Tips and Tales from an Accompanist

“Accompanying is not just about learning the notes. You can come into a rehearsal situation a few weeks before the concert knowing all the notes of the music, but if you’re not familiar with the conductor’s gestures and interpretation of the music, it can make for a less-than-smooth experience for all.”  — SL, MENC member and accompanist for hire

With a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in piano performance, SL was hired to be the full-time piano accompanist for a private Catholic girls’ school. Some years later, she was hired as an accompanist for a middle school chorus, just a couple of weeks before the concert.

SL accompanied the high school choir throughout the school year, both daily practices and performances, and she went on tour with the group to festivals and out-of-town concerts. She was an integral part of the ensemble and described it as a joy to work with this very accomplished chorus and their director.

The two-week gig at the middle school was a challenge. The choral director was new and hadn’t had much conducting experience, so her gestures and cues were inexact. SL describes the middle school rehearsals as “nerve-wracking”! In the middle of the final concert, SL found herself hoping they’d all make it through okay! “It’s the worst feeling — it’s uncomfortable for all, including the audience.”


Meet with accompanist well before the gig, even if you only have a limited budget. Before working together for the first time in front of the students, try to schedule at least one meeting alone with the accompanist to review the music and discuss style and interpretation. This is especially important if you haven’t had much experience conducting. SL says, “When the conductor’s actions are imprecise, it’s uncomfortable for the accompanist, and the students can sense the tension between accompanist and director. Students become distracted, compromising the rehearsal”.

Educate your principal/administrator.  Often, administrators don’t recognize the importance of an accompanist, and reflect that in their budget allocations. Invite your administrator to rehearsals, so they will understand the complexity of the rehearsal and performance processes.

“Administrators often assume they know what is needed for a good music program or concert, and will sometimes make a decision having no particular background or experience with music.” SL relates how the principal of the private school, although always very supportive of the music program, had her eyes “opened” when she went on tour with the group. “She never realized all the details a choral conductor deals with behind the scenes prior to the final performance.”

Thanks to SL for sharing her experiences!

-Sue Rarus, January 21, 2009, © National Association for Music Education