Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dick Allen's Accompanist Poem

Dick Allen has written a poem entitled "The Accompanist", an ode of sorts to the person at the piano. Here's an excerpt:
I worry about whole lifetimes,
most lifetimes
lived in the shadows of reflected fame;
but then the singer's voice dies
and there are just your last piano notes,
not resentful at all,
carrying us to the end, into those heartfelt cheers
that spring up in little patches from a thrilled audience
like sudden wildflowers bobbing in a rain
of steady clapping. And I'm on my feet, also,
clapping and cheering for the singer, yes,
but, I think, partially likewise for you
half-turned toward us, balanced on your black bench,
modest, utterly well-rehearsed,
still playing the part you've made yours.
You can read the entire poem here.


In spite of the fact that it is somewhat kind of a poet to condescend to write a poem about that "modest, utterly well-rehearsed" person at the piano, I can't help but think that this poem may be little insulting to those of us who spend our lives working with other musicians playing awesome repertoire and often making good money at it. And what about those lines about living "in the shadows of reflected fame", or "receiving only such applause as the singer allows"?

Do you feel that Allen is using the stereotype of the collaborative pianist/accompanist as the person in the shadows to showcase the poignancy of their art, or is he merely reinforcing the stereotype? Is Allen's view of the accompanist an outdated one or is it still valid?

As always, your comments are welcome.

More poems about accompanists:

Arni Ibsen's Accompanist Poem
Accompanist for Florence Foster Jenkins, a Poem by Darren Morris
Ken Weisner's Accompanist Poem


  1. All I can think of is the Maria Callas clip you published a while ago and no one knew who the accompanist was. THAT is the steriotype when dealing with singers :-)

  2. Anonymous3:15 PM

    I came across the link to "The Accompanist" just by accident. I should tell you that Ted Kooser didn't write the poem, but I (Dick Allen) did and Kooser was kind enough to reprint it in one of his columns. And now I feel like the accompanist I was stereotyping (the one who works with a singer and is too often not acknowledged). :-).

    Best wishes, Dick Allen

  3. Thanks, Dick! I corrected that most egregious mistake on my part.

  4. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Dick Allen, what do you view the role of the pianist is?