It can be stressful working with another musician but if you get a pianist that knows what they’re doing they can help you sound amazing! A good pianist will find you if you make a mistake, a great pianist will make your audience unaware that you made one.
Instrumentalists and vocalists at one point or another will have to perform solo repertoire that requires a collaborative pianist. I use the term collaborative pianist instead of accompanist because there really is so much more to their job than just playing the accompanying music to your solo. If you are performing a sonata that is chamber music and the piano part is often just as challenging as your part. If you are performing a concerto the piano part is taking the place of an entire orchestra and sometimes the orchestra part is reduced into a very challenging piece of music. In some cases that means the pianist will have to decide which notes to drop to make it playable. In addition to playing what is on the page the pianist must also play all this music with another musician. Playing the accompaniment for someone is a learned skill and doesn’t come easy.
So when I tell a student they need a pianist to play with them they will often tell me they have a friend who can play piano. I will often have to break it to them that they need a pianist who is used to being a collaborative pianist. If we have enough time and both students are willing to meet for a number of coaching sessions I am happy to help them work to be a collaborative pianist, but it takes time and practice.
Tips for the soloist: Learn your part as well as the accompaniment. Some pieces (and I say this from experience) sound VERY different with the piano part. Take a look at the piano score and see where your part should line up. Listen to quality recordings, you will most likely find a recording of your piece online but it could be full of mistakes. Be aware and be skeptical of other interpretations of the piece you're working on. Meet with your pianist early so you have time to fix mistakes as there will be sections of your piece that will not go as well as they did in the practice room. If possible have a good idea of the tempo you would like to take your piece beforehand so you can let your pianist know. If in doubt of how to proceed finding a suitable pianist ask your teacher.
Tips for pianists: If you are new to this give yourself time. You may find that you have to drop awkward notes to make a passage work and that’s okay. Find a vocal teacher or instrumental teacher willing to work with you and ask your own teacher for guidance. You will have to be flexible while playing in a performance as soloists can get very nervous and things can go wrong. You may not be used to performing with another musician on stage (and a non-pianist at that!) other instruments and vocalists have different challenges associated with their instrument such as awkward fingerings, leaps or notes at the edge of their comfortable range. Be understanding and learn about different musicians.
Communication is very important both when performing together as well as coordinating rehearsals. Always be polite, respectful, and understanding. The relationship you build with each other will make all the difference in performance. When you have trust in the other person you can take artistic risks and make beautiful music together. There is a lot of great comeraderie that comes with performing as a team.
For more insight into the experiences of a professional collaborative pianist and to make sure you don't commit any faux pas check out this article from Jenna Douglas, writer for Schmopera:
Schmopera focuses on opera related news with interviews, articles and insights. They have many different posts that you should check out!
Have you had experience with a great collaborative pianist? Share it in the comments!