Saturday, July 04, 2009

Collaborative Piano: Changing Career Paths and Skill Sets

I really like this explanation of what collaborative piano is in a recent post by Billie Whittaker:
Practically speaking, I think it is whatever combination of piano + _____ that a pianist can get paid to play with.
Billie's definition is anti-academic, to say the least. There is no discussion of collaborative piano's affinity to piano pedagogy in academia, the quest to create a premium brand of accompanists, or the training of graduate students for ever-harder-to-find tenure track positions. Collaborative piano's existence in the freelance world is grounded in the functional, economically viable world of getting work in urban centers, suburbs, opera companies, ballet companies, large and small ensembles, festivals, competitions, and yes, universities too.

I also like the importance she places on talking about the specific genres and skills that have genuine importance and demand (many of which include an emphasis on keyboard skills and stylistic adaptability). There needs to be much more dialogue on the types of work that people actually get hired to do

Take a quick look at my previous post on Career Options in Collaborative Piano--I had to give up a lot of preconceived notions I had learned about the constituent parts could make up a career in the process of gathering information for that list.

But at the end of the day, I still believe that some of the most valuable skills we can bring to the profession (and to musical life in general) include an infallible professionalism, as well as the vocabulary and core skills, pianistic or otherwise, to create a sense of dialogue and partnership in any situation one runs across.

: What are some of the skills you are using and skill upgrades that you are working on? How has your career path evolved in unexpected ways?
Singers and Instrumentalists: What are the most important skills that you need from the pianists that you work with?


  1. Great article, Chris..... I continue to encourage collaborative pianists to upgrade their marketing skills. Too often I see in the programme, a fabulous picture of the soprano and a so-so taken-in-a-hurry-by-a-friend picture of the pianist. Same with onstage dress, too - singer looks fab, and the pianist in perfunctory black. If collaborative pianists are equal, shouldn't their image reflect that as well? I can understand if they're not to compete with the soloist...but it can't hurt to take it up a notch, eh?

  2. Interesting questions, Chris. As a singer, one of the most important qualities an accompanist can have is the ability to convincingly play orchestral reductions. Having played piano myself for some years before beginning to take singing more seriously, I realize how difficult it can be to adequately recreate the same emotions and nuances that one would normally get when hearing the piece played in its original orchestral form. I'm primarily a recital singer, so the majority of my singing is just me and a pianist.

  3. Margaret9:45 PM

    Chris, can you expand on your phrase "the vocabulary and core skills, pianistic or otherwise, to create a sense of dialogue and partnership"?

  4. Margaret, it's about having the pianistic ability and experience to not only play well, but to adapt to any musical style, ensemble, or situation.

    Personally, we need to develop the ability to become a valued and trusted colleague in any situation, not by preaching on a soapbox, but through leading by example. I understand that the latter is probably more difficult than the former, especially when dealing with impossible people, but it can be done and requires a keen sense of emotional intelligence, tact, and a clever way with words.

  5. As a singer, what I need varies dependent on the situation but if it's truly to be a collaborative effort or performance I would want someone who first and foremost, comes with ideas of their own and relatedly, someone who has a love or at least a professional knowledge of the music we will be performing together.

    A respect for the music is needed too. I've had the unfortunate experience of working with a pianist on one occasion and a conductor on another who had no respect for the type of music that we were performing. A pianist who only ever wants to play solo works (and lets you know it) or a conductor who feels that the singing gets in the way of the "music" is a bad, bad scene and neither have any business collaborating with other artists.

  6. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Skills I am using and working on:
    I usually have only a few days to prepare repertoire for auditions. With little time to develop a rapport with the individual or to make performances sound recital-ready, I am trying to find ways to accomplish this. Perhaps others are experiencing this too.