The Page-Turner's Art
To the casual observer, the page-turner's role probably appears very simple: to sit at the pianist's side and follow the score, occasionally stretching out a hand and flicking over a page before reverting to a state of idle inactivity. Much as I hate to spoil the illusion, page-turning is actually very difficult and fraught with all manner of unlikely hazards (including the potential to throw a concert into momentary disarray, if anything goes wrong!).
The first difficulty is knowing exactly when to turn. In theory this should be easy for a musically literate person, you just have to follow the score and be ready to turn when the bottom of the page is reached. But you cannot rely solely on the score to know when to turn. In a familiar piece a pianist may be happy for you to turn a couple of bars early, but in an unfamiliar or difficult one they might want to wait until the last possible moment.
A pianist will indicate their wishes by means of a signal, usually a slight nod of the head or a twitch of the eyebrows. However, there is always potential for misinterpreting such signals, particularly when the pianist is also acting as a conductor. A raised eyebrow can have several meanings in this context, and if misunderstood they might suddenly be plunged into a different passage. At which point, their eyebrows will go into overdrive.
Once a signal has been correctly given and received, the next challenge is to effect a fast and efficient turn. This, too, is fraught with danger. Music scores seem more prone to sticky pages than other types of books. Their pages often have to be forcibly held down, as they frequently refuse to allow one of their number to be turned without three others following. Keeping a recalcitrant score open on the right page can be a trying business.
The physical manoeuvre involved in making a turn can also be interesting, as it's often necessary to lean right over to reach the farthest corner of the score. It's best to avoid doing this as the pianist performs a three-octave leap into the bowels of the instrument, or an unexpected clash may occur. There's no doubt page-turning is tricky, but for all its difficulties the opportunity of watching a talented pianist in action is not to be missed!