On What Pianists Don't Like
- New Bärenreiter opera scores
The score wants to be closed. It has absolutely no interest in being open for you to see the notes inside, so you'll have to hold the score with one hand and play only with the other. That's a meaningful contribution to music, right? Don Giovanni, the left hand version? Bärenreiter folk, a friendly tip: do start developing new score technology - an EasyToTurn page system and an EasyToKeepOpen pianist edition of all your operas. And if you could deliver them before I get any more gray hairs that would be great. Thanks.
- Being told how difficult a piece is
The scale starts from somewhere like "It's super easy, you'll sight read it in no time" and continues all the way to "This is very, very hard. It's better that someone else plays this, someone who already knows the stuff". It can put a pianist in a tricky situation - if you're told it's not that hard and for you it is, can you admit it? Or should you just smile and nod and try to hide the panic rising to your throat? And if you're told it's way too hard for you, should you try to prove them wrong or smile and nod and only burst into tears when you get home?
Singers are notoriously bad at estimating what is easy and what is not for a pianist, but this applies to pianists themselves, too. So many times I've been told how difficult a piece is to learn or sight read just to find that for me it's much easier or harder than what I've been led to believe. The truth is, and this should be obvious to everyone, that different things are difficult for different people. I'm really good at sightreading stuff, leaving out whatever I don't have time to deal with and bringing out the harmonies and the basic form of the piece. What I'm not so great at is accompanying with chords. I know how to read a score, but to invent something out of thin air using only my imagination? Let's set something straight here: I don't have an imagination, so please don't expect me to improvise on the spot just because the other pianist had no trouble with it. I'll work on it, ask friends for help and come back later with a tolerable version, but that's that. Also, I hate playing from handwritten scores and French editions with their minuscule print.
This works both ways now: pianists, do not believe any assesments of a piece but rather make your own, and you non-pianists expecting us all to be God knows what kind of monster geniuses - remember we're all individuals with different personalities and skillsets, just like barbies or cats.
- Conducting and finger snapping
Snap at dogs, not at pianists, and if you're not an actual conductor, don't conduct. Don't wave your arms or try to guide the poor player into the correct tempo with any sort of gesticulating, thank you very much. It is seriously annoying and won't make you any friends. So what is a poor singer to do when the pianist has a wrong tempo? Either sing faster or slower and let them follow you, or just tell the pianist. With words. They'll love you for it.
I was performing once with a teacher turning the pages, and they started to conduct my intro to an aria because they felt my tempo was too slow. We were onstage and there was an actual spotlight on us so the whole audience could see the teacher's displeasure with my choice. Did I change the tempo accordingly? Hell no. Did I seriously contemplate setting their car on fire? Oh yes.
- Not getting attention
Let's be honest here: pianists working with singers don't get their equal share of the limelight. Singers are interesting to the general public, and pianists - not so. This manifests itself in so many ways it would take a couple of blogposts to do justice to them all, but shortly and simply: it's not nice to hear that your contribution to a concert is irrelevant or uninteresting. Of course we know that a vocal recital with just the singer would in most cases be found wanting, but it's sad that we have to defend ourselves by pointing this out. No picture in the advertisement, no name in the program, requests to work for free or significantly cheaper than the vocal expert because it's "just accompanying" - I've encountered all of these and more. And why did we perform again? Because we're attention-seeking narcissists who want to be in the spotlight in fancy clothing. So you, singer, yes, I'm talking to you! - next time you're working with a pianist, make sure their name is out there and praise them a little. Tell them they are indeed important to you. And look, you've acquired an obedient, adoring piano slave who'll stay with you for life.
- Badly copied scores and untaped ones
Scores that have the vocal line and plenty of space above but with most of the bass line missing from the lowest staff? Scores with the last bar missing from every line? Yay! How am I supposed to know what The Great Composer was thinking there? As mentioned above, pianists aren't evil monster geniuses that possess a hidden mental vault that includes all music ever written, so they cannot dip into that reserve when notes are missing from the page. Of course one can make an educated guess of what might logically come next, but that kind of exercise was aplenty on my theory lessons back in the days, and personally I'd rather not go back to that sorry time. I completed the courses and now I have zero interest in guessing what Schubert / Strauss / Grand Something had in mind for this particular passage. I'd rather be tempted to believe the composer had a brief Schönbergian period on that particular gap, and fill it with accordingly delightful sounds.
Untaped scores, however - let's see, how many here like taping scores? How many of you can't wait for the next intense session of you, sheets of paper and scotch tape? If there are any people passionate about this, please contact me at once; your passion will not go to waste. The rest of us just have to deal with it the best we can. On singing lessons these flyabout papers are a particular annoyance, because they will fall and they will be in the wrong order at some point and there will be chaos, wasted time, and tears of frustration. This could be avoided, I'm told, by buying an ipad - an expensive digital item that can contain all your scores forevermore. Well I don't trust machines. There has to be something deeply wrong with playing music from a screen instead of paper. I'd much rather tape and rant instead.
- C sharp major
What can I say. It's a shit key.