Saturday, July 24, 2010

Accompanists: The Good, The Bad, and the...Confusing...

I've played with so many accompanists over the years, I couldn't name them all even if I tried with every ounce of brainpower I've got. I'm sure most musicians have a few stand-out accompanist memories that they'd gladly share with you because even without trying I've found myself in situations that...wouldn't happen to most people. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (maybe oblivious would be a more fitting word).
Sometimes (especially in the music world) you'll come across people who are so talented that you let them get away with excessive tardiness and occasional absenteeism. Probably the first piano player I ever played with was one such case. We loved him very much. In fact he could sightread anything from the Galway pop books (flute players out there know all about them...mmm! love me some 'In the Pink' and 'Legends') without so much as batting an eye. But 'Dave' didn't always show up when you needed him. Sure, he raced in just in time to help me win the 7th and 8th grade division of the Upper Midwest Flute Association competition, but one time we weren't so lucky...
...The summer before 7th grade I made an appearance at the MN state fair talent show. I won second place on my night, no thanks to Dave. He didn't show. Ten minutes before the show started, I handed my music to the house piano player. He said he could play it. I was somewhat comforted. I got up onstage and started playing, but I was a little distracted by the piano player, who repeatedly appeared to be saying 'shh!'. I, of course, was offended. It was my solo, I was supposed to play as loudly as I wanted. 'ssh!' Oh wait...'shh' was only the first half of what he was saying. And so my ears were opened up to the wonderful world of vulgarities, which up until this point in my life were only uttered in PG-13 movies.
Sometimes you find yourself in a pinch, where for example you need someone to play Schubert's Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, or Carl Nielsen's Concerto (both of which are incredibly demanding for the pianist) on two days notice. That's how I found some of the more talented collaborative pianists in the Twin Cities. Seriously, you'd be surprised how difficult it is to find people on such short notice! Luckily I discovered that the Schubert Club has a list of local accompanists on their website, but it took at least ten phone calls to find what you're looking for.
At college this year I learned that your collaborator plays a crucial role in your performance. One pianist who is a favorite in the flute studio, 'Robert' will play your recital or long as you are ok with not being able to hear the soloist. I went to far too many recitals this year where I thought I must have been listening to Chant de Linos for solo piano with flute accompaniment. Likewise, it is very frustrating to play a competition only to see that the judges' comments were mostly 'the piano was a bit loud for my taste'.
Most recently, I've been struggling with a piano player who isn't a huge follower of the school of practice. Whoops. Seriously, for all of you pianists out there, I know that you're usually doing us a favor just by agreeing to play, but please hold up your end of the bargain. Just run through it once or twice before rehearsal. It'll be easier for the both of us.
I love getting comments from readers, so if you have an interesting (or frustrating) collaborative pianist stories, I'd love to hear them!

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