Saturday, March 13, 2010

Freelancing and You

Many pianists balk at getting a church gig, usually for two reasons: sleep or skepticism. Preferring to sleep is always OK, but those claiming that religion 'isn't their thing' could stand to take a closer look at the gig. What many pianists don't realize is that a church job is just like any other piano job. For example, take playing for a church compared to playing for a voice lesson. Both situations have:
  • Guidebooks (the Bible or the Bernac)
  • Rituals that are odd to an uninitiated observer (whether reciting prayers as a group or beginning a lesson by hissing like a snake and making motorboat lip-buzz noises)
  • Deities and heroes (Jesus, Pavarotti or Kristin Chenoweth)
  • High dress codes (church has always been that way and so have voice teachers).
  • Standard repertoire (Hymns or the 24 Italian Hits)
  • Lectures on sins (lying and cheating or slouching and jaw tension)
  • Ultimate destinations (heaven, hell, the Met or Broadway)
A religious affiliation is not a prerequisite to church employment - only courtesy and professionalism. For a gig with minimal time commitment and a steady paycheck, it seems surprising that so many pianists opt against it. When you consider the indignities CP's sometimes put up with - constant pencil-theft, the no-shows, the Hindemith sonatas - sitting through a service isn't that demanding. The church is also another location where you can practice and rehearse, as well as recruit and teach students. Even better, you have a ready-made, very appreciative audience for test-runs of new repertoire, solo or collaborative. All in all, an easy source of income with some nice perks.

Or you can stick with the devil you know.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Brief Guide to Page-Turners

Amid the crunch of recital preparations, many pianists forget to secure a page-turner, leading to last-minute recruiting from friends, friends-of-friends or from random strangers in the recital hall. Unsurprisingly, when the only real qualification is 'warm body', using potluck volunteers often has mixed results. The most common kinds of turners, both good and bad, are listed below* with corresponding identifiers for easy reference.

Crowders sit unnecessarily close at all times (sometimes practically in your lap).

Helicopters hover with a hand on the music, regardless of incredibly slow tempos or flat-laying scores.

Human Obstacles attempt to turn from the bottom RH side of the music, blocking the view and inspiring thoughts of violence.

Music Civilians are mystified by the black and white dots scattered on the page and find what you do closely akin to magic. They are usually terrified of making a mistake and stare at you, unblinking and tense, for each nod. Oddly enough, they are one of your better options.

Space Cadets are either caught up within the music or contemplating what to have for lunch as you turn your own pages. They may also forget to show up to the concert at all.

Heart Attacks turn the pages too soon or too late (sometimes two at a time . . .) They incite panic and frantic slapping of pages.

turn with enough force to rip music or fling scores to the ground.

Silent Critics
are usually pianists of equal or higher chops. They're great at turning, but unfortunately also cause acute self-consciousness with every wrong note and bad fingering.

are a category I have never experienced, but a colleague of mine once worked with someone who liked to hum along with the melodies during performances.

The Best Page-Turning Award goes to:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Page-Turner
. The ninjas among page turners, they sit completely out of one's peripheral vision. They rise with smooth motions approximately 1-2 lines from the bottom (depending upon tempo), turn the page lightening-quick and retreat back to invisibility without a whisper of sound. Their non-presence allows you to focus on the performance instead of on enabling someone to allow you to perform music.

And let's not forget:
Terrifyingly Clueless with questions like, "Which side should I sit on?"

Please feel free to add any suggestions from your own experiences.