What do singers want in a pianist?
There was an interesting post on Reddit the other day, from a pianist asking for some beginner's tips on working with a singer. Presumably coming from singers or more experienced coaches, some of the comments mentioned:
- the importance of translating foreign-language texts,
- knowing some basics of diction (arguably a bit of a can of worms),
- policing the singer's pitch and rhythmic accuracy,
- figuring out where the singer will breathe, and
- breathing with them when they do.
It's a good list, even if each item inevitably branches off into a life-long pursuit of its own. A pianist who sticks to this list is certainly more valuable to a singer than a pianist who doesn't, but grasping the basics doesn't necessarily make for an indispensable partner.
Pianists who work with singers tend to pride themselves on being an anticipator of needs. A great pianist seems to know before the singer does if they need an emergency breath, could use some extra hang-time on a high note, or wants a friendly push in tempo. Yet just as married-for-decades couples can still manage to surprise each other, even the best of pianist-singer relationships aren't perfectly telepathic.
The question has us thinking: what is it that singers really want - even need - in their pianists? Do they want an agile dance partner of sorts, who stays flexible and ready to follow a singer's lead? Do they want backbone, even resistance in their music-making? Do they want a pianist who will err on the faster side of a tempo? Do they want more left hand? Quieter page turns?
Readers, we know that there are singers among you. So, we're sending the questions your way:
What do you want in a pianist? And how can pianists make themselve indispensable to singers?