To celebrate the Assumption of Mary at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, Oregon, our pastor, Father Dave Gutmann, requested Schubert's "Ave Maria" at the Preparation of the Gifts, sung by Mark Nieves, our cantor and Director of Music Ministry. I enjoy playing the classics but the only arrangement I could find was an old choral octavo with eight pages. Yes, this meant I had to turn the pages several times while playing a piece that requires much concentration. Mark sang beautifully, as always. Hopefully, my page turning wasn't a distraction.
After each liturgy, several people came up to me and asked how I turn my own pages so effortlessly. I wrote a blog about this very topic on spiritandsong.com in 2008, but it somehow got lost. So here is an encore posting.
It’s a skill that every liturgical pianist must eventually master: turning sheet music pages while playing. And I don’t mean by using a friend or assistant to turn the pages for you. I also don’t mean xeroxing all the pages of a song and spreading them across the piano music stand. That’s cheating and, besides, we’re not supposed to be xeroxing copyrighted music without proper permission from the songwriter or publisher.
Just the other week, we sang the song "Jesus Christ, You Are My Life" at my parish liturgy. Everyone who has played this song knows that there are two nasty page turns to this Communion Song classic. Check it out at Spirit & Song-2, #349. You have to turn the page in the middle of the verse, then turn it straight back to play the refrain, over and over again. Flip! Flip! Flip! Arrgh!
I’m not usually one to brag, but turning pages is a musical skill of which I am most proud. Believe me, it took years, and I mean years, to master the technique. My choirs often remark how effortlessly I seem to do this, and I am the envy of the younger musicians that I mentor. “What’s your secret?” they often ask me.
Here, at long last, is the Ken Canedo Page Turning Method (patent pending) . . .
1. If using loose-leaf sheet music or octavos, utilize a hole-puncher and insert them into a standard three-ring binder. This will ensure that the flipped pages won’t go flying off into the baptismal font. If using the Spirit & Song Guitar/Assembly edition, be sure to use the spirial-bound version, not the perfect-bound.
2. Don’t be afraid to dog-ear the corners of the pages. This is essential to effective page turning. “But the sheet music will get worn out,” some musicians might protest. So? It’s your music, and sheet music is supposed to serve you in your performance, not the other way around.
3. At the last measure before the page-turn, I sometimes pencil in the next chord that I will play on the following page. This is a technique that I borrowed from Gregorian chant notation, which utilizes this handy preview feature before every page-turn.
4. Practice the song! Yes, even after decades of playing music in church, I still practice, even the old favorites. The more you know the song, the less distracting it will be to turn the page. Practice also the act of playing and turning, without skipping a beat. How is this done? You have two hands, right? Continue playing the song with your right hand and turn the page with your left — or vice versa. Simple as that.
“But won’t the music suffer from the lack of one hand?” you might ask. Not really. Think about it. You’re usually playing with an ensemble, or with a choir or cantor, or with the assembly singing, right? They will carry the song while you let go of one hand to turn the page. Then you just continue as if nothing happened.
That’s it! After a while you will get good at this and start turning pages with your own little flourish. I have actually refined the technique so the page is turned in time to the music. No lie! This sometimes makes my musician friends laugh. Hey, we’re one of the few groups of people who get to “play” for a living!
Successful page turning will help you win friends, influence people and get you a stint on “Stupid Human Tricks” on The Late Show with David Letterman. Only kidding! But it will help you become a better pastoral musician as you give the glory and the honor to the Lord.
And now, here is a funny video on piano page turning, featuring the late, great comedian-pianist, Victor Borge.