Showing posts with label Careers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Careers. Show all posts

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Collaborative Pianists and Professionalism: A Passionate Rant

And in this crazy life, you are my everything.
alonefortherideily / cc
Earlier today, Vancouver-based pianist Karen Lee-Morlang posted this wonderful, perceptive rant on Facebook:
Dear fellow collaborative pianist:

You are a very good piano player. I hear it, and often enjoy listening to you play so well. You also seem to like it that everyone around you acknowledges that you are good. That's fine. You deserve recognition for your hard-earned skill! Unfortunately, you have also decided that everyone around you must also await for your presence with bated breath...including showing up regularly to festivals and performances 15 minutes late (or more), making your singers or instrumentalists fret, worry and be even more nervous. You finally arrive, and state imperiously, "didn't you all receive my text messages", as if, planning on being late while you're playing for other clients, makes it OK that you over-booked and are late for the performance itself, and have kept the adjudicators, performers and other collaborative pianists waiting. Other people, who have respectfully, arrived on time (or even, gasp, 10-15 or 30 minutes early). Sometimes, because your schedule is so much more important, you make sure that your performer gets to be shuffled to the beginning of the section in spite of the printed order, just so that you can leave immediately after playing. You have regularly cancelled last minute in order to take a better, more prestigious or higher paying gig....and your colleagues are getting calls and emails from stressed out performers to help pick up the pieces. What can I say? I think it's awesome that us pianists are apparently so valuable that for some reason people still put up with your behavior. However, you do set up the expectation (with some less experienced parents, young musicians and even teachers) that it is the norm for collaborative pianists to behave like this. I have worked 10+ years to assure them that it's NOT, and then usually pass on a nice long list of pianists that I personally can recommend as RELIABLE, RESPECTFUL and great at their jobs. Sadly you're not on this list. I hope that you one day you will finally grow up and remember why we're called COLLABORATIVE PIANISTS.

Sincerely yours,

Karen LM (a pianist who truly loves collaborating)
Well said, Karen! One of the tricky things about maintaining professionalism in the musical world is that regardless of what your abilities or status might be in the field, everybody judges you based on the same criteria. That's a critical and sometimes tough thing to learn at any age, whether you're just beginning in the field or a seasoned veteran.

Karen also wanted me to mention this:
Every client that you decide to take on matters, from the youngest to oldest, and deserves have a good experience too.

Let us keep that in mind as we head into the conclusion of the concert season and academic year.

Some Best Practices for Hiring Accompanists

madandon / cc

Meri's Musical Musings has a very informative post on how to choose an accompanist for your performance, audition, exam, or competition, with best practices for both parents and teachers:
Respect the accompanist’s fee and DON’T BARGAIN WITH THEM; remember, they need to factor in the time you gave them to learn the music (which in one case my husband got was literally the night before, only had an hour to rehearse the music just before the audition, as the candidate’s previous accompanist proved to be inadequate), the time it takes to travel to the rehearsal and performance locations (especially if they are different), the accompanist’s experience, and if the performance and rehearsal locations are easily accessible by public transit or not.
This is useful advice for teachers hiring a pianist for their entire studio:
Another thing if you are a teacher when you have a number of students working with the same accompanist: collect the money from each student or parent first, instead of asking each student or parent to pay the accompanist directly, which you then give the money collected from each student to the accompanist on the day of the first rehearsal. Otherwise, you run the risk of the students not showing up, or forgetting to pay the accompanist, or the students running into the next session if they show up late, or losing a bunch of cash or cheques.
What else would you recommend as better ways for performers, parents or teachers to hire a pianist?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Staff Accompanist Opening: Western Illinois University

Western Illinois University is looking for a Staff Accompanist for the 2014-15 academic year. Here's a quick look at the job's details:
APPOINTMENT: August 21, 2014
RESPONSIBILITIES: Assignment will include a balance of vocal and instrumental accompanying including Bachelor and Master level students in recitals, juries, convocations, seminars, lessons, and rehearsals. The assignment may also include accompanying vocal organizations and/or serving as pianist for the Wind Ensemble or Orchestra, and other duties as assigned.
RANK & SALARY: Faculty Assistant. Salary is commensurate with experience and qualifications. Western Illinois University offers a competitive benefits package including domestic partner benefits. For full benefit information visit: Requirements: REQUIRED QUALIFICATIONS: Bachelors degree required. Successful experience as a collaborative pianist with a substantial and significant repertoire required. Excellent sight reading and the ability to quickly learn new repertoire expected.
PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS: Masters or Doctorate in Accompanying or Piano preferred.

You can find the full job listing here. Deadline is April 22.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

An Australian Guide to Careers in Music

The Music Council of Australia's Music Career Wiki is an excellent resource for discovering the many options available in the music field, even if you don't happen to be living Down Under. The Performance category is quite large, and has sections for musical directorsballet pianists, repetiteurs, and accompanists.

On the repetiteur skillset:
Repetiteurs need a broad range of performance and musicianship skills. They need good piano technique, excellent sight-reading skills, and to be quick learners. They have to be able to follow a beat, accompany singers (including conducted music), transpose music at sight, understand conventions of scoring, reduce orchestral music to a keyboard part at sight, reduce accompaniments and orchestral reductions further, and reduce vocal lines, ensembles, and chorus parts. They have to be able to cue singers and prompt in rehearsals and performances. Facility with foreign languages, especially the languages most commonly used in the standard opera repertoire (Italian, German, French and Slavic languages) is essential. This includes understanding the nuances of meaning and pronunciation necessary for correct interpretation of the repertoire. When accompanying, they need to be able to play and sing simultaneously, sing parts that are missing, and play the piano as if simulating the orchestra, including interacting the way an orchestra would with a singer. For the baroque repertoire they need skills as a continuo player, to be able to interpret figured bass in a stylistically appropriate way (particularly in recitative), and proficient harpsichord technique. Conducting technique is also essential, as are a strong knowledge of the repertoire and its performance practice and a love of imparting artistic knowledge.

Repetiteurs need teaching skills for the coaching, training and direction aspects of the job. They also need good interpersonal and communication skills, an even temper and patience, and the ability to stay calm in crises.

The outlook for accompanists:
The prospects for an accompanist in Australia are quite good, because there is a marked shortage of very good practitioners. There is a certain attitude among good solo pianists that it is demeaning to be an accompanist, but in actual fact very few concert pianists have the high levels of sight-reading and other performance skills needed to be successful in this field. Apart from the top professional level, working with instrumental and vocal soloists, there are literally hundreds of opportunities accompanying students doing exams, as well as choirs and theatre groups. Some tertiary music institutions also employ accompanists to play for students having lessons. Possible career pathways include specialising in vocal accompaniment, leading to the job of repetiteur in an opera or dance company. Accompanists, particularly repetiteurs, often become conductors because of their abilities in directing musicians and experiencing and interpreting vast amounts of repertoire.

Awesome job, Australians! Why can't North Americans get together and create a wiki as useful as this?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

$5 Lattes, $0.99 Downloads, and the Quest for Fairer Pay in the Musical Field

Matcha Latte
This Winnie Zhang photo shows that songs need to be
pretty amazing these days in order to compete with the
elegant awesomeness of a matcha latte. 
The discussion on how to make a living in the musical field is becoming the biggest game in town, especially as more and more music graduates are entering the profession at a time when the ground is increasingly unstable, and established companies (Hamilton Opera and San Diego come to mind in just the last few months) are finding that traditional ways of doing business just don't work any more.

Aaron Gervais' article on why musicians aren't paid more fairly provides a detailed and nuanced look at why music as a creative field is unique and why established ways of looking at entrepreneurship don't always fit into its artistic model. Aaron's observation on why the price of a latte is more justified than the price of a download:
Art-making lacks certain fundamental elements that define typical professions and businesses. Unfortunately for artists, its accoutrements suffer no such handicap. When you couple technological change with art-making, you begin to see why people will pay $5.00 for a latte but not $0.99 for a song download.

They’re not wrong: $0.99 for a song is too expensive when there’s no value in owning recorded music because you only ever stream it. You can argue that the cost of recording the music justifies a higher price, but that’s irrelevant. In capitalism, the value of something is determined by what people are willing to pay, not by what it costs to produce. If your production costs are too high to turn a profit, you go out of business—that’s how it’s supposed to work. Records and radio hurt the 19th-century sheet music industry. Then amplified music hurt big bands. Then movies hurt opera companies and orchestras, drum machines and sequencers hurt studio musicians, DJs hurt bar and wedding bands, and online streaming is hurting record labels—to the point that Lady Gaga’s recent SXSW performance was sponsored by Doritos, not her label. Meanwhile, music is still music. It’s not like you can enjoy it twice as efficiently by listening to two pieces at once.

Aaron's solutions are open-ended and emphasize the importance of not blaming the venue (after all, you can always walk away), but looking for opportunities through collaboration and finding your market.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Academic Position: Full-Time Staff Accompanist, The University of Texas at Brownsville

The following information about a staff accompanist opening has been sent by Dr. Tom Nevill, Chair of the Department of Music at the University of Texas at Brownsville:
Accompanist - Music
Position Number: FY 14-74
Classification: Exempt
Reports to: Chairperson of the Department of Music
Scope: The University of Texas at Brownsville has an opening for a full-time staff accompanist position beginning in Fall 2014. Accompanying duties will include vocal and instrumental accompanying for bachelor level students in recitals, seminars, lessons, auditions, and rehearsals. The assignment will also include accompanying choral ensembles as well as opera rehearsals and performances. The successful applicant must demonstrate a wide knowledge of vocal and instrumental literature as well as excellent sight reading and performance skills. The ability to communicate effectively with faculty and students is essential. This is a security-sensitive position subject to Texas Education Code 51.215 which allows the employer to obtain criminal history record information.
Education: Master’s degree required.
Experience: Professional level experience as a collaborative pianist.
Salary: Commensurate with experience and qualifications and in accordance with UTB Pay Plan.
Deadline: Applications will be reviewed upon receipt and continue until the position is filled.
Application Procedure: Download and complete a faculty application from: Candidates should submit a letter of application; CV; a 30 minute DVD of a representative collaborative performance or a link to online videos; and three letters of recommendation. Submit application materials to: Office of Human Resources

The University of Texas at Brownsville
451 East Alton Gloor - Brownsville, Texas 78526
(956) 882-8205 – Fax (956) 882-7476

Academic Posting: Assistant/Associate Professor of Collaborative Piano, University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Dr. Karen Beres sends along the following information regarding an Assistant/Associate Professor opening at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts:

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is accepting applications for an Assistant/Associate Professor of Collaborative Piano. The School of Music prepares students for professional careers and has a twofold goal: to enable them to attain their highest musical aspirations and to prepare them to succeed in a highly competitive profession. This full-time and multi-year contract position will begin August 1, 2014. Starting rank will be determined based on the qualifications and experience of the successful candidate.

Responsibilities will include recruiting and teaching graduate collaborative piano majors; teaching undergraduate collaborative piano courses; providing leadership in the collaborative piano area, which includes managing staff and student collaborative pianists; performing with faculty and students; and engaging in research/creative activities. Other duties will be assigned by the Dean based on the candidate’s interests and areas of expertise.

Minimum Qualifications:
  • Two years of experience teaching collaborative piano at the graduate and/or undergraduate level, or significant professional experience 
  • Earned doctorate/terminal degree in music OR an equivalent combination of professional experience and education
Preferred Qualifications:
  • Demonstrated ability to serve as an active recruiter of qualified students for the School of Music 
  • Significant accomplishment as a professional performing artist and clinician • Demonstrated effectiveness as a teacher of students of varying backgrounds from high school through graduate levels 
  • Expertise in other areas that support the mission of the School of Music
About the UNC School of the Arts:
A constituent campus of the University of North Carolina, The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the first state-supported, residential school of its kind in the nation. Established as the North Carolina School of the Arts by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, UNCSA opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. More than 1,100 students from high school through graduate school train for careers in the arts in five professional schools: Dance, Design and Production (including a Visual Arts Program), Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. UNCSA is the state’s only public arts conservatory, dedicated entirely to the professional training of talented students in the performing, visual and moving image arts.

Review of applications will begin April 1, 2014 and will continue until position is filled. To apply, please visit to file electronic application and upload letter of intent, CV, repertoire list, and names and contact information for three references. Further materials may be requested at a later date.

Criminal background check and transcripts of final degree required as a condition of employment. UNCSA is an AA/EO employer.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ten Ways to Jump-start Your Professional Development

A few months ago, Gillian Cummings at the Royal Conservatory asked me to write an article on the theme of professional development for their Music Matters newsletter. I had been going through an extremely busy spell and I hadn't written much in late summer (other than several hundred examination reports for RCM Exams), so I welcomed the chance to write for Music Matters, which gets sent out to all the teachers in their examination system in Canada and the United States.

Although I had written the article for the benefit of music teachers, I was glad to hear that people in other professions have found it useful so far. I think the key to long-term professional satisfaction is to undergo a continual process of learning, enrichment, and pushing at the boundaries of how we perceive our knowledge and work.

Regarding #9, many of you have asked about how I use Evernote in my teaching process. In the next few days I'll be posting an article on precisely that, so stay tuned.

Ten Ways to Jump-start Your Professional Development (turn to page 4 in the pdf)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Should Freelance Collaborative Pianists Have Their Rates Capped in Schools of Music?

I recently received an anonymous email regarding freelance pianists at a university who will be forced to charge a specific discounted rate for the coming academic year.

Disclosure: I do not know the identity of the email's author, nor do I know which university in the US, Canada, or elsewhere this letter is referring to.

Here is the letter in full:

Dear Dr. Foley, 
Longtime fan of The Collaborative Piano Blog - what a wealth of resources, stories, and memes, not to mention a great forum for ideas and discussion between collaborative pianists! I am wondering if you would be willing to post a discussion topic on the CPB Facebook page for me, as I am very interested in finding out more about this matter from other pianists but can't risk any trouble at work by posting it myself. 
I am employed as a staff accompanist for a mid-sized music department at a public university; my official duties are to accompany a choral ensemble and teach two group piano classes. I also play for vocal and instrumental students on the side as a freelancer, which is arranged privately between the students and myself. The chair of the piano department has recently decided that in the near future, he will either set the hourly rate for all freelance accompanists or put a cap on the total accompanying tab that a student can run up with a freelance accompanist. The reason given for university regulation (i.e. reduction) of rates for freelance accompanying by university employees is that as music faculty and staff we are responsible for contributing to the education of music students, and this includes providing accompanying at a reduced fee. 
The local freelance pianists feel that it's inappropriate for the university to require us to charge their rate for our freelance work, since we're not employed by the university for this work. It's one thing to be paid one (low) rate for the accompanying work that we ARE contracted to do, but does the university have the right to extend this rate to the work we do outside of our contract? We do care about the students and their well-being (both educational and financial), but we also spend hours learning difficult accompaniments and coming to weekly lessons, studio classes, and rehearsals. We hold graduate degrees in Piano Performance and Collaborative Piano Performance and play well; the students we play for are happy with our playing and have told us that they think our rates are fair. Most of us feel that at most, the department can suggest a rate and if we want to continue charging our regular - and reasonable - private rate instead, the students are free to use a cheaper student accompanist instead. It would be easier to give this response to the piano chair if we knew if/how this has been handled by other collabs. Is there a precedent of other universities trying to set accompanying rates for freelance pianists? Have they been successful or unsuccessful? Are we being unreasonable in resisting this? 
Any feedback you (or others) could provide would be so helpful. Even if you don't post this but share your own opinion, that would be great...we are all trying to learn how other pianists/universities have handled this so we can refer to similar situations when we discuss this with the powers that be. 
Thanks, Dr. Foley!
Thank you, anonymous emailer, for the time you took to write this letter.

Your responses on this issue will be very welcome, and I understand the need for anonymity from many of you who work in university positions.

Here is my response:

1. Since this is not an employment issue but a self-employment and business issue, I think it is important to connect with your area's business and arts community at large. In my initial response to the anonymous emailer, I recommended joining the local Chamber of Commerce and Arts Council, both of which have substantial legal and lobbying resources to help understand the legalities of the situation and what can be done to return to fair rather than imposed accompanying rates.

More importantly...

2. A piano department head has no business personally setting the rates of self-employed individuals who provide services to a university. This is an administrative and operations issue, not an academic one. Depending on how the university is set up, proper authority might lie under the purview of the Business, Real Estate, or Human Resources departments, all of which would report to a figure such as the Vice President of Operations.

If the decision to throttle accompanist rates comes from Operations, then there's probably nothing that can be done. If the decision comes from a few rogue faculty members taking university policy decisions into their own hands, then there is a serious problem which is beyond the scope of this blog post to address, especially when dealing with faculty and administrators who vigorously guard their turf.

Also applicable: Open Comment Thread: Should Freelance Collaborative Pianists Be Regulated in Universities?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Job Opening: North Carolina School of the Arts

Dr. Allison Gagnon sends the following information about a staff pianist position at the North Carolina School of the Arts:
The School of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC is seeking to round out its piano staff for the 2013-14 academic year with the addition of at least one pianist who has both a strong collaborative skill set and solid repertoire experience. Our conservatory student body in the School of Music comprises ca. 275 students at the high school, undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels, and the campus for ca. 1000 students offers a thriving artistic work environment that Music shares with Schools of Dance, Drama, Design and Production and Filmmaking. Responsibilities would include assignments in both instrumental and vocal studios and would be part of a spectrum of pianist resources that includes both other professional pianists as well as graduate students in the collaborative piano program. This is an hourly contract position (i.e., no benefits attached) with a load of ca. 20 hours per week, which may be adjusted when budget details are confirmed for the new school year.

For more information, please contact Dr. Allison Gagnon, artist-faculty in Collaborative Piano at: gagnona [at]
It looks like the NCSA is looking to hire someone for the position as soon as possible, so don't hesitate to contact Dr. Gagnon if you're at all interested.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Open Comment Thread: How Much Should a Pianist Charge a Music Department for Performances with Chorus?

chorus group "sakura"I received a message from a CPB reader considering staff accompanist position that would involve playing for an chorus at a university. The salaried renumeration from the university only includes rehearsals. The pianist would be responsible for invoicing the university for the performances, both on and off campus.

The question is this: what amount should the pianist invoice for performances, both in town and out of town? Leave your comments below.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Studying Collaborative Piano in France

A few weeks ago, I received an inquiry from a reader about the best places to study collaborative piano in France. Not knowing the answer to this reader's question, I emailed Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, who responded with this full-length article on the educational system in France and how you can navigate its options in order to study collaborative piano there. On an important side note, Geraldine, along with David J. Hahn, has recently created Theatre Music Directors, an online resource hub for coaches, conductors, arrangers, and music directors. 

Because French is one of the languages collaborative pianists must know, it makes sense that some of us would want to study in France at some point. The thing is that it’s not always easy to find online information for French programs, and on top of that, the schooling system is quite different there from the one we’re accustomed to. So, since I was born and musically raised there, let me start by giving you a little background information on how things work a la francaise.

French students take a wide variety of classes all year long, every year, until the end of high school. After they pass the baccalauréat, students go to the university to study the one topic of their choice- no gen ed classes. Musicians decide then between going to the university for music, or attending the conservatory. The first option consists mainly of theory and history classes with little focus on the instrument, and leads to a career as a K-12 instructor or a university professor.

The second option - the Conservatory - is the most frequently picked. What is interesting about it is that it doesn’t work by age, but by levels. Children usually join the conservatory at a young age after taking and passing the entrance audition, and take their solfege classes, instrumental lessons and ensembles there. The levels are split into “cycles,” each ending with an exam to move on to the next. They can last anywhere between two to five years, and teachers are the ones to decide which year their students can start taking the exam. This system culminates with a médaille d’or (gold medal - think diploma, not an actual medal), which is the very minimum one needs to be able to teach in any local music schools. There is an option to continue to a diplome de perfectionement, which is really a way for students to either keep on studying with their teacher a bit longer, or to figure out their next move.

What all of this means is that by the time a teenager graduates high school and decides to focus on playing, he or she will either stay at the conservatory and may be at any point in the conservatory curriculum- usually at that age, either the end of the third cycle or the médaille d’or cycle, even though it is considered to be the equivalent of the high school baccalauréat. Most conservatories do not have a collaborative track, although a few do including the one I went to in Lyon - it required at least a médaille d’or in piano or its equivalency, along with the entry audition. This is a three to four-year track, which tends to lead its students straight into the CNSM (more on that below).

Those conservatories are in any major city of France, forty-one in total. They are called “regional,” and all function under the same standard of education with the same length of studying per semester, similar levels of difficulty, and equal requirements for teacher’s certifications- they also teach theatre and dance. So what is a student supposed to do after they’re done with the “conservatoire regional?” They have a few options.

One of them is to go to the CNSM- Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. There are two of those “superior” conservatories, one in Paris and one in Lyon. They are incredibly competitive, with an age limit for each instrument, and a maximum of three attempts to try to get in. It is not infrequent for a particular studio to not even have space available for a year or two until someone graduates. That’s where the ultra-talented go to, and there are many fourteen-year-olds around, focusing on music while they are home-schooled. For the chosen few who do make it, the program lasts four years, and ends with the acquisition of a premier prix (first prize), considered in North America as the equivalent of a Bachelor of Music. The CNSMs accept many international students every year, and as usual for France, the cost of attendance is incredibly low. The collaborative track there is fantastic, with focus on transposition, on-the-spot reductions, and sight-reading, along with ensemble playing and study of styles.

If you are still in high school and know that you want to become a collaborative pianist - and already are at an incredibly high level of playing - you can try to get into either one of the CNSM. There aren’t that many undergraduate collaborative degrees in North America, so this could be the best thing for you to do, focus on what you love right away, get your undergraduate equivalency once you’re back home, and do it without accumulating thousands of dollars in student debts. Of course, you first have to take the audition and get in. You can find more information here.

The second option after a regional conservatory is for future instrumental music teachers - who will work at conservatories, so they follow a different path from K-12 music teachers who go to the university. CEFEDEM (Centre de formation de la musique) came about only around ten years ago, are fairly competitive to get in, and last two years. They end with the acquisition of the DE - diplome d’état (state diploma), which is the minimum certificate needed (the other one is the CA, certificat d’aptitude, which is even harder to get and leads to higher paid jobs) to apply for a teaching position in conservatories and many other music schools in the country. They do have a curriculum for collaborative pianists, who can go on to accompanying positions in conservatories with their DE, rather than teaching positions. For American and Canadian students interested in studying in France, this option would only be helpful for having a career in France, and would not be of interest to anyone who wants to be in France only temporarily.

Knowing all of that, where does the prospective short-term student go? Here are your options:

1. If what you want is to spend a semester or a year in France, your best bet is to do it through your college. Ideally, you would have picked a university that offers study abroad, and if it did not, cross your fingers that your school has what you need. For exchange programs, regional conservatories will usually let you study temporarily without taking an audition. I first got to the US thanks to one of those exchange programs, one between Kalamazoo College and the Clermont-Ferrand (my hometown) universities, and I know that many of the US music students would study at the regional conservatory there.

2. For anyone who wants to get a Masters in France, the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris is the best option. I don’t know as much about it, except that my teacher in France studied there, and that he was wonderful. Here is their page for international students.

3. If you’re on your own, not affiliated to any school, and not wanting to do the masters mentioned above, you will have to audition to any regional conservatory to be able to attend. This makes most sense if you can stay there for at least a year and try to get the medaille d’or. Make sure to check on visa requirements first to know how to go about doing that. This would definitely be the hardest way to go about the whole thing.

4. Finally, the last option is to attend summer programs, usually called stage d’été, or académie d’été. Here are a couple, but there are many more (the links are mostly in French): Musique a Groix, Domaine Musiques, and the Academie Francis Poulenc.

Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

10 Things Every Collaborative Pianist Should Have

Today's guest post is written by Nancy Harder, who speaks to musicians about being entrepreneurial and tossing out the status quo on her blog, The Composed Musician. She's an active collaborative pianist, teacher, and writer. She's also on the faculty at Virginia Tech's Department of Music. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter on The Composed Musician for inspiration and news.

These are the things I've needed time and again as a collaborative pianist. Some of them have taken me a while to learn about and implement, but they've all made a big difference in my career as an entrepreneurial collaborator.

The list, of course, doesn’t include the indefinables - the gifts, talents, character set, and mindsets that are needed to be a musician.

But, these are the 10 simple things that will make a big difference in the marketing and success of yourself and your talents as a collaborative pianist, whether you’re a professional, amateur or something in between.

1. Website

If I could get all musicians in the world to do one thing for their business, this would be it. Have a website. Have a website. Have a website.

It’s best to have a dedicated domain (a la youname/, but using a free host like WordpressBlogspot, and Musicteachershelper also works well.

Make sure the site’s clean & organized. Simple = classy.

Think of your website as your portfolio, a one-stop preview of who you are and what you do. 

What could you include to give people the full picture of what you do, what you’ve done, and what you’d like to do in the future?

2. Great Bio

Have a carefully crafted bio at the ready. Don’t be shy about what you’ve done and who you've worked with.

Take note of bios you like and assimilate what you’ve liked best from other people’s bios.

This is important: have both a long and short version. The long version’s for your website, marketing materials, etc. The short version is a good blurb for certain programs, newsletters, etc.

This is not the same thing as a CV/resume. Though, you should have one of those at the ready too.

3. Cocktail Line

What do you do? 

Does hearing this question in social situations make you break out into a sweat? 

Having a great cocktail line may seem insignificant, but it’s not about small talk. It’s about a quick, authentic round-up of what lights you up in the world presented with confidence.

And you never know who you could next be standing in front of.

4. Professional Photos

Have a good headshot and/or professional photos. The investment will be worth it, I promise. 

You can use the photos on your website, promo material, business cards, programs, facebook profile/page, twitter profile, linkedin, etc.

Think about the image you want to get across. If you’d like a range of pics, work with the photographer and be detailed about what you’d like to convey and for what purpose.

Whatever you do, avoid photos that look like they were snapped by a friend at a party or were taken by yourself. 

If it's been more than 10 years since your last photo shoot, it's time to update. You don't want to be unrecognizable in your professional photos. It's distracting and reads as lazy.

5. Business Card

It never fails; the day you forget to carry business cards will be the day a prospective collaborator/event manager/etc…will come up and ask you for one. 

And it just doesn’t feel as elegant to have to grab a scrap of paper to put your info on.

Get some cards printed up cheaply at an online printing service, like (Again, simple is better.) 

And if you’re into arty flair, is great for specialty products and cards.

6. Respectable E-mail Address

Avoid monikers like

Your name (e.g. is better, a dedicated e-mail is best (e.g. 

Get on the Gmail train if you still hear “you’ve got mail” when you check your e-mail.

7. Attire

Don’t add stress to your life and wait until the last minute to find the right outfit for performances.

Let's face it. As collaborators our concert wardrobe is predominately black, but due to the variety of concert settings we need all kinds of black (Sunday matinee, evening, white tie, etc….) as well as more colorful concert attire.

Make sure you have a pair of shoes you’re comfortable performing in and are scuffed up to prevent slipping on newly polished stage floors.

Ladies - have flattering make-up and hair styles practiced and ready to go. Watch out for too-high heels that are difficult to maneuver on the piano pedals.

8. Set rates + availability

Know EXACTLY what your rates are and EXACTLY when you’re available. 

Don’t wait until a request comes to set a rate or figure out your calendar. This is when the risk of overbooking at too little money becomes very high.

Being very clear about your rates & availability is a form of service and respect to yourself and others.

I say this all the time on my blogIt's our job as musicians to teach the world the value of what we do. 

Want others to respect your role as collaborative pianists? It's up to you to teach others the value of what you do and proactively set what you're worth.

9. Proactive responses

Don’t waste time crafting responses to requests every time one comes in. This is reactive and a big energy waster. Be proactive and have set responses to requests.

For example, create a “Yes, I’m interested. Take a look at more of my info on my website…” e-mail and a “I’m honored you thought of me. However, I’m unavailable/my rate is ___. Here are people I recommend…”

Of course, the e-mail is personalized, but the structure and language of the response is already done and is effortlessly courteous and professional.

10. Have it in writing

Have everything in writing, whether contract, agreement, dates, price, etc… 

It not only protects you legally, but you’ll find people step up their commitment when it becomes official.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Another Useful Accompanist Career Guide

The Music Council of Australia's Music Career Wiki has just published a very informative career guide on the Accompanist, with sections on skills, prospects, training, and more. The rundown of specialist skills was particularly informative, as was the wording on interpersonal skills:
Accompanists need good interpersonal skills, because their clients are not always very good players or singers, and they may have personality traits that do not appeal to the accompanist. An even temper and extreme patience are required to produce the best possible outcome for the client. Nerves of steel are needed in concert or other performance situations if the client loses his/her place in the music — the accompanist has to be able to make the necessary adjustments to save the performance from disaster.
I also like this comment from Jilliane Stoll at Opera Queensland:
Surely there is no greater joy than to be making music WITH someone. The likelihood of a pianist ever “making it” as a soloist is virtually nil. So one must consider either teaching or accompanying as a career path. Just think about the diversity of musicians/singers that one can play for: individuals, big groups, small groups, theatre/ballet groups … a rewarding collaboration, both musically and socially! Accompanying is fun — so become an accompanist. You won’t regret it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Arts and Entertainment Plan is a Medical Benefits Program for Candadian Performing Artists

One of the really tough things about being a Canadian performing artist is that it's next to impossible to get extended medical benefits unless you work as an employee at a medium to large arts organization that offers benefits for your level of pay. Since that rules out the vast majority of working artists, many of us make do with only basic provincial medical health insurance, which, depending on which province you live in, can either cover a lot of procedures or very little.

The Arts and Entertainment Plan is a program for providing prescription drug care, extended health care, and dental care to individuals and families who are members of participating organizations, namely ACTRA/UBCP, Recording Artists' Collecting Society, and the Canadian Federation of Musicians (aka Musicians' Union locals in Canada). If you think this might be an option for you, take a look at the program handbook, as well as details of the program and enrollment.

The Arts and Entertainment Plan is underwritten by the ACTRA Fraternal Benefit Society, and here is an interesting statement about the plan from the FAQ page:
The Arts & Entertainment Plan is now available because it's the right thing to do: workers in the artistic community are not afforded the same benefits as their public and private counterparts. A 2010 study by the Cultural Human Resources Council notes that only only 20% of those working in the cultural sector have access to dental benefits and only 20% of those working in the cultural sector have access to dental benefits and only 22% have a drug plan. The Arts & Entertainment Plan is doing their part in making benefits a reality for those within the artistic community who otherwise would be without this safety net. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Straight Talk on Learning and Freelancing

I'm a huge fan of Penelope Trunk's blog. She pulls no punches, speaks her mind, and isn't afraid to make enemies. Two of her recent articles are worth reading if you're a professional freelance musician or music teacher:

1. How School Affects Future Earnings looks at some current thought regarding what's important in a child's education. Trunk's emphasis is on striving, confidence, goal-setting, doing the work, and unconventional solutions for each child. I also like the importance she puts on finding a mentor.

Let's face it - individualized instruction is not part of a successful business plan in the education sector. Class instruction is what pays the bills, and most schools simply can't afford to give students private instruction, even in cases where special education needs require it. Which is where private music teachers come in. It is impossible to develop any decent level of proficiency in a musical instrument without hours upon hours of individual lessons. Therefore, private music lessons might be the only one-on-one time that a child ever gets with a teacher (Elissa Milne has also stated this several times in her blog). This puts music teachers in a unique position to have a tremendous influence on a child's development, not just in terms of their progress in learning an instrument, but in their overall attitude towards self-confidence, work, achievement, and finding their true calling. Penelope says it very well:
I coach so many people who want advice about their career, but so often, these people really just need to learn how to figure out what they want: experiment, find what might be fun. Try it for a bit. People need coaching on how to take risks and not worry if they fail. People need coaching on how to find a mentor who is invested in their particular path. I see that all these things are related to earning power, and all these things are what kids learn when they direct their own curriculum.
2. Every freelance collaborative pianist should read Finance Tips for the Self-Employed. Being a freelancer in an urban music scene can be rough. You might rarely have access to your own dedicated studio space. You might go your entire career dragging a backpack around a school of music. You'll often make insane amounts of money from February through April, but have trouble making ends meet in September. Penelope's article won't change any of that, but will help you deal with the difficult stuff. Two of Penelope's points in particular are applicable to many people's freelance work:
4. Have one great client.
5. Self-employment stability requires doing stuff you hate.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Angry Letter to a Pianist

Yesterday I got word of a public letter to a nameless pianist who had charged for rehearsals (Update: and performance too) but neglected to learn the music. Although the person who wrote the letter gave me permission to publicize their name when posting the letter, I've decided not to. Here's the letter:
Dear Pianist(s),

If you can't play the rep, don't have time to learn the rep (and can't sight-read to make up for it), then have the courteousness to let the instrumentalist/singer know more than a week (or in this particular case, a day) before their performance. They have spent hundreds/thousands of dollars and countless hours preparing for it; have, and show, an iota of decency and self-respect.

You are so sadly fortunate that the classical music community will always need pianists, and there is no established system of peer review, or similar, in the accompanying world that will hold you accountable for your incredible behaviour.

It is a low down rotten dirty shame that you can get away with this.
Pianists: it's important to learn your notes before rehearsal and coaching sessions!  The actions of even one pianist who charges a full rate without being able to play the rep can reflect badly on all of us.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Call for Writers: Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Music Teacher's Helper, the all-in-one studio website, invoicing, scheduling, emailing, and management service, is looking for writers for its blog. If you run a studio, use MTH, and are seeking outlet for your writing skills and teaching expertise, the payment terms are definitely worth the one article per month that you'll need to write: you get a free MTH premium account for joining the blogging staff. Check out this blog posting for more info if you're interested. Applications are being accepted until May 10.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Alberta Accompanists Association: Serving Communities and Repertoire Needs

The Albert Accompanists Association is an organization (similar to Australian ones) which should serve for a model in more communities across North America. Its mandate:
The Alberta Accompanists Association is a group of collaborative artists that serve the music community in Edmonton and area, connecting supporting musicians with other instrumentalists, vocalists, and ensembles. We promote excellence in collaborative artistry by maintaining high standards for our members. The directory is publicly available and aims to connect groups and individuals with excellent musicians.

The community can count on strong accompanists that are skilled in their area of interest when working with an AAA member.

Each member of the association is a working collaborative artist, with a minimum 2-years of experience in their specialization. Moreover, each member is recognized by the music community as a musician of great skill. The community can access the information about members by searching specializations, years of experience, geographic area, etc. in an online database. Users search for specific types of accompaniment (choral accompaniment, classical music, musical theatre, etc), and have access to a filtered list of musicians.

Each member has worked in the community for at least 2 years, has received payment for their work, has worked with at least 3 different clients, and has education (or substantial experience) in the field of accompaniment.

An arm's length jury evaluates each member to ensure a high level of quality among artists
The AAA also receives funding from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for its operations. The site consists of both a search tool for those needing services (with fields for skill needs, experience, musical style, and location) and a registration process for pianists who want to join the association.

There are only 13 pianists listed on the site at present, but this is an excellent start to filling the needs of singers and instrumentalists who are often always in need of a pianist for upcoming engagements. Hopefully pianists in the Calgary and Lethbridge areas might be interested in joining and allowing the AAA to expand its reach beyond Edmonton.

I can't see why this model wouldn't work in other areas in Canada or the United States. It can be exceedingly difficult in places such as Toronto to find a pianist in the peak season, and a local directory of this sort might be a great way to streamline the search process of finding a pianist for specific niches. I can also imagine that an "arm's length jury" might easily devolve into a racket in some cities, so ethical governance would be a priority for any start-up organization of this sort.

What are your thoughts about and experiences with accompanist organizations?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Open Comment Thread: Should Freelance Collaborative Pianists Be Regulated in Universities?

I've received a number of emails over the last while regarding initiatives at several universities to regulate the activities and business practices of freelance collaborative pianists who work there. Some of the issues at stake include:
  • the right of universities to determine who is allowed to freelance in a school of music
  • caps on maximum hourly rates and flat fees
  • types of services which can and cannot be billed
  • the right of collaborative pianists to determine contractual terms, such as billing for missed coachings
The perceived rights of freelance collaborative pianists to work on a self-employed basis at universities which cannot provide staff accompanying services for all their students can be a contentious issue, and I can think of several arguments both for and against granting pianists a free market in the college setting:

  • having a freelance pianist market can literally save schools of music hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in accompanying fees and staff pianist positions
  • excessive control of pianists by university administration is not always in the best interest of maintaining a high artistic standard at the school
  • students might not wish to work with pianists mandated by the university
  • pianists should be allowed to charge fairly for their work, and will go elsewhere if this right is denied
  • freelance pianists work on the property of public and private institutions, whose administrators have every legal right to manage labor standards, and whose departments and faculty have every right to manage academic standards
  • freelance work by piano students on student visas may jeopardize their legal situation vis-à-vis allowable employment
  • non-student freelance pianists might not be working legally in the country, and liability for any immigration laws being broken may lie with the institution who allows them to work there
  • students need to be protected against unscrupulous billing practices by pianists, especially at peak times of the academic year
Your comments on the subject are welcome. I also respect your right to post anonymously. Just remember that if you comment on this subject on Facebook, your views will most certainly not be anonymous, since people on both sides of this issue have a stake in the outcome and may very well be viewing the comments.