Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Young Collaborative Pianist

What are some possible entrance points for young pianists into the world of collaborative piano? How can their formative first experiences in this field create positive outcomes that will give them the curiousity for further exploration? Joyce Grill in her article Accompanying Skills: Where to Begin? from the September 1998 Piano Pedagogy Forum mentions the idea of team participation that is central to sports, but seemingly discouraged for pianists:

Young students like the idea of "team", of camaraderie. But except for the occasional duet, piano students practice alone and go to their lesson alone. The vocalist or the instrumentalist gets to sing in a choir or play in a band or orchestra, but the piano student goes on alone, never getting to know the joy of making music with others.

She goes on to list several ways that accompanying in various musical settings can develop critical listening skills from musicians of other disciplines.

Susan Keith Gray writes in a similar vein in her article
Summertime Collaborations from the June/July 2004 American Music Teacher. She encourages teachers to do the footwork to get ensembles going at an early stage:

I visited with my local violin colleagues (although most any instrument would work), who were excited and eager to work with me. Much to my surprise, we were able to pair the students quickly. Even in our small town, performance level and age were well matched. For all the teams, we selected appropriate repertoire for informal, short-term goals. As the students began practicing independently, I monitored their progress and determined when they were ready for their first meetings with their partners and with me.

Again, the emphasis is on building team experiences with well-matched partners. It is almost as if the social aspects of the encouter are as important as the musical content. Teachers need to make this element of music-making fun in order to succeed.

Halfway through high school, my interest in piano playing had hit a plateau. I suffered from terrible stage fright, had trouble keeping my focus at the piano, and got the bug of something that I can only describe as pianistic loneliness. Then one September, I was pressed into service as the rehearsal and performance pianist for my high school's musicals in Grades 11 and 12. The impact this had on my life at the keyboard was immediate. I enjoyed incorporating piano playing into working with others on a common goal, enjoyed the shows we put on (Cabaret and Guys and Dolls), and most of all enjoyed the process, which is central to any successful activity in the arts. And although I didn't enter a specific collaborative piano degree program until many years later, the seeds of the spirit of teamwork were sown at an early age, the experience was positive, and it provided a framework for what eventually became a career.

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