Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Do You Look For In An Accompanist?

An article by Michelle Bennett entitled What Do You Look For in an Accompanist? examines some of the criteria that go into a singer choosing a pianist. This is definitely required reading for all singers and pianists, and here are some thoughts on Michelle's list based on my own experience:

  • Ditto on professionalism as a deciding factor. I recall talking to an exasperated singer asking for pianists I could refer her to. ________'s words: "I don't even care if they're great players, as long as they're reliable." Our art is often one where reliability and consistency are often valued more than mere genius.
  • Being able to comment intelligently on matters of poetry and drama as it relates to the music is another ability that is highly valued.
  • Being able to comment on suitability of repertoire is also something that singers need, although not every pianist is at the stage where they know voices enough to be able to do this. When talking rep with singers, often there are some tough choices to be made. When I was younger, I used to hold my tongue and play the diplomat when working with singers preparing unsuitable rep (18-year-old tenors singing Nessun dorma, 17-year-old sopranos singing The Trees on the Mountain). Now I just say what I feel and damn the torpedoes. If singers don't agree with my opinions they can choose to work with someone else.
  • Singers also need to find a pianist/accompanist/vocal coach/recital partner whom they get along with. There are so many elements to perfect in the art of singing, much of it dealing with integrating work in one's own body, and how much more pleasant is the experience working with a pianist if they are a positive force.
The singers who can potentially get the most out of Michelle's list are developing singers at the pre-college level who stand to gain the most working with pianists and coaches that are genuinely knowledgeable about the singer's art, thus speeding the process of artistic development (and improving one's chances of landing a spot in a top-flight school).


  1. A belated comment here (sorry, I've been away)-- what about skill in at least pronouncing (if not understanding in detail) commonly- used languages (Italian, German, French)? When I trained in London that was expected. Or do singers on this side of the pond tend to go to someone else for that?

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