The California Music Teacher, Volume 15, No.3 Spring
twenty years ago I observed a vocal competition in Southern California
which lasted for the better part of the day. During this time
I noticed that most of the assisting pianists spent more time
than necessary between numbers searching for the next piece, shuffling
through the score to find the right page and often bending up
the lower right corner to assist in page turning. The reason caught
my attention because there was another group of pianists at various
times throughout the day who came on stage with black three-ring
binders containing Xeroxed pages of the scores, all in correct
order. I also assumed from the lack of scrambling at critical
page turns that the pianists had cut and pasted in difficult-to-turn
spots. I commented on this beautiful efficiency to one of the
administrators of the competition. She smiled and said: "They
undoubtedly are students of Gwendolyn Koldowsky at USC."
This was my introduction to the professionalism of the Accompanying
Department at USC's School of Performing Arts.
Price, herself a USC graduate and former Koldowsky student, has
written a book which will undoubtedly become the most important
college textbook in the field of accompanying. Although there
have been some excellent contributions by Kurt Adler, Gerald Moore
and Robert Spillman, Price's handsomely produced book is so full
of fascinating musical examples and hundreds of practical tips
that it stands alone in its field.
valuable information about many basic matters of good musicianship,
especially listening and ensemble skills. There are many practical
tips in these pages, some are quite obvious, but others are rather
subtle. For example, she recommends: Ensemble is optimum when
performers use the same note value for counting: that is, one
should not be thinking eighth-notes while another is mentally
measuring the piece in quarter-notes. She has an interesting exercise
to develop the visual skill of seeing a larger portion of the
printed page. One exercise for developing an expanded focus is
to put your hand three to four inches directly in front of the
music and stare at it in a relaxed, lazy, almost cross-eyed way.
Then move your hand away without changing the point of focus and
you will see a large part of the page of music. At first, when
you move your hand away, your eyes will tend to shift to a narrow
focus, but with practice the focus will stay more expanded.
helpful advice on how to transpose, read a figured bass and read
from open score. She suggests useful exercises to gain skill in
each of these problem areas. Her chapter on rehearsing with another
musician and the tactful ways to make sure there is mutual respect
in a productive atmosphere are well focused and helpful.
One of her
closing chapters is on the subject of the final rehearsal on stage
in the hall. There are many matters of importance on her checklist,
such as: checking for squeaking benches or pedals, deciding the
height of the piano lid, the position of the performers on stage,
lighting requirements, chairs and music stands if necessary, testing
of the acoustics and proper briefing of the page turner, if one
book is about the art of accompanying, there is one word rarely
found in its pages, and that word is "accompanist."
When I lived in New York City during the 1960's I studied for
two years with Artur Balsam, who was Nathan Milstein's pianist
for over thirty years. When I once used the word "accompanist"
in Balsam's presence, he told me with a wry sense of humor that
I had just used the "A" word. He said that he hated
to sound like a parent scolding a young child for using the "F"
word, but the "A" word was not permitted to be spoken
in his home.
He said that
although most musicians respected his art and that of Emannuel
Bay, Adolph Baller, Gerald Moore and other true artists who made
their living playing ensemble music, in the public mind the accompanist
was a non-person walking two steps behind the star performer like
an Islamic wife. With a sigh he recalled that recently in the
same two-week period he had performed a sonata program at the
92nd Street Y with violinist Joseph Fuchs and a sonata program
at Carnegie Hall with Mstislav Rostropovich. Joseph Fuchs treated
him as an equal ensemble partner, but Rostropovich made it clear
that he was the star and Balsam's playing, no matter how important
to the musical texture, must always be in the background.
The art of
accompanying has been neglected in the past, but it is an art
whose time has come. Deon Nielsen Price with her splendid new
book will undoubtedly contribute much to the advancement of long
overdue recognition of the vital importance of this art.