There is a lot of value in being a piano collaborator. There are the obvious benefits of course...
- there are a lot of different types of collaborating one can do
- it's a decent way to make a living
- it can be be done part-time or full-time
- one can work either as a part of an institution or independently
- it gives a pianist the feeling that he/she has some sort of social life
- limitless repertoire
- learning how to work with every type of personality
- being able to perform without having to deal with the stress of memorizing music or being the center of attention
- being able to help and support other musicians musically and emotionally
- working with musicians of all ages and abilities, from the beginner to the professional
But there is one benefit not listed above that I love almost more than any other and that is the opportunity it gives a pianist to be a sponge.
Most piano collaborators spend a high percentage of their time in the studios of music teachers and professors. Some lessons might be more interesting than others, but for the most part I think it's safe to say that if a pianist wants to, he or she can soak up a tremendous amount of information every time the situation involves a coach, teacher, or conductor. I've learned a lot of really interesting things in such situations, from the basic mechanics of playing many different instruments to musical concepts. Sometimes I even have somewhat of an out-of-body experience where I actually begin to feel like I could play the other instrument or sing if I wanted to. If you catch me at the right moment after a voice lesson, you may even hear me vocalizing and trust me, I am not a singer! I don't even sing in the shower for fear of embarrassing myself. (It probably doesn't help that I'm married to an excellent singer!) But I almost can't help myself. The experience of hearing all this fascinating information, which sometimes feels top-secret, of seeing and hearing immediate results, is exhilarating and slightly addictive.
I've recently had one of these out-of-body, spongelike experiences. These past few weeks have been filled with rehearsals and lessons in preparation for the local college students' juries. Every year I seem to end up with a different mix of instrumentalists and singers. This year I ended up playing for what seemed like an endless stream of flutists. Now I happen to have a soft spot for the flute because I have loved listening to it all of my life; I even purchased a flute back when I was in high school and then again after I was married because I was so enamored with the flute sound. This is a completely private experience for me...nobody gets to hear me play except for my tiny family and lovebird and trust me, there will probably never be any videos of me on YouTube. But after sitting in lesson after lesson recently and after doing some very good impersonations of a sponge, I went home one day really feeling like I would be able to pull my flute out and actually be able to sound like something. I doubt there was any grand transformation when I did, but I do believe that I was able to apply much of what I had learned in those lessons to my own experience of playing the flute. And that was fun. It also added inestimable value to the job that I already get a lot of value from. Can't ask for much more than that!
So piano collaborators, next time you're sitting in a lesson feeling a little bored, a little invisible, make like a sponge and start soaking up as much information as you possibly can. You never know where it might take you!
Wait, can sponges even move?! Well, whatever. I think you get my point!