It's the beginning of a new concert season and I am trying to line up chamber recitals for the coming year. The process is proving to be more difficult than I first anticipated. Despite the difficulties, I have high hopes that things will develop and I am certain that I will have several rewarding performance opportunities on my calendar.
The first problem I am encountering is that most of the serious musicians in my area are gainfully employed with one of the colleges in the area or they are so busy with their "regular jobs" –meaning non-musical jobs – that they simply are not interested in committing the time to preparing for a major performance. I completely understand both positions. For my colleagues at an institution of higher learning, it is much easier to schedule rehearsals with a pianist who is at the same school full time. For those employed outside of the music industry, Life often gets in the way of rehearsing and performing. After a long day in the office, there is little energy left to devote to the pursuit of public performance.
So what's a chamber pianist to do? Here are a few steps that I am currently taking personally. I don't know what the results will ultimately be, but it's what I'm trying at the moment.
- Ask! This has been the most difficult hurdle for me to overcome. I never want to be a burden to anyone and tend to be rather shy, so I wait for musicians to approach me with performance ideas. I have come to the realization that the worst thing that can happen if I propose a concert idea is that they will say they are not interested. When this happens, focus on the positive aspect: you have planted the idea that you are interested in performing with the individual. It never hurts to ask. A great collaborative opportunity is often only an invitation away!
- Perform! Pianists are very fortunate to have the opportunity to present pleasing programs as soloists, so plan to play a solo recital (or several) this season. With careful publicity and excellent musical preparation, you may attract the attention of an interested musician as a result of your solo performance. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth references as well. Someone in your audience may be so impressed by your recital that they simply must tell another musician how well you played and spark some interest. Make sure to include your contact information in the program!
- Persistently communicate. It's easy to talk about a chamber program in theory, but it takes persistent communication for a group of musicians to set a date and choose appropriate repertoire. Rather than waiting on the other performers – this is probably a carry-over trait from our years of viewing ourselves as the subservient "accompanist" rather than an equal partner in the ensemble – take the proverbial bull by the horns and lead your fellow musicians in the task. While there is a fine line between annoyance and persistence, I'm finding that the benefits of walking as close to that line as possible are much greater than the perceived risks of crossing it.
- Look beyond the norm. Currently, I perform with three chamber ensembles. It is very easy to get comfortable and see no other recital possibilities. Rather than relying solely on these comfortable performance situations, I am opting to look outside of the box for unexpected opportunities. There is a risk of rejection, but you may just be surprised by the positive responses you get. Consider approaching students at a local college (other than the one that knows you best) or inquire about the possibility of launching a chamber music series for a local church or synagogue.
- Consider traveling. It's always exciting to have the opportunity to perform in your hometown with another musician with which your audience is not familiar. Just think of how fun it would be to be the traveling musician! This is the perfect opportunity to combine a passion for travel with your professional pursuits. If finances are an issue (and when are they not), start by looking for performance opportunities in cities where your friends or family reside; often these situations will result in economical lodging.
- Remember the power of networking. The best way to find a chamber partner is to put yourself in situations with other musicians. Attend concerts, join the local music society, sing in the church choir, or provide accompaniment for a young artist competition. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are also a powerful resource to keep your name and face in front of those with which you want to perform.