Dear Mr. Alice:
Why does the pianist have someone to turn pages of music when they perform? I'd think a cellist or trombonist would be in greater need of this help.
-- FEH, San Diego
Compared to cellists or trombonists, concert pianists are busy, busy bees. They're whamming away at the keyboard, playing whole chords, while flutes and oboes cruise along playing a single note at a time. This means the printed score for the piano has a lot more of those funny little black spots crammed onto one page than does the average clarinet score. And odds are that in a piece such as a piano concerto, certain other instruments are going to be sitting out for minutes at a time with nothing at all to play while the pianist is still wailing away.
As a result, scores for non-keyboard players are more compact and contain frequent rests, perfect opportunities for our cellist or trombonist to flip the page of the score and probably make out tomorrows shopping list and maybe pay a few bills too. Music publishers make every effort to end a page at a rest, eliminating the need for someone to ride musical shotgun. (This applies to the piano, too, when it is not a featured instrument.) Anyway, the crowd created by individual page turners for each instrument would transform a concert into a sort of onstage brawl. Consider ll the flying elbows in the string section alone. They'd need paramedics standing by to haul off the unconscious.
I some cases, though, a mid-passage page turn is unavoidable. Ad here's where concertizing becomes a team sport. Most instruments in an orchestra are paired, and one of the two musicians will be the designated page turner. At the appropriate time, the turner will stop playing, lunge forward and flip the sheet, then return to the music as if nothing had happened. The overall sound of the orchestra isn't noticeably affected by this brief time-out in one section. In small ensembles, where this buddy system won't work, the printed score must end at a rest or at least at a passage where a note is sustained. There's a chance that a clarinetist can hold a note with one hand and turn the page with the other.