|Image from Wikimedia Commons|
I've blogged about this before and I'm going to blog about this again because I can't stop thinking about it.
I am not afraid of the word.
I am an accompanist.And proud of it.
Yes, sometimes I am a collaborator and when I am, I am proud of that role as well. I love the discussion that can happen between myself and other musicians I'm working with - what does the composer mean here? How can we make this transition work better? What tempo feels right for this section? And performing as a collaborator gives me a sense of even more freedom than usual when I perform. I feel like I can let go and sing the music, seeking a wordless and magical level of communication with my colleagues in the moment.
But there is also something so deeply satisfying about slipping into my accompanist role, stepping into a different set of shoes that enables me to sense who I'm playing with at a completely different level. When I accompany I don't necessarily seek a lot of give-and-take with whomever I'm working with because sometimes the situation doesn't really call for it. Perhaps I'm working with a 5 year old cellist who is performing for the first time in his or her entire life. Or an autistic child that has a difficult time communicating in a very personal way but music brings him or her one step closer. Or it could be someone that's been playing for a while but that is simply not as comfortable in a performance situation. Then there are times like this morning, when I had 15 minutes to rehearse with a flutist I had never met before, playing a piece I had only received two weeks ago in preparation for playing it for James Galway in a masterclass. This was a very skilled musician but we were working in a bit of an extreme situation. In my mind, these simply aren't times to expect or seek much of a collaboration. These are the times when I enjoy claiming my title as accompanist, as one who walks beside another as a companion. I strive to make such experiences as smooth, musical, and enjoyable as possible, constantly trying to sense whether or not a tempo is working for a performer, giving him or her room when I can tell they are struggling with nerves or with memory, nudging them musically when they seem to be losing steam or inspiration. It's a very giving experience and one that gives me great pleasure, especially when I sense that my giving allows the person with whom I'm working to feel at ease and more likely to be positive about the performing experience. It is a giving experience that pays me back in indescribable ways, and I'm not talking about money.
I think there are some that might wonder why I continue to play for Suzuki book recitals - why I continue to "accompany" when I could be "collaborating" all the time. It's simple, really. I love being able to perform in situations in which I'm not nervous about the repertoire I'm having to play - it allows me to reconnect with my instrument and to enjoy making beautiful sounds within the context of doable music. I love supporting and encouraging young musicians. I love the look of gratitude and pride on parents' faces after hearing their little ones communicate in a brand new way. I love it all, from beginning to end. And every so often, when the accompanying turns into collaborating for a given musician at a given moment, it's the best of all possible worlds. It's worth a whole lot more than money in my book.
And it's a great honor.
So yes, I am an accompanist and proud of it.