. At first, some tracks sound tricky and easy to get lost in. In particular found I had to check the CD sleeve now and again to be sure of the time signature. But bear with it, it will grow on you. When I did a barre to it, though, a funny thing happened. Sure, one or two of the introductions were still problematic, but suddenly the music demanded that you move to it, and move in time to it.
This may be a ballet class CD, but there is the sense that the music has been put together by someone with one eye beyond the studio. Indeed, Sirunyan, Senior Pianist at Maryland Youth Ballet and a contemporary jazz composer with three albums to his name, admits as much. A personal favorite is the center adagio, titled 1915, which is intensely moving and really does suggest the pain of war.
There are thirteen tracks for the barre, plus a stretch (meaning you don’t have to steal one of the adages), followed by twelve for the center, and a reverence. They’re not repeated, although they are generally about the right length. At the barre, many are long enough for both sides anyway, and the center selections allow several groups of dancers to move without running out of music. The tempi are generally appropriate for experienced intermediate and above dancers, although I thought the first pirouette exercise in particular rather heavy and downbeat. And although I love 1915 as a piece of incredibly expressive music, I find it painfully slow, even for an adage. Ten out of ten for the short codas that end most selections, though, allowing time for a balance or other stillness at the end of an exercise.
I still think some of the introductions are written in a way that makes it difficult for dancers to know when to begin, and there are also times when the music gets into a gentle never-ending flow. Luxurious, yes, but it’s nice to have a clear signpost here and there. On the other hand, that does make you listen, and the nature of the music makes it easy to use alternative tracks for exercises if something’s not quite to your taste.
If you’re a traditionalist, and prefer class to piano reductions of Swan Lake or whatever, Serendipity is not the CD for you. But if you like something different and to give dancers a bit of a challenge musically as well as in the steps, even if only from time to time, it’s a useful addition to your music collection.
Serendipity is released on September 7, 2015, price $25. An mp3 version will be available in October.
See www.arshaksirunyan.com for details and samples.