Eli Gray-Smith : Dance Accompanist Extraordinaire
By Barbara Snook and Ralph Buck
There are so many words that describe Dunedin born, Eli Gray-Smith and with a career so rich and full of exciting anecdotes it is difficult to know where to start.
Eli suspects that he was really a frustrated dancer, but his father found it difficult to deal with a son who liked music and not rugby, so dance was out of the question. Eli grew up in conservative times in Dunedin and the dance world is fortunate he became an accompanist.
Eli was born in 1927 and despite growing up through the depression years, he was sent for music lessons with local ladies in North East Valley. His teachers varied in their teaching styles from popping marshmallow rewards in his mouth to bangs on his wrist with a ruler. Although the ability of his teachers varied, he became a very good sight-reader and as long as he heard a melody he could improvise from memory.
Eli held a belief that it was important not to stay in one place too long for fear of becoming stale and Eli credits Balanchine as being the most musical choreographer he had worked with, having originally been trained as a classical pianist. Eli also worked for Martha Graham in New York accompanying her pre-classical dance classes for drama students.
After many years playing for the Royal Academy in London Eli was asked to be the official accompanist for them in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Africa. He toured around all the main centres in each country. He continued this work for twenty-three years and at that time was the only pianist to receive the prestigious President’s Award from the Royal Academy.
Currently, Eli teaches music to a select number of highly talented students and accompanies Shona Dunlop-MacTavish’s dance classes on Saturday mornings in Dunedin.
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