Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Notes from a semester of accompanying

The voice students had their jury performances (like a final exam performance) this afternoon, which meant it was my last time accompanying them this semester. In the time since I started as accompanist here, I've learned 16 pieces (listed below), though two of them never made it to a performance. I played for two master classes and five performances of two different concerts.

My page turner was Miriam for all the major performances, but Magdalena helped out for a few of the dress rehearsals.

The shortest interval I had between seeing the music for the first time and performing it was around 24 hours...and it was four pieces all at once. My hands were so sore.

The most stressful time on the job was the night of one performance last week. Jeremy was away on his challenging 140km race, and I was trying to get three kids fed and fit for the babysitter, and myself ready for the show. Sterling had a bad case of The Snot Nose (as well as The Clings), and I purposely waited until the last minute to change into my black clothes because you know how snotty babies are - they come up to you and they slime you. So I changed five minutes before walking out the door and he STILL got me, right on the shoulder. I wiped it off and hoped for the best. Oh, and since he had been so clingy, I didn't get to so much as warm up on the piano before, you know, PERFORMING. And he cried when the babysitter came and most of the time I was gone. So glamorous, the life of an accompanist. Yep.

Here are a few tips I've picked up in the past few months.

1. Always practice with the singer(s), at least once. It might be an easy piece, and you might both know it well, but even one run-through will help you get a much better sense of what needs to happen at the performance.

2. Listen to a few versions of the song on youtube, if possible. This is especially helpful for very difficult pieces. It's easier to dive in and learn a technical accompaniment if you have a good understanding of the overall oomph of it.

3. Tape (or glue or paste onto contact paper) your sheet music in longer stretches to cut down on page turns, being sure to...

4. attention to logical page-turn opportunities. A division of two pages and four pages might make more sense than three and three, for example. And if you find it's not working, change it! During the final rehearsals last week, I ended up changing the page-turning points for two of the pieces.

5. But if you can, get a page-turner. The truth is that with some pieces it's just impossible to turn pages by yourself, at least not when you can't risk making a mistake and derailing someone else's big performance. (Now where are the pianos with built-in screens and a button by your feet to advance the pages??? Why does this not exist yet?)

6. Remember that if a piece is too difficult, you don't have to play every note as it's written. With practice (and getting a good sense of the song on youtube) comes an understanding of which parts of the accompaniment are essential and give the most support to the performance. The first time I looked at/listened to Hello! Oh, Margaret, It's You I was, no, cannot, no way. But I performed it today without a problem and in fact, with my personal modifications to make it a little easier (and tons of practice), it became one of my less challenging pieces.

7. Consider investing in lots of all-black outfits. I certainly wished I had more.

In closing, here are the sixteen pieces I learned this semester, including the two (marked with an asterisk) that never made it to a performance.

The Vagabond, by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Il Mio Bel Foco, by Benedetto Marcello

Geduld, by Richard Strauss

The Daisies, by Samuel Barber

Heidenroeslein, by Franz Schubert

The Flower Duet, by Leo Delibes

Wie Melodien Zieht Es Mir, by Johannes Brahms

Verdi Prati*, by Handel

Widmung*, by Schumann

Imagine, by John Lennon

Happy, by Pharrell

Requiem, by Eliza Gilkyson. We sang it faster than in that video and it was divine. You try playing a song for a group of students from places like Palestine and Syria, with lyrics like "all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken." YEAH. You can't not feel it in your soul. I will never forget the first time I played this for the choir.

Hello! Oh, Margaret, It's You

song with a really long Italian name that I'm too lazy to go look up right now. I can literally see the music folder from where I am sitting but...nope.

Journey to the Past. Like, from Anastasia! For sheer nostalgia, this one was my favorite.

I Feel Pretty. Like, from West Side Story! This was my girls' favorite. They learned all the words and danced around the house singing it all the time.

Ah, what a great semester for music it's been!

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