Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Open Letter From Your Collaborative Pianist

While in graduate school, I went through an extremely stressful semester as a collaborative assistant at the University of Memphis. At the height of my frustration, my mentor suggested that I journal a letter to the offending parties and address the major issues in general terms. She assured me that I would stumble across the letter later and it would bring a smile to my face. This week, I found the letter and had to laugh. It's ironic how some of the same issues continue to come up again and again. I thought I'd share the letter with you, my collaborative friends, without commentary. I hope it brings a smile to your face as it did to mine! KF


Dear musician,

We have been working together for some time, but I don't believe we have ever been formally introduced. I'm the one who sits behind the large black piano while you are playing your solos; I am your collaborative pianist.

I know that you don't always take notice of me since I generally sit behind you, but that does not mean that my participation in the recital is less important that yours. Realize that my colleagues and I no longer refer to ourselves by the condescending term of "accompanist"; instead, we refer to ourselves as "collaborative pianists" for two basic reasons. First and foremost, we are pianists. We are not defined by the vocalists and instrumentalists that we support in recital; we have spent countless hours developing our skills and mastering piano technique and deserve to be recognized as skilled performers. The adjective "collaborative" suggests that we are equal partners in the musical process. Without sounding overly arrogant, it is important that you realize that without our assistance, many of your most important works could not be performed. Since these master composers saw the inclusion of the piano as essential to the work they created, it is imperative that you also recognize our importance and stop treating us as a necessary evil.

Speaking of treatment, I don't ask for false praise. I DO, however, demand respect. This can be shown in a couple of basic ways. First, don't be so presumptuous to tell me how simple my part is to play. I am the authority on the piano in our ensemble. Since I would never venture to expound on the difficult technical issues you face in the work, please return the favor.

Secondly, please show respect for my time. When you arrange a rehearsal time, it is both unprofessional and insulting when you consistently arrive 15 minutes (not to mention 30 minutes) after the agreed time. Please do not feel insulted when I begin to leave at the end of our designated rehearsal time. While you arrived late and may have the flexibility of schedule to rearrange the rest of your day, that is not always an option for me. In addition to my commitment to you, I normally have other rehearsals following yours as well as responsibilities as a church musician, teacher, scholar, and family man.

To further show respect for my time, please provide music for upcoming recordings, performances, and masterclasses in a timely manner. You have devoted months--sometimes years--to your personal preparation of many of these masterpieces of the repertoire. While I am capable of learning a recital in a very short amount of time, it is neither desirable nor fair to me for you to continually put me in that precarious position, especially when the circumstances do not demand such action. I perform better when I have had the opportunity to become secure in my part over time--just as you do. Six to eight weeks of advance notice is not out of the question and is greatly appreciated.

Appreciation goes a long way in getting the best work out of anyone. My work as a pianist is not a hobby; instead, it is my career. Kindly submit your payment for services rendered in a timely manner and without complaint as fees were discussed and agreed upon prior to the beginning of the project. In the event that I have volunteered my services because of my general kindheartedness or our friendship, please be mindful of that fact. When you are not paying for my services, courtesy demands that you show some form of gratitude for my work (often a genuine "thank you" after a performance is sufficient and greatly appreciated) and have a level of flexibility and compromise in matters of repertoire and scheduling. After all, at any point that I feel under appreciated--or worse yet, insulted--I am within my rights to end our collaborative relationship.

In closing, let me gently remind you of a few facts that seem to have slipped your mind recently. Metronome markings are generally suggestions rather than law. It is much more desirable to play musically than to frantically scramble about our respective instruments simply to achieve some mandated speed. Neither you nor I are infallible; therefore, be willing to consider the possibility that problems of ensemble related to rhythm and phrasing may be generated from your errors just as easily as they can originate from me (despite your constant protestations of your constant work with the metronome). Above all, remember that you are not the only performer on the stage. Both of us want to present the best recital possible. The results will be much better when we are working as a team with unity of purpose rather than two opposing musicians who have been offended and insulted.

Always,

Your Collaborative Partner