Thursday, March 17, 2011

10 Questions For Collaborative Pianists Interested In Taking The Career Plunge

Today's guest post is written by Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, a music director, pianist, vocal coach and piano teacher. She holds a M.M. from Western Michigan University, and a D.M.A in collaborative piano from Boston University. She is currently writing a book on music directing, and her excellent blog Geraldine in a Bottle looks at what it takes to become a professional musician.

You've been thinking of becoming a full time collaborative pianist, but is it the right decision? Answer the questions below to find out.

1. You're given one week to learn a brand new piece.
a) How about two weeks instead?
b) Kill me now!
c) I better get payed more.

2. The choir director stops in the middle of the piece.
a) You try to figure out what spot he will start over from
b) You listen to his notes
c) You daydream

3. Your last day off was a month ago, you think...
a) It's been too much work, I need a vacation
b) Well, better working than not
c) I had only had 2 performances, easy month

4. You've just been given a piece to sight read in public.
a) You quickly scan through it to check for trouble spots
b) You focus on your breathing to calm down your nerves
c) You just start playing

5. Someone wants to hire you and tells you the accompaniment is easy.
a) You're relieved, this will be an easy gig
b) You demand to see the score as proof
c) You need the money, so whatever

6. Your singer asks you if you know that Italian word.
a) You look it up in the Italian dictionary you always keep near by
b) Why is the singer asking you? You're a pianist, not a translator!
c) You take an educated guess

7. It's dress rehearsal time.
a) You make sure to play your part as best as possible
b) You make your soloist practice the bows with you
c) You give a pep talk to your soloist

8. You just sight read a piece and are told it lacked musicality.
a) You break down and reconsider your career choices
b) You remind people that you were sight reading
c) You congratulate yourself, it was a really hard piece. Too bad if other people don't understand.

9. Your arms hurt because...
a) You're carrying around way too much music
b) You're playing 12 hours a day
c) You went to the gym yesterday

10. The hardest part of being a collaborative pianist is...
a) Not enough time to practice on your own
b) Finding a keyboard instead of a a piano at the concert space
c) People not showing up for rehearsals

Add up your points by using the following chart, and find out if youʼre ready to be a collaborative pianist.
1- a) 2 pts b) 1pt c) 3 pts  2- a) 3 pts b) 2 pts c) 1 pt
3- a) 1 pt b) 2 pts c) 3 pts  4- a) 3 pts b)1 pt c) 2 pts
5- a)1 pt b) 3 pts c) 2 pts  6- a) 3 pts b) 1 pt c) 2 pts
7- a) 1 pt b) 3 pts c) 2 pts  8- a) 1 pt b) 2 pts c) 3 pts
9- a) 3 pts b) 2 pts c) 1 pt  10- a) 3 pts b) 1 pt c) 2 pts

If you scored above 23: Congratulations, you were born a collaborative pianist! You know what the job entails, youʼre a killer sight reader, and you know how to handle a large variety of personalities. Keep up the good work!

If you scored between 15 and 22: Youʼre not fully there yet, but you're well on your way to becoming a great collaborative pianist. There are certain aspects of the job that you may still have to improve on, such as learning a large amount of music in a short amount of time, or dealing with a lot of different people. Keep at it and you will get there!

If you scored below 14: You are not yet ready to take the plunge. Spend more time honing your skills, and talk to collaborative pianists to get some insights. You want to make sure you do a job that matches your life and personality best.


  1. I see collaboratie pianists as godsend, as a musical Lamaze coach, and as worship-worthy colleagues. That's how I viewed Chris Foley; mind you, piano was my main instrument before I started singing.

  2. Thanks Liz! Now fess up - what was your score?

  3. Sarah Jones11:12 PM

    Yes! I got 24. My answer to 1 was, "Just one piece? So what?" :D
    Some of the other areas could use some work, though.

  4. First things first! My score was 26.

    Best question: "5. Someone wants to hire you and tells you the accompaniment is easy."

    That's exactly what happens sooooo often w/student singers! In fact, they often follow up with, "I can play it myself!"

    Translation: I can play it at 16th note = 40.

    Has that ever happened to you? (Maybe it's time for a poll.)


  5. I'm looking forward to asking people about their Boyer-Cussac scores next week back in Toronto. By the way, I'm a 28.

  6. Chris got 28! Yowzers. 25 here.

    2: I find a) really, really difficult to do. It's too hard on the brain to go flipping around expansive choral scores and only works with some conductors whose concepts of clarity and telepathy are similar to mine. In the end, in my experience, it's just most efficient to wait for the exact direction "Let's take it from..."

    7: I do both a) and b) but had to choose b). c) only in case of imminent implosion.

    9: doesn't really apply to me because I use a large, wheeled suitcase when things get raunchy. Can't wait until anti-gravity boosters are ready for market.

    Another question could have been:

    11. You have been given a choral SATB piece in open score and are asked to play parts in rehearsal. Now.
    a) You immediately prepare to sight-read all four parts simultaneously. Piece o' cake. (3 points)
    b) You ask "Which two would like me to focus on?" (my answer; 2 points)
    c) You ask if a chorister can spare some Ibuprofen. (1 point)

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  8. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Actually, in choral work you are meant to play as much as possible while listening intently to the choir and then bringing out on the piano the weakest part in the choir, and anticipating those parts by looking ahead and seeing where the leaps, notes that change the harmony, awkward entrances etc. etc are. It is really a specialized field...and a great way to develop your own ear-training and analytical skills. (Not to mention human interpersonal skills---there have been books written about the psychology of conductors!!)

  9. Well, that's rather a major emasculation right there.

  10. Anonymous3:01 AM

    so sorry, did not mean it that way at all, just wanted to educate blog readers about choral work...organist/conductor types usually enjoy this more than poetic I right???it is somehow dictatorial rather than collaborative, at least that how it feels to me...i come from a collaborative background and the mindset really took some getting used to...but i am now glad for the ears grown through it....

  11. Toto: 2(a) for me really depends on the situation. When I'm called in to sub for a choir I'm usually sight-reading and just doing my best to maintain the flow. On the other hand, I've been working with one group for almost a year and I'm able not only to anticipate where he'll start again but when he'll stop.

  12. Anonymous11:42 AM

    This quiz really has very little to do with one's skills as a musician and reminds me of those quizzes you see in women's magazines where you have to choose an answer, even though none of them may be adequate. Leave it to someone with a doctorate in collaborative piano to come up with this.

  13. What the quiz asks us is less about pure skills but more about the battle-hardened attitude that accompanies (no pun intended) many who work in the freelance field. Many pianists simply haven't got the constitution for becoming freelance collabs.

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