After a brief sojourn to Leeds (fascinating music history there...just wait until I write about the Leeds International Piano Competition!) I've returned ready and raring to go for the busy exam season ahead. I've been back in the office for less than 12 hours and I've already got 25 exam rehearsals, 3 gigs and a few more church weddings booked! Going to need my coffee today.
So, you're probably asking, what does an exam look like, from an accompanist's perspective? And why do candidates need an accompanist anyway...why not just have a CD? Well....
(Disclaimer: there are no cute dogs usually in the exam centres. Sorry!)
The role of an accompanist in-situ, for me, is threefold:
Be the musical bedrock for your soloist. Where they go, you follow. Did they just miss a page and carry on? You follow! Did they add an extra repeat in? Who cares, you follow! You are their safety net and also an intrinsic part of the ensemble. Rarely a soloist (unless you're playing tutti reductions of Mozart or the like, in which case, enjoy the few bars you get!), but ever present until the end. You might even get to sit back for a couple of wondrous bars as your soloist blazes through a flashy quasi improvisatory cadenza, at which point you sit, waiting, watching, for that knowing glance that signals your final few moments in the music together.
Inspire confidence and support with anxiety and nerves. I usually run through breathing techniques with my students (even, nay, especially, the ones that don't look nervous. Some people are really good at hiding even the most daunting of nerves).
Support the candidate's musical choices and expressive decisions. A CD cannot do this; rather such technology forces the candidate to play to the recording, instead of being a soloist.
It helps massively to be a strong sight-reader and in some cases, memorise your scores! It is expected that candidates are responsible for all their music (as they would have to be as professional musicians), but sometimes people forget - there's been more than one occasion that I've had to accompany from memory!
One famous example whilst accompanying for an exam board outside Southampton, in which the examiner kindly lent me her miniaturised score - I must have looked a sight squinting through the accompaniment! Accompanying exams is super fun though; you get to play and listen to so many bits of music by the end of the exam season, perhaps discovering a few new favourite composers along the way (looking at you, Horovitz!).
You also pick up some interesting tidbits about instruments which you may not know about. I, for some reason, still remember how to play an Eb major scale on a euphonium as I had to look it up last minute for someone else's student I was accompanying. Thinking about it, I've nearly accompanied every orchestral instrument; the only ones I have left to tick off are the slightly rarer ones: bass clarinet, and soprano saxophone - one day perhaps!
Well, I'm off to another rehearsal - some lovely horn concerto reductions to get my fingers around - see you soon!