How to Successfully Collaborate: tips on working with a pianist - Houghton Horns

How to Successfully Collaborate: tips on working with a pianist

As brass players, we are very fortunate to have many incredible solos written for us. In order to present the vast majority of these works, we’ll end up working with a pianist. Try to keep the following things in mind when that time comes:

  • Know the Lexicon. The term “accompanist” implies inferiority, while “collaborative pianist” implies equal partnership in the music-making experience. The switch in  terminology is important, as the pianist with whom you will perform is truly collaborating with you. While you may still hear the term “accompanist” used, it’s best to refer to your musical partner as a collaborative pianist, collaborative artist, or pianist. Oh, and if you’re not sure how they prefer to be addressed, just ask them!


  • Respect. Be sure to treat your collaborative pianist with respect! This goes without saying, but far too often pianists are viewed and treated as subordinates in the musical presentation. Collaborative partners are colleagues, and should treat each other as such. We all want to make exciting music, and the key to fruitful rehearsals and successful performances begins with mutual respect and gratitude. 


  • Planning and Communication. Part of treating your collaborative pianist with respect is acknowledging their expertise and respecting their time. Are you planning a recital for the end of the semester? Do you have a few pieces you think you might like to play? Have you asked your collaborative pianist if your choice of program actually works with their schedule? Maybe you want to play sonatas by Beethoven, Hindemith, and John McCabe’s Goddess Trilogy for Horn all in the same recital. Your collaborative pianist might not have time to learn all of these while balancing their own performances and obligations. Even if you know which piano parts are considered difficult in your instrument’s repertoire, it’s always best to have these conversations up front. In a school environment, that discussion may fall under your teacher’s responsibilities, in the case that they’ve selected the repertoire. 


  • Knowledge and Preparation. Before coming to your first rehearsal, study the piano part! It’s very difficult to collaborate if you have no idea what your musical partner is playing. Listen to recordings prior to rehearsing, and study the score. While you might not be a pianist, you can read music and follow along with their part. Your collaborative partner is expected to know your solo part, so you should plan to know their part as well. Besides, more knowledge and awareness makes for a better performance. 


  • Teamwork. Remember that you and your collaborative pianist make a team. The team dynamic will differ based on whether it’s your first solo in 7th grade, a Master’s degree recital, or your Carnegie Hall debut. You should always feel free to have a constructive dialogue with the pianist throughout the rehearsal process. Is there a moment that you are personally struggling with, or a section of music that’s unclear? Your partner at the piano may be able to play a bit louder in that section, giving you more security. Are there are a few measures that are difficult to line up? You might ask the pianist if they can play it slowly for you so you’ll know just where to place things. And don’t be afraid to explore more abstract musical concepts–the possibilities are endless if you are both invested in creating an awesome final product!


  • Game Day. Plan ahead for the stage setup and how you will enter and exit your performance. Will you tune onstage or beforehand? Will one (or both) of you address the audience to welcome them, introduce a piece or provide context? These details need to be worked out well in advance. After the final note has sounded, be sure to acknowledge your colleague at the piano and take a bow together! You both did the work, and the audience will want to recognize you as a unit, not just individually. Bravi tutti!


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