Monday, January 09, 2006

Career Options in Collaborative Piano

One of the realities of the collaborative piano profession is that people tend to wear several hats at once, and the pianists that genuinely make a go of this field are ones that can integrate working in several related fields. Following is a list of many of the related fields and job descriptions that I have encountered with various people throughout my travels in the profession. Making a career often requires having one's professional network encompass more than one of these fields.

Schools, Colleges, and Universities

-Graduate Assistant in Teaching, Accompanying
-Staff Accompanist
-Classroom Teacher of Piano, History, Theory, Opera Repertoire, Song Repertoire, Lyric Diction, Collaborative Piano
-Opera Coach
-Private Teacher of Piano, both solo and collaborative
-Private Teacher of Voice
-Undergraduate Piano Accompanying Co-ordinator
-Audition Pianist Co-ordinator
-Faculty Executive Committee member
-Department Head
-High School Music Teacher
-Elementary Music Teacher-Early Childhood Music Educator-Dean
-University President

Opera Company

-Repetiteur/Vocal Coach
-Audition Pianist
-Program Co-ordinator
-Surtitle Operator
-Singer on Chorus Contract
-Singer on Small Role Contract
-Musical Dramaturg
-Administrator, all levels
-Musical Director
-Artistic Director

Musical Theatre

-Rehearsal Pianist
-Audition Pianist
-Performance Pianist/Keyboardist


-Ballet Accompanist
-Modern Dance Accompanist
-Gymnastics Accompanist
-Pianist for Performance, with or without Ensemble
-Collaborator with Dancer


-Choral Accompanist
-Choral Singer

Large Ensemble

-Orchestral Pianist
-Wind Ensemble Pianist
-Pianist in New Music Ensemble
-Harpsichordist in Early Music Ensemble
-Contractor for Ensemble (Fixer in UK)
-Steward for Ensemble

Religious Institution

-Pianist/Organist for Church
-Pianist/Organist for Temple/Synagogue


-Piano Teacher
-Piano Teacher for Professional/Amateur Collaborative Pianists
-Voice Teacher
-Pianist for Vocal Studio
-Pianist for Instrumental Studio
-Pianist for Group Lessons
-Pianist for Artist Agency
-Vocal Coach
-Audition Pianist
-Permanent or Semi-Permanent Pianist for Soloist
-Founder/Artistic Director of Company/Series
-Official Competition/Festival Pianist
-Official Symposium Pianist


-Arranger-Web Designer
-Multimedia Artist
-Pianist for TV show
-Stage Actor
-Television Actor
-Web Designer
-Software Developer


-Pianist in Musical Groups for Armed Forces
-Piano Technician

And last but not least,

Solo Pianist

Since the field of Collaborative Piano is a constantly evolving field, the types of work that we are engaged in are also changing. If you are doing or know of anyone that is doing anything interesting or out of the ordinary, write a comment below and it can be added to the list.


  1. Anonymous11:19 AM

    Gotta say Chris, I'm more than a little dismayed at how you list some variets of "singer" as a career options to be done part time to fill the gaps in playing piano. As I'm sure you know, getting a contract to even be a chorus singer (let alone a small role!) in a company that pays enough to make it even a little financially worth while is a pretty tall order. I notice you didn't put "ballet dancer" or "professional cellist" down, despite listing the accompanying of these. I'm sure there are a number of pianists out there who can sing just fine, as I'm sure there are those that can dance, but to suggest that a small role with a company that pays any decent amount of money is so easy to come by for one trained only in a related industry is akin to suggesting that my dog's vet perform my appendectomy. I would have hoped that one who works with singers so often (and so well) would have a little more respect for the amount of work behind it.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Here is my response.

    These career options are based not on my own ideas, but on what I have found collaborative pianists historically do in various facets of the profession.

    The fact is, I have known two and only two singers that have accomplished the feat of being a repetiteur for an opera company and subsequently being offered a singing contract. In both cases, these were either chorus or small roles, and in both cases, the repetiteurs sang at a very high level and had degrees in voice performance. In addition, I attended the premiere of an opera in California where the repetiteur for the production also had an acting role.

    I mean no offense to the profession of singing, to the years of hard work, or the difficulty of finding work in a market saturated with trained singers. However, my Career Options list was compiled based on real-life instances of what people have actually done.

    And I'm more than a little dismayed at trained singers getting work as repetiteurs, but hey, if they're good enough, they deserve it and they're welcome to work in our field.

    P.S. I am not aware of any collaborative pianists who have worked as dancers.

  3. Continued response to anonymous poster...

    The list has been amended to reflect what is generally required for a pianist to be hired as a singer.

    There is no suggestion in the list that a pianist working as a singer (or for that matter any of the options in the list) was easy--only that it was an option.

    Furthermore, I draw your attention to the success of Two Pianos, Four Hands by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, one of the most successful Canadian plays ever written, which requires two pianists to both sing and act.

  4. Anonymous2:20 PM

    What a great and informative site!
    My mother is a collaborative pianist with 30 years of experience in the field and she is going to be very excited about my discovery of your blog.
    Do you have any suggestions on how one may be looking for the job resources as a collaborative pianist and a newcomer in Toronto?
    My parents are in the process of immigration to come and live in Canada,and I imagine that it is going to be very difficult for them, as they are in their 50s, to look for music job opportunities in a new place.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad your parents are relocating to Toronto and hope they have a speedy path to resident status and eventual citizenship. There is currently a huge shortage of collaborative pianists/accompanists in Toronto, so if your mother has experience in the field she can send me a CV right away--I currently turn away 2-3 people per day for auditions, recitals, etc.

    As for getting employment at music schools, I can't really help with that. I'm currently not that bullish with the level of employment standards at most private music schools in Toronto, with the exception of larger institutions such as the RCM. If your parents are still up for a little footwork, I recommend networking with other teachers through ORMTA, NATS, and other organizations, as well as getting the word out through ads and flyers when they have a studio set up. There's always a market for high-quality teachers in these parts.

  6. Anonymous12:15 AM

    I have a friend who plays piano wonderfully, but her training is being a soloist. Will it be too late for training her to be a rehearsal pianist since she is 30+?

  7. Anonymous commenter, there are lots of graduate students in collaborative piano in their 30's and her age may even be an asset in a profession where maturity and quality of judgement are often valued above sheer youth. This summer, I met a pianist in her 60's who had just finished a doctorate in collaborative piano!

  8. Other career options, perhaps under "Freelance": (1) Pianist for Instrumental School's Group Lessons, and (2) Pianist for Music Festivals.

  9. Thanks Sherri - I added those options!

  10. Anonymous12:36 PM

    Great post! I would add to the comment about pianists moonlighting as singers-- I've met a number of collaborative pianists over the years who also have degrees in voice, and some have managed to maintain their singing to some degree even while working professionally as pianists. We collaborative pianists are often in the loop when vacancies arise at short notice. I myself had designs on a voice degree as an undergrad, but never completed it. My singing skills, however minimal, have allowed me to step in as an ensemble singer in some (NOT glamorous but occasionally decent paying) gigs. These experiences have made me respect even more the highly skilled singers with whom I collaborate!

  11. I agree on the new generation of pianist/singers who are able to work in both fields. When this article first came out, it highly offended some singers, who were appalled to hear that pianists were able to step into their shoes. Take a look at the first comment and you'll see.

  12. Anonymous6:42 PM

    I'm a pianist and a DAMN good singer

  13. A recent career goal of mine is to obtain a staff accompanist position at a university somewhere, and I had a couple of questions:

    1) How common are they?
    2) The limited amount I have heard about these positions hasn't been very favorable, is it a job worth pursuing?

    I don't want to work as a freelance pianist, but I don't know how many other options are available for a pianist who really doesn't want to teach, and how to get my foot in the door at any of these other options. Any suggestions?

    1. Anonymous7:34 PM

      Most universities won't even consider you unless you have a master's in some sort of music. Go talk to the dean of your local schools and be prepared to play for some lessons (translation:sightread). I don't know any accompanists who rely on this income alone. As with most music jobs, they are good as a 2nd income if you have a spouse with a full-time job and benefits. It's stressful and physically challenging to the hands. Technology is evolving to eliminate the need for accompanists.

  14. Anonymous12:44 AM

    I am a pianist and a DAMN good singer too! :)

  15. Being one of those pianists who loves to collaborate (and sing!), I'm happy to see that it's possible to manage both things. I'm currently working on a Masters in piano and am hoping to add a voice degree alongside it - auditioning this week. Good to know I'm not the only one out there! :)

  16. Anonymous12:48 AM

    So glad that I'm not alone! I am a collaborative pianist with years of singing experience and some training as well, but I have faced so many weird and usually negative reactions from other musicians (note: only other pianists and singers!) just by mentioning that I am actually a singer too. I feel like it's considered a lack of professionalism or something. Therefore, I just had my first audition for MM in Voice. ;) If I need a degree in singing to be taken seriously in that field too, no problem... I just want to be able to continue to do what I love now that I am becoming a part of professional world that tends to be very specific and selective of one's skills. And I love doing both.

    1. You're part of the new breed of unstoppable singer/pianist hybrids! Please note the tone of jealousy in the previous sentence.

    2. :) Nothing like being a "double threat," as the musical-theater people say!

  17. Thanks for the post, Chris! As an active free-lancer, I would add "recitalist" to my list, and I would add also that I often work (as an independent contractor) as repetiteur for various small opera companies, even though I don't have a regular appointment in a larger house.

    And, as an collaborative pianist, I do teach privately, but I only teach students who are seeking to further their skills as accompanists. I would recommend to some of your commenters who are interested in furthering those skills that they seek out experienced, working collaborative pianists for lessons, particularly if pursuing a graduate degree is not an option...

    1. avecvoix, thanks for the input! I teach collaborative piano privately, and this is a line of teaching that has plenty of room to grow as both amateurs and pros seek further specialized instruction. The list has been updated.

  18. Anonymous12:33 PM

    And what about an academic career as a researcher?