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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Accompanying & Collaborating: why just playing the notes is not enough

In case you haven't picked up on this yet, I am a very passionate person, especially when it comes to music.  And when it comes to playing music with other people, that passion gets even stronger because music is how I communicate.  In social settings I tend to be a shy person, not knowing what to say or why anyone would be interested in what I would have to say if I did decide to say anything.  As a little girl, I distinctly remember choosing to express a high percentage of my emotions at the piano, sometimes at the cello, rather than sharing them verbally with a flesh-and-blood individual.  To me, my piano and my cello were my music was my therapy.  Perhaps this will help in explaining why I feel the way I do about my role as an accompanist.  
[side-note here: I am going to use the term "accompanist" for the remainder of this blog post just to make it easier for me and because it is still the more familiar term used.  For anyone out there who prefers the term "collaborator," please know that I like that term too and have nothing against it!]

So how do I see my role as an accompanist?  What am I responsible for?  Of course there are the obvious responsibilities...having the music well-prepared by the first rehearsal, knowing the other person's part so that memory slips, rhythmic errors, and any other slips can easily be accounted for and magically camouflaged, being punctual to rehearsals, lessons, and auditions, playing musically and trying to match or even complement the soloists musicality...But I try to do more, especially when it comes time to perform.  By the time an audition or performance rolls around I try to have gotten in the mind of the performer a bit so that I can so better guess what might be most helpful pre-performance and backstage.  Do they want to warm-up with me? Do they just need someone to talk to about something completely not related to music to calm their nerves? Do they need some encouraging words? I recently had one performance where I was giving a recital with a college student that I had been performing with quite a bit.  He was presenting his final graduation recital after returning from a competition where he had performed very well.  The first half of this recital did not go very well at all - he seemed very distracted and obsessed about his technique.  I could tell that he was in practice-room mode.  I debated whether or not to say anything but I decided that I would regret not speaking up.  When we walked off stage for intermission, I asked him, "Where are are?  What's wrong?  How can I help?"  We spent about 3 minutes talking over what was going through his head and his heart and figured out how to get through the rest of the recital.  Fortunately, the pep talked worked and as soon as he walked back out on the stage, he was back in performance mode.  I may be shy, but when it comes to music, I'm willing to try anything!

I also see it as my job as an accompanist to not to be a problem myself - not look like a nervous wreck (even if I feel like one), not to be demanding, not disappear and leave them wondering where I am.  I figure the last thing they need is to worry about something or someone else and the first thing they need is something stable.  Just as music was the stability I leaned on when I was a little girl, I guess I want music to be something stable for them too.  If I have helped a performer get through a performance with a sense of serenity, purpose, satisfaction, and joy, even in spite of the inevitable foibles, then I feel that I have done my job and I go home convinced yet again that I have the best job I could have ever hoped for.


  1. Brava, Erica!

    Trying not to look like a nervous wreck isn't easy!

    Recently I played a concerto competition audition for a high school violinist. I really wanted to be her "rock," but wasn't sure I'd be able to do that, since I had a VERY sore throat.

    I'm happy to say it worked out, AND she won! :)

  2. That's great, Gretchen! Congratulations to you and to the violinist. I know that we aren't the ones competing but it's hard not to get excited when "our people" do well, isn't it? My guess, by the way, is that you were a rock for her, even if you didn't feel like one ;-)

  3. Thanks, Erica! Let's just say I didn't discuss the sore throat with her... ;)

  4. Excellent..!!Good for you Erica and congratulations.!.!!I really adore person like you..!!You are indeed great and good.
    !!Keep it up and good luck to you.!!

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  5. I'm afraid for my collaborator, the better term might be accomplice.