David Plumpton: why he’s the piano man of the moment for ballet class

As Cassie sings in A Chorus Line, “all I ever needed was the music, and the mirror and the chance to dance…”

The mirror is pretty much a given but the music can be a variable element.

Every dancer and teacher hopes for an empathetic accompanist in the studio playing for class but if not, then CDs are of course the option.

In the past I’ve loved the CDs of Nigel Gaynor, Lynn Stanford and Margot Kazimirska but have recently discovered the CD series of David Plumpton, whose music for class is so bouncy, ebullient and so much fun that it can change your mood just by listening to a couple of tracks.

In class, I’ve seen dancers smiling at Plumpton’s music – and that’s a great relief for many of them whose daily routine is to watch their mirror image and think, “mmm, not good enough”.

Plumpton is the pianist for Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, Yorkshire in the UK. He has seven CDs on the market and is soon to release more.

(This may seem like a promotion for Plumpton but it’s not. I’m writing about the pianist because I genuinely admire his work).

I’d never heard of him until James Taylor, a teacher and choreographer in Australia and a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, played one of Plumpton’s CDs for a class he teaches each week at Academy Ballet in Sydney.

I think the CD was Plumpton’s “West End to Broadway” with 39 tracks, among them Crazy Little Thing Called Love, from We Will Rock You (tendus), I Still Call Australia Home, from The Boy From Oz (ronde de jambe a terre), Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, from Spamalot (tendus in the centre) and Human Again, from Beauty and the Beast (grand allegro).

Plumpton is fond of musicals, old and new, from Top Hat to Wicked, and from Thoroughly Modern Millie to Hairspray and he digs deep into the archives for old hit songs such as Over There (composed in 1917) and brings today’s divas into the dance studio from Lady Gaga to Pink and Adele.

As well, he has a knack of finding just the right melody for a particular exercise so The Carpenters’ hits Can’t Smile Without You segues into Close to You – for tendus – and Somewhere from West Side Story makes a challenging développé exercise seem like a breeze, well almost.

Who is this man who seems to know the entire score for every musical from Mary Poppins to Les Mis, to Chess, La Cage aux Folles, Chicago and Top Hat?

He has no website, yet, so I found him through Facebook and finally made contact.

Q: What’s your background?

A: I’ve been immersed in music since a very young age and I have known nothing else really.

My mother, brother and sister played and I just kind of followed. I started going to a few local teachers but they had no patience with me as I was never any good at practising, especially my scales. I left and I taught myself.

Before I started to accompany dance classes I played for various UK touring musicals. It was here I developed my love for musicals. While doing pit work a friend asked if I would like to cover for him playing a ballet class.

A ballet class? I wasn’t that interested but I reluctantly agreed and 20 years later here I am.

I enjoy every minute.

I’ve been playing for Northern Ballet Theatre since 1992 on a freelance basis then in the late ’90s I was approached to play on a more regular basis for both the academy and company under David Nixon, artistic director.

I like that the company has such a dance drama quality to their ballets that I think is really different to other ballet companies that just do the standard rep.

Q: So how do you find the right music for specific exercises?

A: Choosing the music for each exercise in class is one of the most enjoyable and exciting parts for me.

I’ve a very large and extensive collection at home and I just go from there scouring to see what will work the best.

Along with every other class pianist I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas – what the teacher/student likes and which will lift the class to a different level.

I test a lot of my tunes seeing what reaction I get to each particular tune.

Ballet should be fun and I hope that comes across in my playing.

Q: Where do you record the CDs and on what piano?

A: At the home of a good friend, teacher, Niall McMahon, who has an electric grand piano.

Niall actually sets the exercise in the studio then dances it himself without any dancers just so I get the correct tempo the whole way through.

I believe having a teacher in the studio is vital as you get the correct speed of each exercise.

Another friend, Martyn Strange, comes from London to engineer.

Q: So what led you to record these CDs?

It was always my intention to make a class CD but so many other amazing pianists were doing them I thought what could I bring that would be different?

I took the plunge and to my surprise after some badgering by close friends and teachers, they have sold really well so much so I’ve just started planning volume 3.

I’ve built up quite a following in South Korea!

Around the world I’ve sold about 15,000 CDs.

Q: Have you ever taken class yourself?

A: No, never. I’ve got two left feet. I’ve got a good sense of rhythm, but I think it gets cut off half way down!

You can listen to some of Plumpton’s tracks here


In Australia, Blochs has the CDs in its stores and they should be available soon on online.