Numerous are the concerts I've played when an audience member would come up to me after the concert and say something like "Oh yes, you played well too" or "You know, not every pianist has what it takes to be a good accompanist". Following these inevitable drab comments* I'm always left thinking...is this it? Is this what we spend all these hours for? Fortunately, the experience of many of us has shown that the field of collaborative piano is a rapidly branching profession, with activities now encompassing curriculum creation (Jean Barr, Jennifer Snow), artistic direction (John Hess, Kim Pensinger Witman), and textbook writing (Martin Katz, Robert Spillman) to name only a few.
Therefore, it was not without some reservations that I read Jing Li's Unsung Heroes in the WQXR blog. Have major collaborative piano programs been around only since the 1980's? I think not - the world's first accompanying program was started by Gwendolyn Koldofsky at the University of Southern California in 1949, with many others following suit in the ensuing decades (ASU, Cincinnati, and Illinois come to mind). Are there only a handful in the United States? Hardly. My own research into the field yielded well over 80 schools granting collaborative piano degrees and diplomas available in the United States alone.
What I also disagree with in Li's article was the assertion that "behind every brilliant soloist there is his or her accompanist". There are very, very few of us these days who are able (or willing) to work with only one soloist. For the most part, collaborative pianists are doing a lot of different activities, and the sheer diversity of all that they do is one of the main drawing points of the profession.
Which brings me back to one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place: I feel that there is a media bias against people in the collaborative piano profession, and that they are often portrayed as obedient flunkies. I've spent over 5 years on this blog proving that bias wrong, and it is often disheartening to see that our field is still perceived as only having "sprung up" in the last few decades.
So while I applaude Ms. Li for writing an article about the valuable work done by those in the profession formerly known as piano accompanying, I nevertheless urge her to look a bit deeper at the incredible depth of what this field now entails, and of the imagination, perseverance and ingenuity of those who work in it.
*Or worse! My two favorites are "Do you intend to continue with your music?" and "You Canadians always were very musical."