Page-turners vs iPads

24th May 2013 | Concerts, Musings | 4 comments

Since my last post, I’ve heard from a number of fellow pianists who don’t play from memory because they specialise in song recitals or chamber music, and have a vast and ever-changing repertoire. They point out that one good reason to experiment with playing from an iPad is that one could dispense with the services of a page-turner.

Pianists who play from the music have always been in a curious situation, because either they have to turn the pages themselves, thus possibly missing out a few notes at the end of every other page, or they have to have someone – often a stranger – sitting beside them to turn their pages  for them. It is actually quite an odd experience to have someone at your left elbow throughout the concert, standing up each time a page needs to be turned, leaning across in front of you to turn the page, and sitting down again (hopefully without creaking the chair). This movement occurs in the pianist’s peripheral vision every minute or two during the concert, and is often etched into the memory.

Many page-turners are incredibly skilful at being quick, quiet and accurate in their movements, and lots of them go beyond the call of duty in being supportive and kind as well, but all the same it’s a strange situation. Other instrumentalists don’t need page-turners, or not nearly so much, because they play single lines and their parts have far fewer pages. They also usually have more bars of rest where they can turn their own pages. But pianists are often playing continuously, from scores with forty or fifty pages. Let’s say there are three such works in the evening: that means their page-turner will have to stand up, turn the page and sit down again about 70 times. Bobbing up and down, page-turners are a major visual ingredient of a concert, and sometimes audiences get quite mesmerised by the sight of them. So I can see why the iPad may offer a tempting alternative.


  1. Gareth Greenslade

    Your views on memorising piano music are right on the money! My worst moments have all been the result of failed attempts to memorise music, starting with a total freeze in front of 1,000 people at a school speech day at the age of 14. The Haydn stopped abruptly at the end of a run and I just could not think of how to get it going again. One cannot think that such an experience is a positive one!

    Interestingly, I find that I can play quite happily with the score in front of me, without actually looking at it very closely; something of the security blanket here perhaps?

    Meanwhile, I have just seen a young organist called Nathan Laube play a complete recital wonderfully without music, so the bug is obviously catching…

  2. peter

    In May 2011 at the Royal Festival Hall I saw Lang Lang, Vadim Repin and Mischa Maisky play Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio #1 in D minor. At one point, Lang Lang had an altercation with the page-turner, with the pianist turning back a page that the page-turner had already turned forward, apparently prematurely.

  3. James B

    Oh this post brought back to me the joys of page turning when I was a student at university! Actually it was a wonderful experience. Over four years I turned the pages for most of the piano quartet repertoire, plus Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and quite a lot of the piano duo repertoire. My first ‘job’ was with the Dvorak E flat Quartet, which lead me to Domus, which lead me to first hear Susan Tomes.

    Actually, I only had one mess up. The name of the piece is bleached from my memory but it was very contemporary – about 10 minutes played ‘grave’ (two pages) followed by 10 minutes of wrenching chords played presto, all in a hand written score (about thirty pages, A2 sized paper!)

    I managed to get through Stravinsky’s Concerto for Two Solo pianos without a mix up but the other girl turning pages wasn’t so lucky. She ran off stage after making about five mistakes. The last I heard of her she was washing dishes at the local Little Chef…

    • Susan Tomes

      Lovely to hear those reminiscences, James!


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