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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Am I a collaborator or an accompanist?

A few decades ago, a pianist that provided accompaniment for instumentalists and/or singers was called an "accompanist".  These days, the term "collaborator" is sometimes used.  So which term do I prefer?  Sometimes it seems like such a loaded question but I wish it didn't have to be that way.  In my mind, I don't think that there is anything wrong with being "just" an accompanist and for many of the jobs I do, I actually prefer to see myself in that way.  I just looked up "to accompany" in good old Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary and in addition to the obvious definition, "to perform an accompaniment to or for," it also says, "to go with as an associate or companion."  I especially like that second definition.  When I accompany younger musicians or people just starting out on an instrument, I feel that it is just as important to serve as a musical companion to the student as it is to play the right notes.  It is partly my job to help the student to get a sense of the thrill that performing and music-making can bring.   So when I accompany them, even if the piece is the most simple Suzuki tune, my goal is to support them in every way that I can and to also serve as that companion, always on the path to a more musical experience.  And the best thing about my job as an accompanist is that every so often, I get to experience a performance with a young musician where he or she reaches beyond the notes and journeys into the exciting world of music-making, full of heart-pumping excitement, passion-filled phrases, the give and take between instruments...When this happens, the experience always blows me away.  It it just as thrilling to collaborate with a young musician at a time like that as it is to collaborate with a colleague. 

So am I a collaborator or an accompanist?  I am proud to say - both!


  1. Hi Erica,

    I think the problem with the word accompanist is not just how we think of it, which a meaning that we are of less importance than the person we accompany.

    I think the problem is actually with the implication of the word, that accompanying means following.

    That's where a lot of young accompanists get confused, because here they are, trying to follow, when a lot of of an accompanist's job is to anticipate.

    The word collaborator is a clearer definition of the job, even without thinking of what it means for the relationship between pianist and soloist.


  2. So great to hear from you, Geraldine.

    I've heard that argument before, that "accompanying" implies "following" but I guess I've just never seen the word defined that way with the word "follow" included. So I'm wondering if we've come to this place of cringing at the word "accompanist" because of many years of not-so-good or perhaps just old-fashioned accompanying. I'd hate to throw a good word out with the bathwater. I think I'd prefer that our field continue on it's ever-improving, supportive path so that the implication that accompanists tend to follow eventually dies out.

    I guess it's all semantics which I tend not to like to get into too much and I am wary to draw such fine lines, especially if it might confuse those people who aren't in the musical world. I've cringed when I've heard a collaborator correct a member of the general public who called him/her an accompanist (or rather an accompanyist.)

    Very thought provoking though. Thanks for making me think about that again!

    All the best and happy playing and blogging!