Thursday, 3 April 2014

How To Become An Effective Choir Pianist

My Choir performing at a National Inter-Religious Choral Fundraising Concert

It's pretty hard to believe that it's been three months since I posted here! Life is inevitably busy for me, as you might have surmised. Again welcome to all of you, and I hope you'll be patient with my sporadic posts through this bumpy year. For today's post, it is really important to gain much knowledge before jumping into accompanying a choir because solo pianist and accompanist have completely two different approaches. I have been accompanying a choir for almost 10 years now, and it is about time to share valuable tips and advise regarding this topic.

Choir Accompanist is one of the most exciting, enjoying role of the pianist but more often it is a challenging job. Music has always played a big role as a part of  the corporate worship in churches. Many churches have a huge magnificent choirs that help to lead the congregation into a time of worship. However, there are also many churches whose choirs consist of volunteers and lay people who love to sing, and who have a heart to serve in the church choir. If you are in a church choir pianist, these are some of the things to look out for particularly in a church choir setting.

Serving God is the Main Purpose of a Church Choir.

As a pianist, if you are just starting out, and are feeling very nervous about playing well, always remember that you are merely an instrument that God is using, and that He sees your heart as you play. It  is of utmost importance that you serve with a joyful and willing heart. Some church choir are blessed with choristers who are prolific musicians, while other choirs consist mainly of singers who may have little or no music back ground.

If you are a pianist who has always been surrounded by music geniuses, serving in the choir as their pianist may require you to be extra patient with the singers and the conductors who may take longer to master their parts. Also, this might mean changing the focus of music making from achieving technical perfection. You should balance things according to the goal and time frame of  the performance.

Stay In Control of Your feelings.

Don't confuse "direction" with "correction," and as long as the conductor is treating you respectfully, don't take offense even if it is a correction. It's always uncomfortable to be singled out in front of people. The conductor can address a group of choristers - the altos, for instance, but in your case, there's no group. So, have the attitude that you are there to learn and to help, and don't be someone who needs to be treated with kid gloves.

 Do your best, don't make excuses, and let the small things go. Now, having said that, don't be a doormat, either. Neither you nor the conductor will respect you for it. You don't have to accept anything that makes you feel belittled, but remember that you should still stay in control of your feelings. Don't try to address this kind of problem in the middle of a rehearsal.

Observe Choir Constitution

Be on time. No matter how bad the choristers are about dragging in 5 minutes late, you be at the piano, music out, and ready to play the stated rehearsal time. Before rehearsal starts, arrange your music in the order it will be rehearsed. If your conductor does not provide a rehearsal agenda, you might ask for one.

Once the rehearsal starts, don't talk unless you need to ask the conductor for clarification. Do your socializing with choir members before or after the rehearsal. During the rehearsal, all of your attention should be focused on the conductor and the music.  Having a pencil handy and make quick marks in your music if you realize you need to change the way you're playing something. Don't rely on your memory. However do make quick marks. Don't hold up the rehearsal while you write "watch director-slowing down." Come up with a code for yourself if necessary. I have my own one-stroke symbol for "watch the director here" which I use when there's a deviation from the score's instructions.

Tune Your Ears and Eyes to the Choir and Conductor

Accompanist have to listen to the choir and watch the director while playing. This is quite hard if you're not used to doing it. You need to be aware of balance - are you drowning the voices out or not providing enough volume to be supportive? Are you following the director's tempo or your own? The more you make an intentional effort to listen and watch, the sooner you'll master this skill. Don't hesitate to ask the conductor if he/she would practice with you, conducting the piece while you play. This is a great way to promote good relations with your conductor, too.

Always Be Encouraging, Patient And Positive Music Leader

It is not easy being a choir pianist sometimes when the choir tests your patience. Sometimes, it is  good to realize how blessed you are that you are able to pick up the notes so quickly, while others struggle to master their pitches.

On the flip side, if you are really struggling with your accompaniment, don't be discourage. Perhaps you should find ways to play it simply but effectively, or you could discussed some of the tricky parts with the conductor to see how you might adapt to it.

As the pianist, it is always important to support the conductor. Sometimes, if the conductor is not musically trained (which is possible that you are more musically qualified), you might need to step up to provide musical leadership. This is your privilege and always do it with the utmost respect and deference. The conductor is the leader of  the choir and it is wise to always allow the conductor to assume leadership and take the initiative during choir rehearsals - while you play a very proactive supporting role as the pianist.

Do you have other tips that might be especially useful of a church choir accompanist? Feel free to leave a comment below!

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