By Raffi Wright
Eastman alumna Dr. Yoshiko Arahata ’11E, ’18E (DMA) is a pianist, educator, improviser, and composer. In addition to her many and varied musical collaborations, she has also developed expertise in dance accompaniment, performing with several dance companies in the Rochester area. Her new course The Pianist’s Guide to Dance Accompaniment was created specifically for Summer@Eastman; the course will be offered for the first time in Summer 2022 (in-person and online formats available). We are delighted to welcome Dr. Arahata to the Summer@Eastman family!
Summer@Eastman Marketing Assistant Raffi Wright talked with Dr. Arahata to learn more about her experiences playing for dancers and her hopes for the new course. Highlights from the interview are below:
RW: How did you become involved in dance accompaniment? What attracted you to this specialized field?
YA: While preparing for my DMA lecture recital at Eastman on the pedagogy of improvisation and creative music making, I received an email asking if I could play for the ballet classes at Nazareth College. I had no idea how or what to play for ballet classes then. But I’ve always wanted to make music with artists from other disciplines and engage in broader artistic collaborations. This also felt like the perfect time and opportunity for me to apply improvisation and composition in real-life situations. So, I started playing for the ballet classes starting from the day after my recital. Since then, I have also played for more ballet and modern dance classes at the University of Rochester, auditions for ballet camps, and have been closely collaborating with dancer and choreographer Mariah Steele of QuickSilver Dance.
One of the reasons I’m attracted to dance accompaniment is because it deepens musicianship for me as a classically trained pianist and growth as a collaborating artist. In addition to actively performing as a collaborative pianist and chamber musician, working with dancers as an improvisor has allowed me to create art with talented people from diverse disciplines.
RW: What can dancers learn from pianists and what can pianists learn from dancers?
YA: Great dancers have musicality to their movement. Pianists can learn to feel the music expressed in dancers’ movements. The music that pianists provide in turn has the potential to inspire a dancer’s movements and storytelling. Pianists can help dancers achieve this by really paying attention to the intended characteristics in the dance movement.
On the other hand, dancers’ movements can influence how pianists embody music. Dancers can learn to listen deeply to music and respond to musical characteristics and phrasing, which would help audience understand the story that’s being expressed. Rhythm is especially important in collaborations between dance and music. Both musicians and dancers can help each other perform better by providing clear intention and characteristics reflective of the phrasing, energy, and story that’s being expressed.
RW: What do you most enjoy about performing for and collaborating with dancers?
YA: I think it’s this feeling of being one with dancers and creating something grand together in a broader artistic realm. As one who often collaborates with other musicians, working with dancers makes me feel like I’m discovering a new part of the world!
RW: What are you most excited for about this course?
YA: I’m excited to help students develop skills and confidence in improvisation. I’m also looking forward to sharing the joy of collaborating with dancers with my students in this course.
I also believe that this course is a way for students to embrace diversity. It challenges students to use their existing piano skills and musicianship in new ways; they also have to understand what dancers are communicating verbally and physically. I have grown tremendously as a pianist, musician, and collaborator in my own dance accompaniment experiences, and I’m excited for students to experience this and apply this to their future endeavors.
RW: What do you hope participants gain from this experience?
YA: Although this course is focused on dance accompaniment, the skills that participants will learn can be taken in many directions. Everyone will gain dance accompaniment experiences and skills. But through learning dance accompaniment, students will also gain musical skills such as harmonization, listening, phrasing, and arranging. These skills are widely applicable in different genres of music, including jazz and pop; they can also serve as a gateway to composition and even film scoring. Aside from learning practical methods and keyboard skills for playing dance accompaniment music, I hope students develop depth and flexibility as musicians, collaborators, and creators.
RW: Is there anything else you would like to share about this course?
YA: Students don’t need any experience in dance, improvisation, arranging, or composition in order to succeed in this class. Come with an open mind and willingness to try, and be ready to enjoy playing and creating music!
The Pianist’s Guide to Dance Accompaniment will be offered in two formats: a one-week in-person institute (July 18-22, 2022) and a six-week online workshop (June 27-August 5, 2022; weekly synchronous sessions). Collegiate credit is available (audition required for credit course students only).