Many students mistakenly believe that playing with an accompanist is simply a matter of keeping in time together. While keeping the piece together is important, there are several other issues that contribute to a performance’s effectiveness. Can the performer maintain the musical line through an entire piece? Is the performer aware of what is going on alongside his or her part? Is the performer just playing through his or her part, without regard to other musical elements? Does the performer appear comfortable onstage? The answers to these questions can reveal much about the performer’s experience.
An effective musical performance is a journey from the beginning of the piece to the end, and the performer’s task is to guide the audience through this journey. The best soloists, when interpreting a piece of music, know what musical ideas are compatible with the accompaniment. For students, working regularly with an accompanist is the best way to learn what works musically with an accompaniment and what doesn’t. A competent accompanist can also help a student refine his or her interpretation of the piece to produce a more effective, compelling performance.
But musical collaboration is not just a matter of working out what to do onstage. Music is at its heart a form of communication, and the performers must communicate with each other before communicating with the audience. This communication must start in rehearsal, with soloist and accompanist articulating their musical ideas, and working out a mutually agreeable interpretation. Once on stage, performers can communicate through subtle musical cues, allowing for a degree of spontaneity that adds life to a performance. Skill in this form of communication can only be developed through experience.
Perhaps the most important reason to rehearse regularly with an accompanist, though, is to become comfortable performing with an accompanist. Nervousness is a factor in nearly every performance, and familiarity with the music is the most effective way to deal with this issue. Performing with a pianist becomes much more comfortable after doing it many times, but for a student that has only rehearsed once or twice with a pianist, it can be a strange and terrifying experience! However, regular work with an accompanist makes the performance “just one more time through the piece,” and can go a long way towards keeping one’s nerves in check.
Check back for the next installment on what to look for in an accompanist!