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, January 31, 2013

A heart-to-heart about accompanying and collaborating at the piano

© Becky Swora -

Dear potential piano accompanists and/or collaborative pianists,

First of all, I need to say that I absolutely love what I do.  I am thankful to be doing what I am on a daily basis, to be working with other musicians, performing great music, never running out of music to learn and experience, and getting paid to literally and figuratively "play."  

You may have noticed that I have addressed this little heart-to-heart to both accompanists and to collaborative pianists.  What's the deal with that?  What's the difference?  Is there a difference?  Who do I think I am?  

I consider myself both an accompanist and a collaborator, but usually not interchangeably.  When I am working with students I am an accompanist - I see myself as a combination of pianist, coach, and cheerleader.  In this role I often find myself feeling like I'm a bit of a broken record -

"Your rhythm isn't quite right here."  
"Try this way of hearing the interlude so that you can come in at the right time." 
"This section needs a little bit more work."
"Let's think of how we can pick a good tempo for this piece."
As with any teacher, I have to remind myself that in dealing with different young musicians every day I'm going to be repeating the same things over and over again because there are a litany of issues that just about every musician needs to learn about.  What is important for me to remember, lest I become terribly irritated and annoyed, is that I shouldn't blame the students when they need to be reminded about these things.  I fare much better if I expand my role to incorporate some basic coaching during rehearsals and I consider it an honor to be able to walk beside these students and their teachers in order to help them learn all there is to learn about making music.  Sure I have some bad days where I grumble and groan internally from the keyboard but more often than not that isn't the case, especially when the payoff is watching a young musician mature enough musically to enable me to straddle the fence between being an accompanist and being a collaborator.

So when do I consider myself a collaborative pianist?  When I am making music with someone else in such a way that I feel we are communicating with one another almost solely through our music-making.  Coaching morphs into the sharing of ideas and cheerleading gets dialed down to offering whatever support is helpful for the musician in question - it's usually a much more subtle type of interaction.  In some ways I think collaborating is easier for me than accompanying because there comes with performing with colleagues more of a sense of instant self-gratification and because the repertoire being performed with colleagues tends to be more challenging and inspiring.  But at the same time collaborating also comes with more pressure and more expectations.

As both an accompanist and a collaborative pianist I feel I'm getting the best of both worlds.  Does this mean every pianist choosing which path to take should go down both like I have?  Certainly not.  I think there are many pianists that don't feel drawn to walking young musicians through rough music-making and bringing them into a better place by performance time.  That's ok!  But I think it's good to know when that's not what motivates a pianist.  In such cases the collaborative path might be a better path to go down.  And when we find a pianist that has a heart for working patiently beside young musicians that skill should be nurtured and encouraged.  A gifted accompanist has the power to patiently encourage, inspire, and grow a love for music in others and that's a gift that we can never have too much of.  

With that said, please do enjoy exploring the possibilities!  Hope to see you there.

Your fellow accompanist/collaborative pianist (and proud of it!),



  1. Get rid of the labels and you can be anything and everything. No limitations . ;)

    1. A really good point, Paul...I prefer to go that route when I can. Much simpler! And thank you for reading.