Alasdair Malloy is the principal percussionist of the BBC Concert Orchestra and on 30th August 2010 at The Royal Albert Hall during a performance of Harry Warren’s 42nd Street he and 5 fellow percussionists brought life to 6 pairs of Dancemania White Low Heel Canvas Tap Shoes as part of the BBC’s PROMS 2010.
You want 6 pairs of tap shoes for what?
With less than a week to go before the performance Dancemania support staff received a phone call from Alasdair Malloy, who placed a telephone order for six white tap shoes. He went on to explain that these same shoes were to be used in a performance of 42nd Street at the Royal Albert Hall, which is nothing new for Dancemania’s dance shoes except these shoes were not going to be worn on the feet. Alasdair explained that a rod was to be fit through the heel of each shoe allowing a pair of shoes to be beat against a wall like a pair of drum sticks.
We were thrilled, excited and baffled as to whether such a contrivance could be played at all, after-all shoes are a lot heavier than the usual drum stick tip, surely to drum out a tap routine with such heavy sticks would require arms the size of Popeye’s.
How to turn Tap Shoes into a musical instrument
Alasdair received the shoes the next morning and attached rods through the heels so he could tap them against vertical boards.
Percussionists of the World now have a new device to play with, along with Yarn Mallets, Timpani Mallets and 2B drum sticks they now have Tap Shoe Mallets – thank you Alasdair!
Practice makes perfect
What follows is a video taken on Alasdair’s iPhone of one of the first rehearsals. As a result of watching this they realised that they would have to make their moves and extensions bigger, but nonetheless this is the video which Alasdair showed to the conductor (Keith Lockhart) to get his approval for actually doing this in the Albert Hall.
During subsequent rehearsals they developed their own choreography and finalised those moves Alasdair thought worked best. To accentuate the image of dancing feet they used black boards to tap against, the rods were already black and they covered their hands with black clothes thereby ensuring the visual emphasis would be the White Tap Shoes.
Now in the Royal Albert Hall with black rods, black hand covers and white tap shoes.
Not lucky enough to attend the performance I listened to the broadcast on BBC Radio Three and enjoyed the scene conveyed by the presenter, Katie Derham.
As with all BBC Proms broadcasts the music was wonderfully enjoyable, and we were treated to the sounds of Berstein (West Side Story), Gershwin (Shall We Dance) and even John Williams with Flight to Neverland from the film Hook, but it was Don Sebesky’s arrangement of 42nd Street that I was eagerly waiting for.
When the moment arrived I was rather caught off guard because the audio imagery had me convinced that we were listening to a Hollywood dance number with a troupe of tap dancers on stage. Judging by the cheer from the audience they were surprised by it too and equally delighted by the effect. Word has it that eminent conductor Barry Wordsworth was in the audience and when he saw what was happening thought that the purcussionists were all lying on our backs and actually tap dancing on the boards.
Katie Derham said it all at the end of the broadcast when she described the performance as having a “pazazzie showbiz feel”, which is only right for such show tunes, but I’ve no doubt that it was those white tap shoes that added the pazazz to the performance, after all, that is what tap shoes bring to any performance – PAZAZZ!
Perhaps next time Alasdair and this percussion section would perform something with teletone taps.
If you were at the Royal Albert Hall during the performance, or heard it on Radio Three I would love to hear what you thought of the performance, so please leave a comment below. If you did not then I hope that this post, this morsel, has given you a taste of what was a fabulous show.
A big, big thank you
… goes to Alasdair for providing such a wonderful insight in to the performance and its preparation and especially for supplying the photos and video.
One last note to Alasdair – sorry mate but the warranty on your tap shoes is now void!
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