Thursday, February 20, 2014

Accompanying: 5 Quick Tips

Last weekend I spent a day at a local high school accompanying students at their district Solo & Ensemble Festival, and I spent the dozen-or-so days prior organizing and practicing the music. This year I accompanied for two schools instead of just one (as I have done in the past), so that meant more music to prepare and less time to do so. Keeping the following tips in mind definitely helped me successfully prepare for and participate in the festival this year, even with the time crunch.

For any of you who are at all familiar with S&E (either having had participated as a student musician, director, or accompanist), you'll know how the festival day can get to be rather long, exhausting, and perhaps stressful. Running around trying to make it to your performance sites in time, constantly penciling in time changes on the event schedule, scrambling to grab your instrument and find your accompanist (or in my case, your 'accompanee'), etc. —it can get pretty hectic.

So, in an effort to help any other accompanists out there, here's a list of a few things I've learned through my experiences with events like S&E.

1. Organization is key.

This may seem common-sensical, but it really does make all the difference. Make sure you have all the correct music ahead of time, and label each piece with the student's name and school. If you're working with sheet music, think about arranging the pages in such a way that facilitates easy page turns. On the day of the festival, grab a schedule and arrange your music chronologically by event times.

2. Exude confidence.

Your accompanees will feed off of the energy around them. Keep a positive attitude, and the student musicians will likely follow suit.

3. Roll with the punches; go with the flow.

Scheduling snafus, instrument malfunctions and the like are bound to arise. So prepare yourself for sudden changes in the day's plans, and be flexible.

For example, be prepared to play the Hummel Trumpet Concerto on a keyboard like this:

Media preview
Fortunately, this was just the warm-up piano, and a better (larger) instrument was at the performance site...

4. Make musical choices.

As in any performance, (of course) be musical. But specifically in regard to accompanying (oftentimes reading off of dense orchestral reductions or poor arrangements of pieces), you will find yourself having to make a fair amount of judgment calls, perhaps on-the-fly. E.g. which measures to cut from a score, which melodic line to play, how to re-establish a strong time feel if the performer falls out of time, and so on.

These are all common decisions that you may face throughout a day of accompanying student musicians, so be prepared to make these choices. Whenever possible, talk about these decisions with your accompanee, and make sure you are both on the same page. If faced with an extemporaneous choice, trust your own artistic tastes/ear to guide you, and execute the choice confidently.

5. Power through.

Even if a performance experiences a hiccup or two, keep the music flowing and the time steady. This is again about making 'musical choices.' Above all, keep the heartbeat of the piece alive—it will keep your accompanee engaged in the performance, and the performance will benefit as a result.
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