2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.
If you watch our Facebook Live streams, you'll most likely find Company Pianist/Digital Audio Editor Brian Prentice at the piano in the rehearsal room. He started working with Scottish Ballet's Education Department in 1993 and a year later began to work with the main Company playing for classes and rehearsals for the rehearsal period before a production, becoming full time in 2004.
We caught Brian as he was heading out on the Spring! tour, where he'll be conducting the onstage ragtime band in Elite Syncopations.
What’s it like performing on-stage with the dancers in Elite Syncopations?
It’s very refreshing to be on-stage with the dancers as you feel much more part of the performance. There’s certainly a lot to think about with having to play two pianos, lead the band and getting the right tempo for the dancers. However the latter is made a bit easier as you can see the dancers or at least feel their presence which is very inspiring. This, along with ‘feeding off' the energy of the audience always makes for a better performance, perhaps even ‘hamming’ it up at times.
'It certainly makes a change to be seen as well as heard!'
It does have added pressures however - from the heat and brightness of the stage lights to wearing very eccentric costumes - at least I don’t have to wear tight lycra like the dancers!
When did you start playing the piano?
I started playing piano at age 7 when I would pop into my grandparents house nearly every day to play their piano on the way home from primary school. My first tunes were ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Jingle Bells’. Right hand only of course!
How did you become a ballet pianist/what training did you do?
I passed all the usual piano grade exams during my school years and during this time I gained a lot of experience playing for various singers, amateur operatic groups, cabaret acts, rock/pop and ceilidh bands etc. In particular I had the privilege of playing for the singer/actress Terry Neason playing an eclectic range of music and song in theatres around the world. It was here I had the chance to develop my improvising skills and learned to perform under pressure which would prove to be very useful in the future. This continued as a sideline through my studies, firstly Physics and Music at Glasgow University and subsequently Electronics at Nottingham University with a view to working in the field of digital audio engineering and communications.
At the end of my studies an opportunity arose with the Scottish Ballet Education Team called ‘Steps Out’ as a musician working with dance animators in schools, for various community projects and occasionally in prisons too, around the UK and abroad! One of my first projects with them took me to Israel to a Cultural Centre in Nazareth to work with the local community group there as well as in a school for the deaf.
It wasn’t until I moved over to the main Company as class and rehearsal pianist that I really learned the skills of how to play for dance and in particular ballet. I learned the long and hard way working with numerous dance teachers and choreographers and learning from fellow dance musicians and conductors.
There were no formal courses at the time, and so this is one of the reasons Scottish Ballet now offers a degree course in Piano for Dance in conjunction with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This course fast-tracks students, giving them the necessary resources and skills preparing them for employment in any dance company.
What’s your favourite thing about working for the Company?
Scottish Ballet has required me to play music spanning a diverse range and variety of musical styles and genres throughout the years in rehearsal and performance, as soloist or as an orchestral musician all over the UK and abroad. The Company also promotes personal development and as such I’ve also been allowed to utilise my skills and interest in the realms of digital audio where I can go from programming keyboards to editing recorded music for a whole production.
However, the best thing is to be able to turn what started out as only a hobby into a job that you love and getting paid for it!
What’s your ‘get up and go’ song?
There are so many!!! The indie band The Boo Radleys with their single ‘Wake Up Boo’