Ewan Gilford, Company/Orchestra Pianist
Can you describe your job to us?
It’s my job to play piano for the dancers in their ballet class and their rehearsals, where I mimic the orchestra that will play in their shows. I sometimes also play in the orchestra in the performances themselves.
Your job is very specific to a ballet company, but are there similar roles elsewhere?
Not many organisations have full time pianists, usually only ballet and opera companies. Around the country there’s a handful, probably about 10 companies that have roles like mine so it’s quite a rare role, and it’s a very specific job to play piano for ballet dancers. The only other place that you do tend to have pianists is in conservatoire universities where they help to accompany students through their studies.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the fact that I get to play piano all day long, which is what I love doing. And I get to play the fantastic music in our productions.
What qualifications did you take?
I studied GCSE Music and took that to A Level amongst other subjects. Then I went on to do two degrees in Music. The first was an Undergraduate degree at Leeds College of Music. This type of university is called a conservatoire, where you focus mainly on performance and playing your instrument. I then went on to a Masters degree in Manchester, at The Royal Northern College of Music.
Whilst I was studying, I was surrounded by other musicians who were really working towards getting into the industry and having a career in music. This really spurred me on; the competition around me was really good for me.
What advice would you give to young people interested in a job like yours?
The important subject to study, first and foremost, is Music; whether it’s BTEC, A-Level, GCSE or Music Technology. Another subject that works well within the industry is Business as that’s a big part of being a freelancer; you have to be in charge of your own business and the way that you promote your services.
What did you do next?
After I finished studying I worked as a freelancer. Freelancers make up most of the arts, with people taking jobs here and there with different companies. I played the piano with different companies until 2015 when I took the full-time post here at Northern Ballet.
What skills are required to do a job like yours?
Other than technical piano skills, important skills include being patient, respectful and working as part of a team. We work as a big team to put productions on tour and make the shows successful. If we weren’t working together and paying attention to each other’s needs, we wouldn’t have brilliant shows.
Is there anything people would be surprised to hear about your job?
A surprising part of my job is that amongst playing Tchaikovsky and quite serious classical music for our performances, I also get to play things like Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa and many other pop songs in ballet class.
Who do you admire in your industry?
Someone I admire in our industry is an accompanist who accompanies singers on a piano, called Malcolm Martineau. He’s worked with the best opera and classical singers in the world and he gives concerts all over the world.