Live Accompanist: How To Prepare For An Audition!
So, for those of us in the musical theatre realm we know just how important the accompanist can be to have a successful audition. However, I find that so many performers don’t know how to prepare to work with a live accompanist nowadays.
Maybe it is the increase of technology and the use of MP3s for auditions. I am not sure exactly when we set this education aside, but I thought I would take a few minutes to give everyone some basics in how to deal with a live accompanist.
Step 1: Get your sheet music ready.
Yes, it might come as a shock, but you can’t just come in with your song anthology book or sheet music and hand it to an accompanist and think they are mind readers. First off you should have your music copied and placed in a book, binder or something else in which you keep your repertoire material.
Make sure that whatever you use that the pages turn easily and do not collapse back on themselves.
Don’t tape the sheet music together into one long page (I don’t know why this ever became a thing) and if you have the sheet music in sheet protectors make sure that they have a matte finish and don’t glare.
If you are working with a professional voice coach they will usually help assist you in these efforts and will supply you with the correct sheet music. If you are not working with a vocal coach and you are finding the sheet music on your own make sure that it is the correct key and written for the piano/vocals.
I was casting a show recently and the accompanist came over because they had been handed the sheet music to a song, but it was for the guitar. The actor didn’t give it a second look and had printed it off a free website. Luckily the accompanist was brilliant and was able to play the song by memory but never the less the whole incident left a bad taste in the mouth of the artistic team.
Step 2: Mark your music.
Does your song need to be played in a different key than the original? Do you want a different tempo than written? Do you have any specific starting point or cutoffs? If so, all these need to be clearly marked in the sheet music.
Preferably the music will be cut and only show the measure that you want to be played.
This can be accomplished by copying your sheet music and cutting and re-pasting it to show only the measures that you are using. Make sure that you keep the time signature and any other important information that the accompanist may need to know!
But if you don’t have time to do this then please have your sheet music clearly marked so the accompanist knows exactly where to start, what to play and where to end. Again, though brilliant, they are not mind readers.
Step 3: Communicate effectively.
Remembering that you are talking to another human being, make the most of the few moments you have with your accompanist before you sing. Go over your stops and starts. Tap the tempo or let them know of anything else that might be helpful.
The more information that you can give the better your chances are that your accompanist will know how best to play your piece. And if you have followed the first two steps then they will already be set up for success.
Step 4: Be Nice!
Your accompanists can either be your best friend or your enemy. Remember that they are there to help you. They have been sitting at a piano all day playing random songs and literally have seconds to look over your needs and try to be perfect, so you can do your best.
They are people and have feelings, so make sure that you treat them with respect. Remember, they are humans and mistakes can be made, they are doing the best they can just like you.
At the end of the auditions, no matter how things went, make sure to thank your accompanists when you collect your music.
Don’t give them dirty looks or make rude remarks if they messed up your piece. Odds are, if mistakes were made, it was an accident but no matter what the reason is you should never be rude to the accompanist. Remember that they are hired by the people that are doing the casting, long after you are gone they will still be there, and you don’t want them to let the director know just how rude you were.
Bonus Step: Material Selection!
There are certain composers and songs out there that you are told not to bring to an audition with accompanist because they are hard to play. Well, those warnings are not given for fun, there is a reason.
Some material is so intricately written it is hard for an accompanist to play them in a moment’s notice, all while trying to remember your unique cut and everything else. So, don’t think that the rules don’t apply to you, they DO! Save yourself and your accompanist the headache and pick something else to sing! You have been warned!
Hopefully, you are now just a bit more prepared for your next auditions with a live accompanist. If you want to get a little extra practice find a pianist that will play your pieces for you. Singing along to an MP3 and singing to a live pianist is a completely different feel that you need to be ready for. You can even have them practice “messing” you up to see how or if you can recover in a live audition. Just like with anything else, the more time you put into it the greater the reward tends to be in the end!