Accompaniment can throw up all kinds of scenarios - some we can smile through, some we can only laugh at after the event. Although I have attended courses in accompaniment, by far the best professional development is in real life - by doing it and learning from each experience. In this run-up to Christmas and with it all (almost) behind me for another year, I thought I would reflect on twelve of my experiences over time, some better than others. How many accompanists can identify with these?
Day 1 - Performance day is here and you and your soloist do justice to a great arrangement for both players; it's not just the pianist playing 'second fiddle'. It's a challenging piece for both of you but you have practised well together and the ensemble is spot on. Satisfaction.
Day 2 - You are accompanying someone who has had minimum time to rehearse with you and it's obvious they haven't mastered their own part in any way, shape or form, so you are full of apprehension about that those tricky passages where you just know you are having to use your bag of tricks... Sixth sense required.
Day 3 - Today is exam day and the traffic made you late/the candidate late/there were no parking spaces either- so you can't warm up properly and everyone feels pressured. Don't like days like these!
Day 4 - The soloist decides to skip beats or bars, make up words, or goes back to have another go when they miss a cue instead of trying to recover promptly and keep the pulse going. Keep calm and carry on...
Day 6 - Today was a day when you arrived knowing that the one 20-minute rehearsal asked for was never going to be enough - so does the soloist/candidate, who is a bag of nerves.
Day 7 - Much better day! The soloist is making spectacular efforts to make eye contact and/or move their instrument to signify entries and important cues. Yessss.
Day 8 - OMG, this is the day of difficult page turns, flipping frantically or missing parts of the harmony out to negotiate the turn. Worse still, that scanned page at the side of the score is gradually slipping more and more at an angle to the music stand, until it drops off onto the floor altogether. Often happens with open-air concerts when the wind decides to whip up. Note to self - put pegs and bulldog clips into bottomless pit of handbag just in case.
Day 9 - Isn't it just wonderful when the accompanist has a marvellously maintained, well-tuned instrument on which to perform? (see also Day 10...) Sometimes we have honky-tonks, keyboards with non-touch-sensitive keys and no pedal, the surface of one or two keys may be rough or missing, or even WORSE, piano keys are missing altogether...
Day 11 - They ask if you can transpose at sight (yikes) and there isn't one of those non-touch-sensitive-keyboard thingies that could do it for us at the press of a button... Stick to the bass line and the odd harmony note much of the time - it's safest.
Day 12 - The soloist smiled, the examiner smiled, the adjudicator smiled - and you smiled, because they all said, "Thank you." Actually it's a pleasure - usually.