The Pianist in the Audition Room

The Pianist in the Audition Room
Saturday musings...

I have I believe, a rather unique perspective in this theatrical business and hope I can speak to some of these issues due to my experience.  As I was building vocal craft and acting craft, I was working as a pianist to pay my bills.  I played for auditions of all genres, was a coach and repetiteur for opera companies and singers, played for voice lessons, ballet classes, was a collaborative pianist with singers for concerts and recitals, and even played in bars and lounges!  Been there...done that.

So, it allows me an opportunity to observe from both sides of the keyboard!

First and foremost, whether you call the pianist an accompanist or a collaborative pianist, they can make or break you in an audition.  I have heard in recent days of EPA calls where they have done it "American Idol" style and singers have shown up and there are no pianists and suddenly you have to try to come up with your audition cut a cappella.  A ca PALLING!  Shame on you casting directors for not having enough RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY to create again, an atmosphere to expect the best and hear the best from singers!!

My biggest pet peeve right now, is the large discrepancy in the ability of the audition pianists.  I am talking now primarily in the music theatre world.  And I will simply say this: money.  If a producer/casting director whoever is paying the pianist to be there for day will not pay a decent wage, they will not get decent pianists.  Perhaps if "they" would recognize a fine pianist needs to be paid for their time, and PAY THEM, they would get far better auditions!!  What a concept!! 

I have even had to ask a pianist if they wouldn't mind if I played for myself in an audition because they had no idea what they were doing.  Yes I did.  No I didn't get the job.  I guess I was too bossy, but I did sing and play well!!!

So, if we could please rely on the following "for sures" in an audition room:
1.  There actually is a living/breathing pianist in the room at the piano
2.  That pianist is not adequate but GOOD! 

And what do I mean when I say "good"?  I mean a pianist who KNOWS the repertoire, is a good to excellent sight reader, has a great sense of time and pulse, and LISTENS to the singer.  A pianist who also has an improvisational sense is also helpful, as sometimes the notes on the page can be daunting and the ability to know how to find what is necessary to play and what can be left out can be helpful!

Are there pianists out there like that?  YES THERE ARE but you will need to treat them with respect and pay them for their time.  Is it worth it?  ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!!!!!!  Is it NECESSARY?  Hell YES!

If we do not respect the process enough to have the best support staff in the room, then we have already disrespected the artist and the project before it begins.  

We are not paid for our expertise.  We are paid for our TIME.  Expertise cannot be quantified, but time can be.  What is your time worth?  If we look at this business transaction like this, it would simply a great deal.

In opera auditions, often a company will have the option of having a company pianist there to play, who is available and paid for by the company, or individual singers bring their own pianists, and pay them accordingly.  

Perhaps if music theatre auditions started to have that option and encourage it, casting and producers would recognize the difference in the level of audition when a really good pianist is sitting at the piano and would begin to invest in that continually.  Another option I think would be that singers paid the pianist directly for their time.  This might eliminate the "wannabes" from the audition line if suddenly they had to invest in paying a fee to have the pianist play for them!

I do not believe that we have to settle for mediocrity!!! From ANYWHERE! We must challenge ourselves as singers to be the best we can be, and thus, we should demand that from the other side of the table and expect that from the piano bench.  

We have to begin to recognize the difference between the COST of something and the WORTH of something.  There is a difference and it is imperative that it is acknowledged.

INVEST in great pianists!  INVEST in great teachers! INVEST in great coaches! INVEST in great classes! INVEST IN YOUR PROCESS!  INVEST IN YOUR AUDITION!  INVEST IN THE BUSINESS OF YOU!

Demanding the best of yourself and those around you is not something you should apologize for.  Settling for less is selling out.

edited to add: 
the point to "singers pay for the pianist" is not a reality in the music theatre audition since it is usually a 16 bar cut.  When you are in the room for 60 seconds, that would not do! However, if a producer can afford to mount a production, why can't they afford to get a great pianist for the auditions? I don't think that's asking too much.

The point being that if those auditioning are serious about pursuing a career and not just there "to be famous/to have fun/to be whatever" then the production company must be serious about paying a good pianist to support that.  See comments!

Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking. 

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