Friday, February 12, 2010

Two Collaborative Pianists Walk Into a Bar . . .

Among musicians, personality stereotyping is rampant. Whatever traits driving someone to choose say, the tuba, combined with quirks enabling excellence in the tuba, ultimately form a set of idiosyncrasies that are often, um, mocked. There aren't that many stereotypes about pianists, though, and I have yet to find anything for collaborative pianists/accompanists. After jotting down tendencies I've noticed, I realized they weren't really traits as much as weird learned behaviors, probably significant only to those familiar with the CP 'breed'. I've observed several pianists who tend to:
  • Unconsciously cue entrances with a head gesture, sniff or deep breath
  • Constantly rearrange sheet music to eliminate page turns
  • Possess strong opinions on the 'use of plastic music protectors' debate
  • (females) Often opt to yank one's hair back in an 'I-don't-have-time-for-this' ponytail
  • Experience total glee upon discovering the IMSLP database
  • Possess multiple music binders, toted in something the size of a suitcase with wheels
  • Eat meals in bar form
  • Wear engagement and wedding rings on a neck chain
  • Maintain a strong affection for 44 oz caffeinated drinks
  • Easily keep a straight face if a singer has forgotten their lyrics and begun scatting German
  • Possess advanced photocopier skills
  • Regularly agree to some piece or performance that is diabolically intricate or really inconvenient, then kick themself for saying yes
  • Notice that 90% of male CPs specializing in vocal music are straight and married to a singer, or are gay
Sometimes I wonder about my own quirks, such as the tendency to:
  • Keep a small, piano-friendly, crook-necked lamp (and extension cord) in my car
  • Bring an empty 3-ring binder, 3-hole punch, scotch tape and highlighter to juries and auditions
  • Keep a metronome in my purse at all times
  • Suffer from recurring nightmares that I'm handed new music 20 minutes before a performance
Clearly, pianists just don't make good joke material. We'll probably never find out how many collaborative pianists it takes to screw in a light bulb. I did like this joke, however, which plays on the know-it-all nature of pianists:

A pianist and singer are rehearsing "Autumn Leaves" for a concert and the pianist says:
"OK. We will start in g minor and then on the third bar, modulate to B major and go into 5/4. When you get to the bridge, modulate back down to f# minor and alternate a 4/4 bar with a 7/4 bar. On the last A section go into double time and slowly modulate back to g minor."
The singer says: "Wow, I don't think I can remember all of that."
The pianist says: "Well, that's what you did last time."

Related article: Musician Racism


Unknown said...

Your list of traits is excellent! Thank you! As a collaborative pianist myself, I laughed out loud. I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who carries a metronome with her at all times. Do you carry a replacement battery for yours, too?

Tired of arriving at a reh to find a piano-shaped object with something akin to a kitchen chair pulled up to it, I have now added a folding QuikLok bench with padded seat to my personal arsenal of accompanying supplies. No one else seems to be "watching my back"--so taking my own bench to avoid hours of discomfort from a less-than-ergonomic position is a no brainer. It fits nicely on top of my rolling crate. I've already got the 3-hole punch and removable highlighter tape in my bag. So what if I come off looking a bit overprepared? :-)

Billie Whittaker said...

Honestly, they should just invent a purse that keeps tempos. Instead of a replacement battery, I fall back on the iphone application Tempo - it's $2 and works great.

Amelia NP said...

As a singer, I can tell you we don't mock pianists because we need you. You're just too useful to alienate.

mindy said...

You are brilliant, and your insights are hilarious and SPOT ON. I am a fellow CP, living in Minneapolis among a wonderful community of CPs. I will now follow your blog with geeky loyalty and enthusiasm. :)

Billie Whittaker said...

Amelianp, add some chocolate to that flattery and a pianist will follow you anywhere.

Mindy, all I can say is that it takes one to know one. I'm glad to hear that MN is a CP-friendly environment.