Thursday, January 06, 2011

Athlete of the Keyboard

Every so often someone on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Accompanists Facebook Group writes something that makes me stand up and cheer. Michael Yenny's recent comment is one of them:
The collaborative artist is an athlete of the keyboard. Period. His/her body is subjected to ongoing battering/abuse equivocal to that of professional football players or military personnel. The resident collaborative artist is also one of the most intelligent musical personnel in a university department. In an ideal situation, the collaborative artist should always be paid the same as university faculty (not less). If the situation is not ideal, then a strict written accompanying policy should be constructed identifying which services are salaried and which services are to be paid additionally through budget means. The collaborative artist is a highly trained professional, plays all day long, every day, and should be treated with the personal and financial respect he deserves.
How are you being treated these days? Do you feel that people truly understand the commitment you bring to performance situations? Are you fairly compensated for the work you do?

Leave a comment and let's get the discussion going.


  1. Anonymous4:33 PM

    An astute observation by Michael Yenny that the staff accompanist should be considered to be a peer in a university music department, both in respectful treatment and in payment. You may find it interesting that in my recent application for a work visa, as a Canadian hired as a staff accompanist at an American university, the university was challenged by US Immigration to prove that an accompanist is a "specialty occupation" (which was the category of work visa we applied for). According to their Occupation Handbook, a staff accompanist does not even need a bachelor's degree, and we were required to prove several points in order to defend the visa application, including proof that other universities require degrees of their accompanists and that the training and knowledge needed for the job necessitated a university degree. After putting together a sizable document, the visa was finally approved. And this isn't even a full-time position (yet), because this music department has always relied on "casual labor" for their accompanist needs until now. They're trying to get a staff position established, but it's a tough sell with the upper administration, especially with tight budgets.

    The fact that university accompanists are Staff instead of Faculty, and are paid through different budget lines than professors, does make an impact on respect, status, and treatment on an institutional level. How the faculty deal with the staff accompanist is really the most important factor, though, because the students and administration will follow the faculty's lead.

    I've finally reached the point where I will not work with faculty that treat me like the hired help to be pushed around, because the students will take that to be the model for how to treat an accompanist. I may not have a doctorate, but I have a master's in accompanying from a prestigious program, fellowships at world-class programs, professional experience with world-class artists and like to think of my position as collaborating with the faculty as well as with the students. When that happens, it is the best of both worlds, because I get to play the music I love all day and contribute to the development of the next generation of performers and teachers, too.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous. It's always upsetting when the raising of professional standards is a "tough sell" to upper admin.