Monday, November 07, 2005

The One-Page Guide to Collaborative Piano Playing

Getting Ready
Make sure you have a date-book, either paper or digital. You’ll need to mark down rehearsal, lesson, master class, and recital times that may need to be remembered weeks or months in advance. Make sure you have either a watch or access to a clock so that you will show up on time for your commitments—nobody likes to be kept waiting. You will need a telephone with an answering machine or someone to take good messages for you. Pager and cell phone are optional but extremely useful, as are email and instant messaging services.

Before the first rehearsal
Make sure you exchange phone numbers and alternate ways of staying in touch. Make sure the person you work with gives you the music a reasonable time in advance of the first rehearsal. If not, politely insist on it. If the person you work with gives you photocopies, you are within your rights to politely ask for a binder in which to put them or to ask for the score itself. Remember that performing with photocopies is illegal without permission from the publisher if the music or the edition is under copyright.

Learn the music thoroughly before the first rehearsal. Learning the music also includes learning the solo line(s). Reading a vocal line also includes following the text. Come to the rehearsal with the material prepared and already at this stage make sure you have at least some musical ideas about the work prior to first rehearsing it.

At the rehearsal and/or lesson
Have your antennae out when working with other musicians. A relaxed, open, yet focused attitude when working together yields the best results. Always be thinking of how you can better interact with your partners in both music-making and discussion.

Play with a full sound, not a meek sound. If balance is an issue, consider the following criteria:
a) Pedal--are you using too much or to little? Can you change pedal less often? Can you try experimenting with half or quarter pedal? Flutter-pedalling?
b) Register—where is the solo line in pitch-space compared to the piano part? Are they overlapping or not? Consider whether balancing toward either the treble or bass might improve the overall sound.
c) Articulation and speed of attack—is your articulation helping or hindering you? Could your sound benefit from either a faster or slower speed of attack? Is your sound either too abrasive or too limpid for the instrument, performer, or repertoire? Could your sound benefit from either a lightness or heaviness of touch?
d) Melody--who has it? If you have it, make sure you are projecting it properly. If somebody else has it, make sure you can hear it. If you can't, you might need to back off.
e) Finally, are you in fact playing too loud? Too soft?

With singers, listen for breaths, as well as consonants before the beat and vowels on the beat.
With string players, listen for speed and types of bowing. If you need one, ask for a cue.
With wind and brass players, listen for breaths, as well as delays in onset of sound for different types of instruments. With a conductor, make sure the piano is angled so you can see him/her clearly.

Before a recital
If possible, rehearse in the concert hall beforehand to try out the acoustics of the space, the piano, and for any adjustments you may have to make. If playing in unfamiliar halls, be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of different makes of pianos (ie. New York vs. Hamburg Steinways, Yamahas, Bösendorfers, Baldwins, Bostons, Grotrians) and how they may affect overall sound and balance. Figure out the chair situation and if possible, find a comfortable height on adjustable benches before the concert. Discuss how you and your partner(s) will enter and leave the stage and in what order, as well as the ever-important issue of bowing when you walk out and after the end of the piece. Do you need a page-turner? If so, make sure a page-turner’s chair is set out before the concert.

And most importantly, play at the same professional level for your collaborative projects as you would for your solo work—your command of the piano must be the same in either situation.

Dr. Christopher Foley
from the Royal Conservatory of Music Art of Teaching Conference
June 2004

Accompanying Basics - sheet music at Accompanying Basics By Joyce Grill. Piano. Reference. Music Book. Published by Neil A. Kjos Music Company. (WP154)
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  1. Anonymous3:17 PM

    nice instructions given as to what to do prior,during and post piano practice

  2. Thanks, NYU. Are you an avatar representing the entire university or merely an individual within the collective?