Saturday, August 22, 2009

Audition Pianists: Opera vs. Musical Theatre

A huge collective cheer goes to Susan Eichhorn Young for her wonderful article The Pianist in the Audition Room. An excerpt:
First and foremost, whether you call the pianist an accompanist or a collaborative pianist, they can make or break you in an audition. I have heard in recent days of EPA calls where they have done it 'American Idol' style and singers have shown up and there are no pianists and suddenly you have to try to come up with your audition cut a cappella. A ca PALLING! Shame on you casting directors for not having enough RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY to create again, an atmosphere to expect the best and hear the best from singers!!

My biggest pet peeve right now, is the large discrepancy in the ability of the audition pianists. I am talking now primarily in the music theatre world. And I will simply say this: money. If a producer/casting director whoever is paying the pianist to be there for day will not pay a decent wage, they will not get decent pianists. Perhaps if 'they' would recognize a fine pianist needs to be paid for their time, and PAY THEM, they would get far better auditions!! What a concept!!
On the discrepancies between the use of pianists in opera and musical theatre auditions:
In opera auditions, often a company will have the option of having a company pianist there to play, who is available and paid for by the company, or individual singers bring their own pianists, and pay them accordingly.

Perhaps if music theatre auditions started to have that option and encourage it, casting and producers would recognize the difference in the level of audition when a really good pianist is sitting at the piano and would begin to invest in that continually. Another option I think would be that singers paid the pianist directly for their time. This might eliminate the "wannabes" from the audition line if suddenly they had to invest in paying a fee to have the pianist play for them!

Update: Part 2 of Susan's article is now online, with instructions on how to treat pianists in the audition room. A big AMEN for the following:
When you finish, thank your panel for their time. Walk to the piano to collect your binder and again, MAKE EYE CONTACT and thank that pianist. If you don't know who it is, ask them for their name or for their card. Leave YOUR card on the piano. This is BUSINESS. It will also force you to SLOW DOWN and BE IN THE ROOM. You will not forget or go into automatic pilot and will remain under yourself.

This isn't rocket science. This is what we used to call "common sense" - which I realize isn't so common anymore. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Recognize the job the pianist has. If you want the skills of that pianist to support you, support them.

In the pro opera auditions that I routinely play for, most of the singers I play with already act in this manner. You simply can't succeed at that level and be rude or dismissive of anyone. Not in this economy.


  1. Ohhhh...I'd LOVE to read Lily Ling's response to this!!!! Great post. Chris, you should rant more. Good post.

  2. What? Me rant? I actually enjoy the experience of playing auditions, having already cut my teeth in the trenches during grad school.

    My only pet peeve is playing opera auditions for musical theatre singers who have never sung the aria with piano before and attempt to "act" the aria.

  3. I try to gauge my audition repertoire to appropriately plan for a known/unknown pianist situation. If I have a chance to rehearse beforehand or to bring my own pianist, then I can plan more difficult/complex rep (such as that Rosenkavalier piece by that dude Strauss). If not, then I don't plan it because I don't want to sink myself! Not only does audition rep have to suit you, it should also be appropriate for an unknown pianist (skill/knowledge, etc).

    Finally, if the pianist doesn't know the rep - sing on! (It also REALLY helps if your audition book is in order so the pianist can read the music, has cues written in for tempo changes, easy page turns - when using an unknown pianist, I try to have my pianist look through it first and mark info down that he thinks the audition pianist needs to know).

    Pianists can make you. With planning, the singer can assure themselves of this, even in an unknown audition situation.

  4. Thanks Chris!!! PART 2 is now up on the blog - HOW TREAT THE PIANIST in the audition room...

  5. Thanks Susan! The post has been updated.