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 3, 2011

Haiku in honor of the National Association for Teachers of Singing competitions

This weekend the Virginia NATS association (National Association for Teachers of Singing) is gathering for their annual festival/competition.  I went the previous two years to accompany singers from Virginia Tech and enjoyed working with all of the singers.  But there was one thing that inspired quite a deluge of anger from me and that continues to bug me.  The association has a rule that the pianist must play from original music, not photocopies, for the auditions.  If a pianist fails to do this, the singer will be disqualified from the competition portion of the weekend and can only receive written comments.  

Well, when a pianist is playing for up to ten different singers, what does that mean?  It means a lot of things.  It means the pianist...
  • has to lug around all of the books and keep them organized (I had about 20 books one year) or they have to rely on the singers to remember to bring the books themselves (never a good thing.)
  • has to deal with page turns.
  • has to grapple with books that won't stay open on the piano, which can often be uprights, which don't make particularly good music stands
  • has to transfer markings made in their own copies to the original music. 
In other words, it's a whole lot of fussing around instead of doing the job that we like to do our singers and play beautiful music.


OK, I'll stop for now.  The reason I brought this up, actually, is because I came across the most wonderful haiku that a fellow collaborator, Billy Whittaker, wrote and posted on her wonderful blog, "Good Company."  I believe it is written by Billy and I do believe she's been to NATS one or two times herself, judging from the haiku.  
Dear NATS: your rules on
'original copies' means
I play with one hand. 
Ha ha! Just reading it makes me feel better.  And need I say more?

If you're interested in reading my earlier rant on this whole topic, feel free to read the post, "Copyright Law and Sheet Music - why it can wreak havoc for an accompanist/collaborator."


  1. Such a ridiculous rule. I don't miss playing NATS days at all, mainly because of that. (Because I seriously DO love playing piles of music all day - basically my favorite thing to do.)

    I haven't played NATS in years. Will they really not allow photocopies, even if they're copies of IMSLP-type public domain pages, or are do they just feel there'd be no way to police that?

    By the way, Billie's haiku is what inspired the whole #accompanisthaiku craze on Twitter. I tweeted it and then Soho the Dog started submitting his own, along with the hashtag.

  2. Great to hear from you, as always, Michael.

    And good to know that I'm not the only pianist that has a problem with rules such as this one. And to answer your question, at least in Virginia, the rule is literally no photocopies whatsoever, anywhere and it seems they won't budge, though I'm seriously tempted to try and push the issue. I think they are terrified are breaking copyright law, which I understand and respect, but I think they've gone overboard. According to my husband, who is currently on the board at the state level, they feel that a person cannot make photocopies, even of their own music, that they have personally purchased. I really don't agree with this interpretation. I spent two years on a copyright committee at the University of Michigan (I was in charge of course reserves at one of their libraries) and we had a lawyer that we met with regularly. According to him, pianists are not breaking the law by using photocopies as long as the copies are not a way out of purchasing a hard copy. As you know, our need for photocopies has nothing to do with not purchasing a hard copy - we can't use hard copies, especially in audition situations such as you find at NATS. At this time, every pianist there needs a pageturner in order to not play with only one hand the entire time.

    Perhaps NATS should pay for pageturners - maybe that would be one solution for that problem.

    But then you have the lugging of piles of music everywhere as you are racing from room to room to barely make each audition time. I suppose it can be seen as amusing that pianists are running around rolling suitcases full of music but I don't see it that way, LOL.

    I wish that NATS would adopt a system I saw in use at another competition. When accompanists signed in upon arrival, the pianist was asked if he/she was going to use any photocopies. If yes, they then signed a release stating that they accepted responsibility for copyright infringement and that there was, indeed, a hard copy on-hand. Other organizations are fine with photocopies as long as the pianist puts the pile of hard copies on the piano during the audition. That seems a little silly, but at least it allows photocopies.


    Thanks for giving me the history on #accompanisthaiku. I've actually been wanting to collect them all and put them in a blog post because I actually think there's quite a lot to learn from them, especially for those for whom we all work. But I can't seem to get a history on that hashtag. If you have any ideas, can you let me know what the secret is?

    Thanks again, Michael.


  3. Hi Erica,

    Yes, I think I remember the "it's OK if you set a pile of books on the piano" rule.

    As for #accompanisthaiku, since Twitter search only goes back a week or so, the best way I know to trace an older hashtag is with Try this.

    I'm still not convinced it's showing everything. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't, for reasons I can't explain.

    But, I'm pretty sure this was Matthew Guerrieri's first haiku and this was the first one for which he used the hashtag.