What do singers want in a pianist?

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?

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Written by

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna Simeonov

Jenna is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She's also a pianist, vocal coach, and répétiteur, and working with singers is how she fell in love with opera. Her favourite operas include Peter Grimes, Ariadne auf Naxos, Tristan und Isolde, Written on Skin, and Anna Nicole.

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