Turning pages for Spoleto musicians is a job that's more demanding than it looks
When clarinetist Todd Palmer's sheet music fell off its stand mid-performance during Tuesday morning's chamber music concert, Jodie Rottle assessed the situation. As the page turner for Spoleto's Chamber Music Series, she was sitting to the left of pianist Stephen Prutsman, and considered retrieving the music, but decided not to.
“I could see that it was the last page, but I didn't want to disrupt the performance,” Rottle said. “I looked at Stephen's score and saw that Todd had a fermata (a pause) coming up, and I thought, 'If he doesn't get it then I'll get it.' But he did.”
Prutsman's pet peeves
Qualities pianist Stephen Prutsman doesn't like in a page turner:
Turning the page too late
Turners that sit too close to the pianist
Trying to turn pages from a sitting position
Bad smells (and good smells, which are distracting)
Classical music conventions have taught the audience to ignore the page turner, but Rottle's job is essential to a successful performance. As a flutist, she understands the logistical aspects of playing on stage and uses her musical knowledge to her advantage.
Rottle, a graduate student in contemporary performance at the Manhattan School of Music, takes flute lessons from Tara Helen O'Connor, one of the core musicians in the Chamber Music Series. O'Connor has taught Rottle for two years and recommended her because of her reliability, intuition and musicianship.
“We feel very respectful and lucky to have her,” O'Connor said. “It's a big team, and without any single element, nothing would happen. As a performer, when you walk into a place where everything is in place because of a lot of people who care, you're very grateful.”
She's not on stage at the whim of O'Connor, though; she is an official part of the Spoleto Festival performance team, collecting a check like everyone else, according to General Director Nigel Redden.
Originally from the West Coast, Rottle is co-directing a chamber music festival in San Jose to expose area youth to this genre, a commitment she made before agreeing to turn pages at Spoleto. The production experience gained in Charleston will help her when she arrives in California at the end of June.
A great deal of instinct and intellect are necessary to be a good page turner, which Rottle exhibited Tuesday morning. She must be aware of everything happening on stage, her proximity to the pianist, her squeaky chair, and making sure not to turn a page during a particularly soft and lyrical part of the music. And she must learn the demands of different pianists, of which this series has three.
“Pedja Muzijevic likes the page to be turned at least two or three measures before he reaches the end of the page,” Rottle said. “Stephen Prutsman likes it right on the mark, and Inon Barnatan doesn't care because he never looks at the music anyway.”
Prutsman said the page turner must remain tuned in to the subtleties of stagecraft.
“Page-turning can be tricky,” he said. “The turners have to wait for 'the nod.' But how do they know whether it's a nod or I'm emoting? In today's performance — my first with Jodie — she did a great job.”
At first, Rottle was anxious about handling logistics during the performance.
“The first day I did it,” she said, “I was nervous because I didn't want to mess anything up, but then it was thrilling. It's the best seat in the house. A page stuck a couple days ago, and I had to lick my fingers to get them apart. I was worried that I might throw off the performance, but they already know the piece. They think so quickly on their feet, and they make up for any mistake I could make.”
In addition to facilitating the festival, Rottle is learning a lot as a musician.
“You get to see everything that happens,” she said. “It's nice to be sitting in a situation where I would normally be playing. I can hear so many other things, like the blending of the instruments, and how people play together. I can sit outside of that, and think, 'Wow, this is how I would like to do it if I should ever become a chamber musician.'”
Leah Harrison is a Newhouse School graduate student.