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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A wonderful poem about the undeniable value of accompanists

"Kreutzer Sonata" by Prinet,
from Wikimedia Commons
I am thankful to have just stumbled upon this wonderful poem, "The Accompanist," written by Dick Allen, Connecticut's current poet laureate.  It beautifully encapsulates what it is to be an accompanist or collaborator and it reminds me that even though our role can be overshadowed by those with whom we work, the work we do isn't invisible to all.  There is always someone in the audience that is aware of what goes into being a successful accompanist and that appreciates and values what we do on a daily basis.

I was so moved by Mr. Allen's poem that I e-mailed him to ask for permission to reprint his poem in its entirety here on my blog.  I also mentioned that if he had anything to say about the genesis of the poem, his connection to music, or anything else that struck him as being of interest, that I would love to include that along with his poem.  I got a wonderfully warm e-mail in return almost immediately. Here is what he had to say about "The Accompanist."  
Your coming across this poem was exactly what I'd hoped would happen to it: people (especially Accompanists and friends and relatives of Accompanists and other musicians that used Accompanists) would find it. 
I'd been thinking about writing a poem with this subject for most of my life.  But I finally began to draft it and write it a few days after friends gave my wife and me tickets to a concert at the Quick Center, Fairfield University, in Connecticut, where as I recall a particularly fine singer was accompanied by a particularly fine accompanist. 
And, of course, the poem has "wider" meaning for all of us who "accompany" others in many ways.  I'm thinking of how sometimes I'm the poet on stage and sometimes I'm the person who introduces the poet, has arranged the poetry reading, and the like.  As often as not, I'm just as pleased to be the accompanist host as the featured poet for a particular evening. 
And there is a real art in "stepping back" sometimes.  A real pride.  Sometimes we literally choose it (wide application: for instance, the parent who moves to the back of the auditorium while her child recites, the husband who takes a back seat--without rancor and with joy--while his wife is on stage as a noted politician...and on and on.) 
And all my life I have been indebted to music, my own work impossible without it.
The paragraph about "stepping back" really strikes a chord in me because I too feel "real pride" in what I do even though the role appears to be a "back seat" role.  The fact is, more often than not, were it not for fine accompanists and collaborators, musical performances would not be the magical events that they so often are.  They allow for performances that can breathe, move, and enchant.  

What a glorious job.

And without further ado, Dick Allen's poem:

The Accompanist 
I've always worried about you-the man or woman
at the piano bench,
night after night receiving only such applause
as the singer allows: a warm hand please,for my accompanist.  At concerts,
as I watch your fingers on the keys,
and how swiftly, how excellently
you turn sheet music pages,
track the singer's notes, cover the singer's flaws,
I worry about whole lifetimes,
most lifetimes
lived in the shadows of reflected fame;
but then the singer's voice dies
and there are just your last piano notes,
not resentful at all,
carrying us to the end, into those heartfelt cheers
that spring up in little patches from a thrilled audience
like sudden wildflowers bobbing in a rain
of steady clapping.  And I'm on my feet, also,
clapping and cheering for the singer, yes,
but, I think, partially likewise for you
half-turned toward us, balanced on your black bench,
modest, utterly well-rehearsed,
still playing the part you've made yours.

Many thanks to Dick Allen for his kind permission to reprint his poem here and for his thoughtful words.


  1. "The Accompanist" is an unforgettable poem that I have read before, and it moves me even more now than it did the first time I saw it. Thanks to you, Erica, for sharing it here.

  2. Marilyn,
    It is so good to meet you and to read some of your poems. I just read the selections that are on your website and am moved, especially, by "The Blue Water Buffalo." Spine-tingling. I look forward to reading more.

    Thank you for reading this blog post about Dick's poem. I couldn't stop thinking about it after I read it so I figured that was a sign I needed to share it with more people. I'm so glad that you were one of them!

    All the best,