Jane Lennard Suff
An interview with Jane Lennard Suff of the Royal Swedish Ballet.
Jane Lennard Suff has been a rehearsal pianist at the Royal Swedish Ballet since 1994. In this interview, she tells us more about the role: the highs, the lows, and how she got there. Jane’s first job in ballet was at the RAD: she and RAD Music Administrator Martin Cleave both joined at the same time from the Royal College of Music.
How did you get into playing ballet for the first time?
After my degree in music I completed a postgraduate year in piano accompaniment. At this stage I was most interested in working with singers and had no experience whatsoever playing for ballet. However, the advertisement for a full-time post as ballet accompanist at the RAD on my college noticeboard aroused my curiosity. I applied and was offered the job!
What’s your current role, and how long have you been there?
I have been a rehearsal pianist at Royal Swedish Ballet since 1994 and head pianist since 2008.
How difficult was it for you to make the transition into playing for a company? What new skills or knowledge did you have to acquire?
My three years at the RAD and a further three years freelancing in ballet schools in Stockholm gave me an excellent grounding in balletic terminology. As a company pianist playing for repertoire I had to prepare scores quickly and efficiently – wherever possible listening carefully to recordings and studying DVDs. Working with a metronome helped me to combat tendencies to rush or slow down and to avoid ‘over-pianistic’ playing. With experience one learns just how far one can help the dancers without compromising the integrity of the music or irritating the conductor!
What do you enjoy most about your current job?
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is following a production all the way from start to finish. I also enjoy playing for stage run-throughs with the conductor; though these can be nerve-racking too.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve been asked to do in any part of your career?
In my second year with the company I was suddenly required to play a run-through of a symphonic work with singers (Das Lied von der Erde, music by Mahler, choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan) and an internationally renowned Mahler conductor. I had been playing an arrangement of the piano score and incorporating the voice parts in rehearsals, while the singers were prepared by one of the opera pianists. He fell in on the day of the run-through and I was thrown in the deep end.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into playing for ballet as a career?
Expect it to take up to five years before you start to feel really secure in what you are doing. Take time to learn from your mistakes and from more experienced colleagues. In time you will learn to filter the dancers’ comments and translate what they really mean when they feel something is ‘too fast’ or ‘too slow’. If you are willing to work hard to understand their world as well as your own you will gain their respect and affection.
What advice would you give to a teacher who is trying to find a pianist to play for classes?
Word of mouth recommendation is always useful. You can contact RAD headquarters for their list of (UK) pianists. It will take time and considerable effort for an inexperienced pianist to learn how to play for a school so be patient.
What’s your favourite dance score to play, and why?
I think my absolute favourite score must be Romeo and Juliet. The music has such an incredible emotional depth and lies beautifully under the fingers.