My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Accompanists as emissaries

After writing yesterday's post on the use of the terms "accompanist" and "collaborator," I couldn't stop feeling like I had not gone quite far enough in expressing how I important I feel my role is, whether I'm playing the Twinkle theme with a student or I'm playing a movement from a Vivaldi cello sonata. 

I grew up steeped in classical music because my parents loved it and thrived on it.  They weren't professional musicians themselves, but I believe that if they could have gone down that path, they would have.  But I don't think that the majority of young people today are in the same boat; classical music is not the default musical setting in most families' households.  And of course classical music is just not as present in society as a whole, especially not in the younger generations, in school, in movies, on television, in culture in general.  So when a child is learning an instrument, that is usually their only exposure to the music that I happen to love and understand.  That is why when I accompany them, I feel that if I want classical music to have any chance of making a mark on the child, I need to become an emissary of the music; I need to play in a way that helps the student feel as if this music has a point and a purpose.  Otherwise, what's the alternative?  Well, I've been on the other side.  On bad days, when I'm not in the mood, I've played the part of the grumpy accompanist who sits there and plays like a bored pianist banging out one Suzuki accompaniment after another.  And I don't think music has much of a point when played like this.  When music is presented like this, how can we expect little ones to want to keep playing if that's what they get up on stage?  And how can we to expect these same kids to be curious enough about classical music to want to go to a concert when they are a bit older? 

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic.  Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself to turn such a simple job into a life-transforming one.  But you know what?  I think I'll go ahead and take that risk.  Because what I do know is that in the past couple years of working with these young kids in this way, with a lot of heart, care, and passion, I have witnessed a lot of moments that have brought me to tears.  I see little kids, every week, moved by classical music and that, to me, is hopeful.  And that drives me on. 


  1. Hi Erica,
    Everyone has those days when they become introspective and ask the really deep questions. It's all part of being a Human Being, I think. Anything that any of us can do to help inspire a budding artist is important.
    Maybe I can make it a bit clearer by example, ok?
    When I was in the 6th Grade my elementary teacher decided to gently evaluate her class for talent. Mostly musical since she herself was the school "accompanist."
    I still remember her vividly and with fondness.
    Her name was Ann Getz. She gave me her time and taught me how to be a percussionist and gave me a chance to sing Mack the Knife in the school show dealing with a sixth grader's stagefright and all the rest of what a kid does.
    Did she make a difference?................Hell yes!!!! I went on to become a professional drummer playing shows and studio full time for years. I'm still at it....teaching and playing out still at age 59. Keeps me young.
    Next time that you get the blues and feel if it's worth it. Take heart because in my humble opinion it most certainly is. Music is special and has the ability to actually touch the soul. It's (if I can take the Liberty) what we are. And if you can inspire musical passion even in only one student.......well I'd say It's well worth it. :)

  2. Thank you, Larry, for the encouragement and for relating your own story. I'm grateful for everyone that stuck by me for some pretty scary moments! :-)

  3. I think everyone needs to play classical music in the way you describe, period. All of the truly amazing players of any instrument seem to share the same metality that every moment/note is important.

    In my opinion, if you don't play like that, you are just being lazy, and laziness is one of the things that kills classical music performance.

    I also think it's most crucial to force yourself to care when you're not in the mood, because the task of a professional player is (spontaneous) consistency & this is probably the best time to practice this skill.

    Just some thoughts ..


  4. Hi Erica,

    I came across your blog via the Collaborative Piano Blog. Thank you for discussing the value of the 'early years' of learning. I myself am a singing teacher, with a few years of experience behind me, and sometimes singing 'the water is wide' with a young student feels silly, when I'd really rather be coaching Puccini..

    but, as you pointed out.. it's all the same, isn't it?

    Infusing EVERYTHING we do with the same passion, love and excitement is what will strike the love of music (classical, folk, country or otherwise) into our students. Excitement is infectious! Keep the passion-fires burning!