On Recording With Singers


When recording audition tapes with singers you're a helping pair of hands, not the star of the show. Great! Time to relax and not stress about every single note. Probably no-one will pay attention to your brilliant background things, so why not just enjoy yourself? There's just one tiny little 'but': if you ruin an otherwise glorious recording with a cock-up, it could be the last recording you ever do. Either because no-one wants to hire you anymore or because a soprano axe-murdered you.

I tend to take recordings quite seriously. I want to play well and destroy as few takes with wrong notes as I possibly can. So I play super carefully, which makes for very boring music. It's so hard to relax and let the phrases flow when you're mumbling Hail Marys on every jump and scale. Practice helps, I've heard, but how can a pianist stop caring about wrong notes in this day and age? For all the cds are perfect, aren't they? The recording you upload to youtube will be there for all eternity. How much time is that for other pianists to hear it and mock each of your wrong notes separately? (Because that's what we imagine others do with their free time. Do we have proof? No. But we can almost hear them laughing.) If it's a video, then all your funny faces, mannerisms and technical problems will be there as well, haunting your dreams.

Where does that leave us pianists? Looking fondly down from a high bridge before each recording? Being really honest, all this is unimportant. You get nervous, but if you know your shit, you'll be just fine. And it's music we're talking about here, not brain surgery. The risks are small in the grand scheme of things. (If you avoid dark alleys after twilight and practice well.) However, the underlying reason I want to make every recording my best yet is that I love music. It's so obvious I sometimes forget it's true. I really love what I do, and I love songs - how they combine text, human voice and the richness of piano. I want to play these pieces as well as they deserve to be played, so I can share with others this monstrous, life-transcending gift we've been given that is music. Hallelujah.

If that alone didn't lift your spirits, here's some practical tips:

  1. Do plan and practice page-turns. Don't, and you'll die.
  2. If there are cuts, add color. I use huge bright red stars whenever I have to notice things.
  3. Don't show your fear to singers. They smell it, just like dogs.