By day, Robert Titterman is turning pages of contracts and reading through fine print as a lawyer with the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In his spare time though he dons a tuxedo to go on stage beside pianist Maria Raspopova — not as a musician but as her page turner.
“It’s a terrifying job if you don’t really read music,” he said.
“I’m not a trained musician … but I’ve learnt to read it sufficiently so I can help Maria in her performance.”
Mr Titterman is chairman of the Omega Ensemble but has been the group’s official page turner for the past four years.
His role is to sit beside the pianist, whether that be Ms Raspopova or a guest performer, and turn the pages of the score so the musician doesn’t have to break the flow of sound by doing it themselves.
He said he became just as nervous as those playing instruments on stage and likened the task to a crossword.
“There’s instructions on the page from the composer about loud and soft and quick and slow and so on,” Mr Titterman explained.
“There’s a lot of skills involved; you’ve got to be able to turn the page and that’s harder than it sounds.
“You have to make sure you don’t turn two pages at once, make sure you don’t tip it into her lap, make sure you find the repeats in the music when you have to go back to the right spot.”
Training the pianist
Being a page turner requires plenty of rehearsals.
Some pieces of music can go for 40 minutes and require up to 50 page turns, including back turns for repeat passages.
Silent onstage communication is key, and each pianist has their own style of “nodding” to indicate a page turn which they need to practise with their page turner.
“You have to train the pianist,” Mr Titterman said.
“Some are so discourteous they don’t even nod their head when they want the page turned.
“You’ve got to make sure they give you the right instruction.”
Anchoring the pianist
But like all performances, there are moments when things go wrong.
“I was turning the page to get ready for the next page, but the draft wind from the turn caused the spare pages to flutter down onto Maria’s pregnant stomach,” Mr Titterman recalled.
“Luckily I was able to grab it and put it back on the stand.
“There was a lot of swear words that went through my head but you’ve got to be very calm and anchor your pianist.”
Most page turners are usually piano students or up-and-coming concert pianists, although Ms Raspopova has previously recruited her husband, a clarinettist in the ensemble, to help her out on stage.
“My husband is the worst page turner,” she laughed.
“He gets involved in the music, feeling every note, and I have to say: ‘Turn, turn!’
“Robert is the best page turner I’ve had in my entire life. It’s true.”