Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Audition Room Pianist - PART 2!

Saturday musings continue...

Okay, so let's assume that producers provide a marvellous pianist.  Let us assume all is well in the world!
Now what?!

Let's talk about musical theatre auditions and that cut.

Make sure your music is well marked and can be read easily - no bad copies (left hand left off the bottom page etc).  Make sure you MAKE EYE CONTACT with your pianist.  RESPECT THEM.  A great pianist can make you look great and save your ass...

Introduce yourself.  Thank them. MEAN IT.  Set up your music for them, tell them what you are singing and show them the cut.  Give them your tempo - but speaking and marking the first couple of bars in rhythm at the tempo you want.  SMILE.  SMILE WITH YOUR EYES not just your lips.  BE PRESENT.

If a pianist is worth his/her salt, and feels respected and sees you are prepared, you will get all the support they can give you!!! TRUST ME!

Some of you have asked me about those plastic covers.  I have mixed feelings about them. First, they are good to keep your music from getting tattered. However, you can't mark things easily and frankly even the "no glare" glares in certain light.  Why can't we just have clearly marked music that is double-sided and leave it at that?

You control your tempo.  NO MATTER WHAT.  It is your BREATH that conducts a tempo.  If you need to change a tempo, use your inhale to do so.  The pianist is there to collaborate with you - and in doing so, needs to see and hear what you need.  YOU TAKE CONTROL and the pianist will be there to support you.

I have had questions about difficult music - Sondheim, Guettel, Schwartz et al.  Here's my peeve - if you are playing for auditions you should be able to play anything. Sorry, but you should. Especially when Sondheim is in a category of his own in the theatre, you should be able to play it.  However, as a singer, you shouldn't have to decide NOT to sing something because the piano part is very difficult.  You need to find someone who will arrange you a reduction that is player-friendly in any situation for that cut.  Invest in that cause it'll save a great deal of grief in the audition room!  Many of the finest pianists are able to improvise and play only what is necessary from a more difficult score, but some cannot.  When in doubt, simplify. It is definitely worth the investment to have a great song re-worked pianistically so you can really sing and not worry about whether or not the pianist can play.  If it's playable, the pianist can relax and really support you!

When you finish, thank your panel for their time.  Walk to the piano to collect your binder and again, MAKE EYE CONTACT and thank that pianist.  If you don't know who it is, ask them for their name or for their card.  Leave YOUR card on the piano.  This is BUSINESS. It will also force you to SLOW DOWN and BE IN THE ROOM.  You will not forget or go into automatic pilot and will remain under yourself.

This isn't rocket science.  This is what we used to call "common sense" - which I realize isn't so common anymore.  Treat people the way you want to be treated.  Recognize the job the pianist has.  If you want the skills of that pianist to support you, support them.  

You don't change a tempo by banging on the piano, or snapping your fingers, or stomping your foot.  You don't get support by frowning or shooting glances or shaking your head toward the piano.   You don't get support by ignoring the pianist and their role in the audition.

Rudeness, making excuses, being dismissive, unnecessary attitude and anything else negative has no place in your business.  It costs us nothing to be professional, kind and real.  And in the end, it shows us in a positive light as a business person, as an artist and as a human being.


  1. Great!Besides breathing (which in Classical, if you short your breath it can set you up for calamity instead of success), another way that I use to help lead a pianist is the consonant/vowel relationship. If you need to speed up, bring the consonant in early & the vowel immediately after. If you need to slow down, linger on the consonant (esp. the pitched ones!) & delay the vowel. Always remember, the VOWEL is where the beat is heard as that's where the sound leaves your body. If you don't know how to do this, practice with your pianist & TALK with them about how they hear tempo changes. It is to your advantage to rehearse with them (and other pianists) so that you have a good grasp of how to non-verbally (& professionally) communicate with them.

  2. thanks Rachel! Sorry I didn't specify my comment about breath - it is the same no matter WHAT genre you are in - it is the initial inhale that sets up the phrase and therefore the tempo - be it opera, classical, music theatre, cabaret.. And the onset of language is precisely how you continue that!

    Working with a pianist regularly and discussing their communication is vital!!! Thanks for that!

  3. Susan, thank you so much for your lucid discussion of singers' and pianists' responsibilities to each other in an audition situation. As a pianist and coach in both opera and music theatre lands, I am always frustrated by working with talented singers who sell themselves short by not considering these things.

    In my experience, sometimes singers in music theatre get less face time working with pianists and rely on a quick ear, recordings, and plunking out notes. They owe it to themselves, as part of their audition preparation, to hear how the song will sound with the full accompaniment. I am glad, whenever I can, to take five minutes with a singer to do this. And even to pay an excellent pianist for a little time to record one's top five audition choices could really pay off.

    As for us pianists who get a lot of work playing auditions, I can't encourage us enough to really learn common audition rep. and not sight-read it for the hundredth time. Mistakes get engrained and we cannot put our best foot forward for our singers or ourselves!

  4. Hi Susan,

    As someone who once played zillions of auditions and accompanied just as many singers I applaud your thorough advice and common sense. One other factor that ought to be discussed is transposition. I remember many audition situations where I had to sight-transpose music ranging from the simplest lead sheets to the most convoluted Sondheim scores. Singers always should make sure that their sheet music is in their keys, or else bring their own pianist.