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Accompanist as Audition Ally
Megan Young, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America
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Audition Connection10/1/2006

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Be kind to your accompanist! Your pianist has the ability to make or break your next audition and, as a singer, it is in your best interest to do everything in your power to encourage your musical partner.

I recently sat down with Ji Young Lee, coach/accompanist at the Manhattan School of Music, to discuss the role of the accompanist in an audition situation.

As a general rule, she says, it’s better for all parties involved if you use an accompanist with whom you regularly work for an audition. If you coach with someone often, it behooves you to bring them with you to your next audition, especially if you sing less traditional repertoire. If that’s not an option, get recommendations from your friends and/or colleagues in the area where the audition will be held and arrange to have a coaching with a local accompanist.

Sometimes, however, it’s just necessary to use the accompanist provided by the auditioner. When this happens, fear not! There are plenty of things you can do to avoid a collaborative catastrophe. Preparing for the Audition “It is in the auditioner’s best interest to provide a competent accompanist,” Lee says, so there’s no need to change your game plan if your tried and true accompanist is not available. “If you sing tricky or unusual arias, such as something from Wozzeck or Lulu, call ahead and see if the accompanist is familiar with the aria(s). Spend a few minutes with the pianist before you sing. Go over cuts, cadenzas, changes, and tempi, especially with obscure repertoire,” Lee continues. “The best way to establish a tempo is to just sing the first line of the piece for the accompanist. If you do a good job at establishing the tempo in the first phrase of the piece during the audition, even if it’s different than what you originally told them, the accompanist will follow you — it’s their job.”
Organizing Your Audition Materials
Creating a healthy rapport with any accompanist requires you to be organized and clear. Here are Lee’s helpful tips regarding music and scores:

Keep all of your arias neatly organized in one easy-to-navigate binder or book that opens easily.

Labeled tabs are a helpful tool to mark arias.

Use double-sided, three hole-punched pages.

Make sure the photocopies you use are clear. A Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox may not be the tidiest looking copy.

DO NOT put your music in plastic sleeves. Glare is bad.

Clearly mark all cuts, cadenzas, da capos, etc.

In general, keep the score neat and uncluttered (no need for the accompanist to see your “Stay on the breath!” reminder while they’re playing).

Don’t be afraid to walk over to the piano and help the pianist find the second aria. It is far more awkward to watch the pianist page through a book looking for it.

Finding the Right Accompanist for You
Just as a singer must possess the fundamental skills of support, intonation, and language, an accompanist must be equipped with a solid foundation of piano technique. In OPERA America’s Perspectives: Building and Managing Your Network, professional coach and collaborative pianist Yelena Kurdina advises, “There are several key qualities a good accompanist possesses. Number one is a strong sense of rhythm and the ability to extract important harmonies that provide a clear and solid foundation (rather than play as many notes as possible). When accompanying operatic repertoire, we accompanists stand in for the orchestra. Obviously we cannot play everything on the page, even when playing from a piano reduction, but we can create the feeling of an orchestra by creating contrasts between different registers, accompanying chords and melodies, etc.”

The article goes on: “accompanists must also have the ability to simultaneously lead and follow the singer. Just as a conductor does, we have to provide a steady frame yet give a singer the freedom to express within that frame. That is a quality that makes accompanying an art.” Take all of these nuances into account when you work with an accompanist. Pay attention to how they voice the piano and how they support you, the singer. If you feel that the collaboration is a success and that your personalities complement each other, stay in touch with that accompanist!

Knowing Where to Look
“Most of my relationships with singers result from working at educational programs or in shows, so that’s a good place to start” advises Lee, “Keep track of the people you work with.” The opera business is a relatively small one, so learn to network with your colleagues and friends in the business and get recommendations from them. Additionally, large cities like New York generally have a lot of pianists at auditions. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and see if they are available and would like to set up a coaching session or rehearsal. Remember, it is essential to know a few people with whom you work well and who are reliable. “If you plan on having a career as a singer,” says Lee, “it is important to find a steady coach/accompanist. Having someone on your team who knows you and knows your repertoire is an enormous asset.”
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About the Author: Artistic Services Coordinator, OPERA America
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