Friday, May 29, 2009

Readers' Commentary - 29 May 2009

The Accompanist or Collaborative Pianist? article from earlier in the week has generated some very well thought-out comments from various people. In case you haven't yet seen the Wholenote article by Colin Eatock that generated so much response from both myself and others, you can find it here.

Susan Eichhorn Young
Pianists who indeed work in tandem with singers and instrumentalists are most DEFINITELY collaborative! They do not "just accompany" but rather, are part of the performance process - including coaching prior to that performance! "Accompany" to me indicates being without any kind of self-direction. Why must we have a hierarchy when it comes to creating art? Why can't it be collaborative in whatever way the artists choose together? I know many collaborative pianists who have saved the butts of many singers during a performance!! If that isn't collaborative, I don't know what is!

I disagree with Eatock. Gestures are not empty if they are there to make a change and acknowledge a definite artist with whom another artist is making a statement with. I always bow WITH my pianist. Any pianist collaborates on making a performance the best it can be. That in itself should be enough. The gesture to give a collaborative pianist an equal billing by using this term, allows for the recognition that what they do is IMPERATIVE to the outcome!
Claude sums up the situation with this short but definitive take on the subject:
Agree with Becky - "pianist" says enough. The moment that the pianist is referred to as an accompanist or collaborator is the moment that a hierarchy is created.
Here is part of an extensive comment by Michael Monroe:
And, as has been often said, even when collaborative pianists are playing sonata rep by Beethoven/Brahms where the musical role is unquestionably that of an equal, there is a sense in which we're often accompanying "someone else's" recital. Not always true, of course, but if Violinist A is making a Carnegie Hall debut, the pianist's social/cultural role is that of accompanist, regardless of what the musical role is. Samuel Sanders was a great man, but when he played recitals with Perlman, he was an accompanist in a useful sense of the term, no matter what he or Perlman might have said. The people bought tickets to hear Perlman. (I'm not saying I think that's a great thing, but I do think it's true.) Even Jeremy Denk playing for Joshua Bell still kind of fits that mold - though less so. There are always degrees.

However, your random Twitter search is unsettling. (To be fair, probably most random Twitter searches are unsettling.) I agree that "collaborative piano" makes more sense for degree programs than does accompanying and, at least for now, we pretty clearly need the two tracks of piano and ... something else. Frankly, it's a shame that 95% of career-seeking pianists aren't given more CP training, but that's a whole other story. Hey, we can start calling it CPR, Collaborative Piano Rulers? (OK, the r needs work.) "We've got a singer who needs a diction intervention. Stat!" "I'm on it - I've got a DMA in CPR!"

I do think the term is here to stay, mainly because it's being so widely adopted by degree programs. It might seem less odd to the next generation than it does to me. I also think the moniker works nicely as a title for your blog, by the way. Maybe it's that the extra syllable (blog) helps to balance out the mouthful that is the word "collaborative."
Thanks, Michael--I've never thought about the title of my blog in that way. (For more information about the reason I picked the title back in 2005, be sure to see my upcoming lecture at the Vancouver International Song Institute at 4pm on Saturday, June 13.)

James Douglass
writes of the fine line that many of us walk in the profession:
I've been in many discussions regarding this issue - there are many tangential aspects. I'm interested in presenting a concise summation. "Collaborative" is a term intended to simplify the areas within which a pianist may work under one umbrella - as opposed to "pianist" for chamber and "accompanist" for vocal, choral, or other miscellany. A secondary concern/goal would be the respect issue.

On programs we should simply use the term "piano" in the same sense that our recital partners are referred to as soprano, violin, etc. They are not referred to by their field title or academic classification (voice performance, string performance, etc.).

We will rarely be seen in the same public light and focus as most of the partners with whom we work - it is simply part of the package of choosing to work in this challenging and very fulfilling field. The tricky balance is to create respect for us and the field through the quality of our work and demeanor while tactfully standing our ground artistically and professionally.
For more comments from well-known musicians (including Natalie Doucet-Lalkins and Bob Koenig) be sure to check out the original post.

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