Monday, February 28, 2011

Sunday Help

In the last few years, I've found certain websites, programs and books to be invaluable to what I do on Sunday mornings.  These are a few ideas on what to think about for doing this job, and also the websites that I've found the most helpful: 

Written-out music
The sheet music I receive can run the gamut of chord charts and lead sheets, to actual written-out music.  Some examples from yesterday's service: chord chart - lead sheet.  If I want something with more notes, I've found to be a great resource for Contemporary Christian songs. Every church adjusts the music as needed, so expect to cut and paste, repeat, or transpose as the singer or congregation requires.  If PraiseCharts doesn't have it, often does. 

Writing-out music
If all else fails, you can create your own music: the notation programs currently used a lot are Finale and Sibelius.  Its just a really handy skill to have, also, so I suggest learning at least one of them.  

Listening/researching music 
Often the written out music in the hymnal is four-part harmony, and doesn't function well as an accompaniment.  Sometimes I research a hymn to see if I can find a style I like better than my version.  Some hymns are often swung or etc, and it isn't indicated on the music.  Between, itunes and Amazon mp3's, I'm usually able to find what I'm looking for.  With current stuff, you really have to listen to it just to get the sound and feel right (there's not much to go on in a chart).

Matching music to text
Part of the job of the church pianist is to help make the service flow as a unified whole.  One way to do this is by choosing music that reinforces the day's scripture reading (You can look it up in the Online Bible) or the day's sermon.  I've tried looking online for either a 'scripture index to hymns', or a 'topical index to hymns' for ideas of which music to choose - but haven't had much luck (at least on the free sites).  It's best just to stick with your church's hymnal, which should have some kind of index that will help. 

Prelude/postlude solo piano music:
Mark Hayes stuff is pretty standard
Fred Bock is simple, yet pleasing (The arrangements that I like, such as On Eagles Wings, Here I am, Lord, Hymn of Promise, etc are all in this book)
Anything classical is typically fair game, especially literature everyone has heard at one point in their lives (Claire de Lune, anything by Bach, etc)
If you have a singer, art song can be used as well. Try: 
Aaron Copeland's Zion's Walls, At the River and Simple Gifts
Lee Hoiby's The Lamb and The Shepherd 


Saturday, February 26, 2011


A smattering of the offerings on Twitter, under the hashtag #accompanisthaiku

Dear NATS: your rule on
'Original copies' means
I play with one hand

No, really, it's fine.
I'll just guess what those notes were
on the last system.

No need to turn and
Nod as if I'm the butler
I'll play when you breathe

I'll be singing this
Song by Jason Robert Brown
(hold soft pedal down)

Improvise while the
Soprano makes up German?
All in a day's work

The Hal Leonard version:
Just like the older versions
But with worse page turns

Paul Hindemith wrote
sonatas for everyone.
I wish he hadn't.

Why is my music
more difficult than yours is?
Damn you, soloist!

You think that you are
conducting the choir yourself.
The organist leads

Nobody panic
The measures that you just skipped
Didn't matter much

You call me at nine
with audition tomorrow -
that's seventy bucks.

Critic in Row M:
I accompanied ably.
Last sentence is done

Acknowledge me, don't
Acknowledge me, just so long
As I still get paid

When a singer falls
Off pitch, off rhythm, off beat
I just play louder.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Huh . . .

Not really a piano, folks, its a
"piano" . . . 

Pianist Haikus, #2

Fish swim, birds fly and
Freelance musicians gotta
Drive until they die
 . . . (my deepest apologies to Hammerstein and Kern)

Dear NATS: your rule on
'Original copies' means
I play with one hand

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Standards within Standard Repertoire

Somebody asked a group of pianists who have gathered together from all over the US, "Okay, what songs have you done to death?"  Their responses: all very, very different.  That's what inspired this post . . .

Within every school of music, there is a set of vocal studios, whose teachers tend to assign a certain set of music.  Eventually, - at that school - those songs becomes '"the standard repertoire" within what's considered to be "the standard repertoire"'.  For example: while I was in undergrad, I think I played Der Nussbaum and Loveliest of Trees about a billion times (give or take).  In grad school, Caro Mio Ben won the prize for most performed piece (three students in a row one day, for juries).  When I worked in CA, I played Amarilli Mia Bella constantly.  In PA, I cursed at JRB regularly, as well as Adam Guettal. 

Contemplating this made me curious - what do other schools have as their standard rep within 'standard repertoire'?  Which schools favor Wolf over Brahms, or Bolcom over Barber?  Or on the Musical Theatre side of things, which schools choose the Golden Age of MT over something written within the last 10 years?

I'd love to come up with an interactive map of the US, showing which composers/songs are 'in vogue' at which institution.  I admit I researched the idea, and found it to be more complex than I'd like to create such a thing - and I'm pretty patient.  I'd still love to hear who has been doing what to death, however - in either the classical or musical theatre repertoire areas.  Please feel free to contribute via the comments section below. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MS2 and such

Ragtime went well!  I was pleased with the music side of things, both pit-wise (horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, bass, drums, flute, clarinet and two keyboards) and Mainstage2-wise (MS2 from now on). MS2 worked beautifully.

The details I had to figure out: I used a normal sustain pedal as a foot switch (since the main foot switches I've seen advertised were unnecessary for my purposes).  This discussion explains the trick to doing that on MS2:  1)in Layout mode, select the "next Patch" button and 2) in Edit mode, set your controller to just respond to 64 - 127 (so it switches one patch at a time, not two).

Sound patches on MS2 are good, but their volume levels needed to be tweaked.  The harp and accordion patches, for example, were really loud compared to the piano patch.  Rather than depend on the expression pedal to keep sound levels maintained,  I went into their specific patch channels and lowered their overall volume to a comparable level.

Next up: Once Upon a Mattress and By Jeeves

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mainstage in the Pit

Tech week (theatre code for: don't have any other plans*) completed, Ragtime goes up tonight.  With any luck, the cast won't drive the Model T into the set.

At Goodspeed's MDI I learned about the program Mainstage - and wanted to put that knowledge to use immediately - so this is the first time I'll be using Mainstage2 for a show.  All the patches are set up through the program on my laptop, its connected to a Yamaha S90 - and I switch patches with a footswitch.  Its a lot easier than patch switching with my hands, and I'm really happy with the results.  Figuring out Mainstage was mostly a time issue - I'm little better than a monkey at computers, but I got my set-up to work.  It also helped to browse Apple Support Discussions on Mainstage and watch tutorials.  

*Music Theatre Dictionary's definition of tech week:

Tech Week -noun- A hellish time in which one learns to hate the entrappings of a theatre.   
   "If belting a string of E flats doesn't kill me, tech week will."