Why I can't be an Accompanist

Today I had spent my first day working as an accompanist. It was the first time I had worked as one, so I really didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had talked on the phone with the voice coach who hired me to get a vague idea of what he needed me to do.

I had asked him if I should pick up the pieces he was going to teach his students, so that I could get some practice on them before we started on Sunday. He assured me that I wouldn’t need to, that things were going to be pretty simple, etc.

Well, today I came to the jarring realization that he expected me to just play all these arias, without any prior preparation or practice :eek: I was mortified…I mean, when he asked me over the phone, “Can you read sheet music?” I truthfully told him “yes” because I can read the music, but if you give me something I’ve never seen, let alone heard before it will take me a few days of practice to get it down at the very least. So for much of the lessons I kept screwing up both because I was nervous as hell and because I had never seen the material before.

The best way I can describe it is having one of those nightmares where you are in school, and have to take an exam you haven’t studied for. Only this was in real life. After the lessons were over and he paid me, he warned me that ‘sight reading’ (reading a piece of music the musician has never seen/heard before) is crucial to being an accompanist- he’d let me come back next week to see if I can improve but if not, he would have to look for someone else. I’m a little frustrated as to why he just can’t give me a bunch of arias and have me work on them on my own time; sure I can’t play it out of the blue but give me a week and I can get 8 arias down if my livelihood is depending on it. However I’m sure from his prespective, he probably wants someone that can meet his demands. Ultimately the only real reason he went along with it today (and agreed to have me come back next week) is that I was the only person he could find on such short notice. :frowning:

That’s disappointing. From your earlier posts, it sounded like you were looking forward to this job. Why couldn’t the guy have made his requirements clear right out front?

I can imagine why sight reading might be essential, depending on the kind of work the teacher is doing. He probably wants the flexibility of spontaneously taking the student to a similar piece or back to an exercise to work on a point in the aria she’s having difficulty with. But not being explicit about his requirements up front is just not fair to you.

I hope next week isn’t too stressful for you. Good luck.

I read your post to Mrs Stone and she sympathizes with you but also says that Arias are (IHO - in her opinion) only of average difficulty. Try being an accompanist for a Symphony or Ballet, those pieces are much more difficult.

Mrs Stone is a classical pianist (and composer) and has done all three types of accompaning. She is currently looking for work as such at our new place and is practicing every day pulling out pieces from her library that she hasn’t played in a long time, to keep her skills up.

She reccomends that you read one new piece daily (that you have never read before) and to slowly increase the difficulty of the pieces you tackle. You will find in several months that you can handle amost anything.

It’s not clear from your OP if the voice coach teaches an ongoing class of students and thus the music will keep changing, all the time, ongoing… Or if it is a school type class, where the teacher will have new students every year. If that is the case, it is likely that you will have the same music every year (with only minor differences) and once you learn it you will be all set for the future. She once spent several years in such a position and said it was the easiest job she’s had.

Anyway, good luck from both of us.

Reading my post, I realise it might look like Mrs Stone was bragging… don’t blame her, that was all me (hey, I’m proud of her!).

She also agrees with you that it would be much easier if the voice coach let you practice before hand. But they tend to be perfectionists (as is needed in their profession) and expect perfection in everyone around them, so they set (seemingly) impossible standards.

Of coure, Mrs Stone being a composer, is also a perfectionist and sees nothing wrong with this… uh-oh here she comes… <submit reply>

The key to being a good accompanist is light-speed sight reading, and the ability to interpret all dynamic and secondary markings on the chart intuitively. As a guitarist who primarily accompanies jazz singers and such, I don’t have quite the difficulty level of a classical piano accompanist - I usually read off head charts, not scores. Nevertheless, the basic concept is the same.

Regardless, the key is sight reading every day as mentioned above. You will get better than you can imagine at reading some incredibly difficult pieces if you stick with it for a few months.

If you ever do need to accompany jazz, get really good at comping shells in your left hand while carrying the melody in the right. Also, listen to a lot a McCoy Tyner for interesting left hand work while reharmonizing and still carrying the melody on the right.

Sightreading’s only the start of it, which is probably why the voice coach seemed to place undue significance on it. As EarthStone777 indicates, there will also arise the need to play from orchestral scores, and to transpose, etc. Exceptional sightreading is essential before you can even think of tackling these as an accompanist!

Don’t get disheartened - it sounds like you were really in the deep end. I’d suggest focussing on work accompanying choral rehearsals as a useful stepping-stone - you’ll have less need to play hundreds of different pieces at short notice, but will understand more of how vocal work progresses, what differences there are from instrumental performance (and instrumental accompaniment), etc.

Well, if anything, it helped me establish where I stood-

I talked it over with my piano teacher, and she pointed out the fact that I have more or less spent all these long years training to be a piano soloist. Hence it is not surprising this would give me so much trouble.

I feel much better about it now; earlier I was much more upset because I had mistakenly thought the incident was an example of my inexperience at the piano. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather trying to go from being a soloist to an accompanist overnight was like trying to jam a square peg in a round hole.