Saving the Ballet Pianist Skill

Thursday November 4th 2021

Launched as a pilot scheme in September 2017, Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and Elmhurst Ballet School’s 'Placement for Pianists Programme' inspires music students to experience the working life of a professional ballet pianist. Due to overwhelming interest and many participants securing work in the dance sector, the programme continues to go from strength to strength, now celebrating its fifth cohort of budding ballet pianists.

The programme provides a very rare opportunity for music students to explore the highly specialised artistry and technique of ballet pianism during mentoring, observational and practical sessions with pianists working full-time at Elmhurst.

Since 2017, participants have hailed from the UK, China, Oman, Romania, Singapore and Taiwan and there have been many successes with alumni of the programme taking on full-time positions at Elmhurst and other dance organisations.

Programme alumni still connected to Elmhurst include: Stephen Crewes, a full-time pianist at the school; Yen Lee, a full-time pianist at the school; Bogdán Suciu, a cover pianist at the school and a regular pianist at BRB’s Dance Track, a talent identification programme aimed at training young dancers aged from six to eight; Chia-Yuan Kuo, a cover pianist at the school, a regular pianist at BRB’s Dance Track, and Elmhurst’s Young Dancers’ Programme (weekend classes for younger children in preparation for full-time vocational training); and Yijiao Feng, now a full time pianist at Hammond, and Elmhurst’s Young Dancers’ Programme.

In a joint statement, Luan Shaw, RBC Interim Vice-Principal (Learning and Teaching), and Katharine Lam, RBC Senior Lecturer in Piano, said: “It has been a privilege to see how our Ballet Piano collaboration with Elmhurst has developed since its inception in 2017. For many RBC pianists who are training at an advanced and intensive level in performance, ballet piano is an exciting but hitherto, unknown world. 

It has been wonderful to observe our students and graduates growing in confidence and benefitting from the skilled mentoring and professional experience available in a learning environment such as Elmhurst. The large majority of participants selected for the placement scheme to date have progressed to fulfilling employment opportunities in the field.”

Bogdán Suciu, an alumnus of the programme who is now working in the ballet sector, said: "Joining the ballet pianist programme allowed me to enter a world I might not have had access to otherwise. I remember being so enthralled by the dance students during my first visit to Elmhurst. It has been very humbling to take part in this symbiotic coexistence between ballet dancers and musicians. The mixture of art forms allows our music to serve a higher purpose whilst playing our part in highlighting and saving the skill of ballet pianism."



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