How to keep your accompanist happy – dos and don’ts from the horse’s mouth
Our chamber choir accompanist is wonderful. She is capable, well-rehearsed, flexible in attitude and apparently completely unflappable. Because she is all those things, it is far too easy for me, with a dozen other things on my mind, to overlook her experience as part of our group. To redress that balance, I quizzed another extremely capable accompanist (Simon Gregory from the Association of British Choral Directors, to whom I am grateful) about what choir leaders can do to make their accompanists purr.
1. Don’t forget that your accompanist is part of the music
Your accompanist is not just there to help you note-bash. He is an integral part of the music-making process and does not want to feel excluded. Make sure that you look at him as you begin a piece and include him in your opening gestures. Check in now and again as the music progresses, and if the piece finishes with a piano flourish, why not hand over to your accompanist with an “it’s all yours – take it away” gesture.
If your accompanist is also a singer, might he enjoy joining in with any unaccompanied warm-ups or exercises? My choir will be performing in a few weeks’ time with another choir, and our accompanist won’t be needed, so she’s joining us as a singer.
2. Don’t criticise your accompanist in front of the choir
Of course it’s fine to correct something that’s been overlooked (and it’s nice if that works both ways between accompanist and conductor) but never, ever give your accompanist a dressing down in front of the choir. If something important needs to be addressed, have a private word and keep things positive. Your accompanist is your most important ally in the rehearsal room.
3. Do give feedback about balance
Gerald Moore’s biography was called “Am I Too Loud?” for good reason. Your accompanist cannot be expected to know how the piano is sounding to you, the choir or, in performance, the audience. Take the time to listen from various places in whatever space you are in, and give appropriate feedback.
4. Do give thanks and recognition
The concentration demanded of an accompanist in rehearsal and performance is huge – greater than for any soloist. Always thank your accompanist at the end of a rehearsal and give suitable recognition at the end of a performance and in programme notes.
5. Do give as much information as possible
Give your accompanist as much notice as possible of the music programme throughout the year and, if possible, information about what you intend to cover at each rehearsal. Some works will need more practice than others.
6. Remember your organist!
I haven’t had the opportunity to conduct to an organ accompaniment yet, but I know from experience over the years that organists face unique challenges. They are often a very long way from the choir and conductor, there may be a significant time lag in larger venues, not to mention that your organist may be following your conducting in a tiny mirror! Be kind.
Above all, it is vital to remember that your accompanist is probably the best musician in the room and is part of your choir. Treat him accordingly, and happiness and contentment should reign.
How do you manage the relationship between conductor, choir and accompanist? I’d love to hear your views.