Performing with a pianist who hasn't practiced...

July 22, 2018, 4:15 PM · Hello everyone,

I have an eisteddfod (local competition) coming up next week, performing the 3rd movement of Mendelssohn, Tambourin Chinois and the 4th movement of the Spring Sonata.
I've got my part sorted, however the pianist I'm working with has not learnt her part, DESPITE the fact I gave the piano parts to her 6 weeks ago.
I had a rehearsal with her last week, and it was dreadful. She was SIGHTREADING my sonata and I was so upset that the whole thing was just an utter disaster. Tambourin Chinois was a mistake wonderland, but the Mendelssohn was okay (seeing as she's played it with a number of students before).
On top of that, she didn't even apologise for her mistakes, and still charged me $60 for the hour.

I'm quite conflicted whether or not to perform at this eisteddfod, as I really do love performing, and I have a good chance of winning around $500. There are a number of people who are actually looking forward to my performance (due to my reputation in the area) but I'm quite afraid to perform badly and ruin my reputation, and my teacher's reputation. Knowing this pianist, she won't even look at my part until the day before the performance, and I will have to pay her another $60 for rehearsal, and $60 on the day of the performance.

Does anyone have any advice?


Replies (41)

July 22, 2018, 4:48 PM · I'm just a beginner, but.... Can you get someone else to replace your current pianist in this short time before your performance? She doesn't deserve to continue to get paid for such shoddy work. Plus it's stressing you out which you don't need.
July 22, 2018, 5:07 PM · Have a frank conversation with your teacher, who presumably knows the available pianists in the area.
July 22, 2018, 5:08 PM · Hi Rhiannon, unfortunately I wouldn't be able to use another accompanist as all the parts are very demanding for a pianist. I had no choice but to use this accompanist as my usual accompanist is away, and I've used her for my violin students before. However, I'm very shocked that despite giving the music to her prior, she sightread the pieces at rehearsal.

Thanks for your concern though!

July 22, 2018, 5:12 PM · Hi Mary, I've spoken to my teacher and she said that it was really up to me whether I perform or not. I actually live 100km away from my teacher (like an hour drive away) and although she has suggested pianists who could do the job, but I would have to travel far to do a rehearsal, and I'm not sure if they would come down 100km to peform with me.

So simply, I have only 2 choices- to play or not to play.

Edited: July 23, 2018, 6:03 AM · I sympathize with you. It's a bad situation.

My instinct would be to go ahead and play. Make the best of it.

A college I attended had a chamber competition and my teacher placed us in groups at his whim. Being relatively low on the violin totem pole I ended up with a pianist who was decent but had zero chamber experience and a sub standard cellist (severe intonation problems, mediocre tone). We played a Beethoven trio.

It was frustrating at first but I eventually just decided to do what I could to stand out on my own, and it worked. I put the other two on my back and the performance sounded better that it had any right to. I still remember some of my colleagues congratulating me afterwards, saying "the trio was kind of meh but you sounded great!". It opened a door for me that may have stayed closed had I chosen not to perform: a very good cellist and pianist who's violinist was graduating asked me to step in the next year and we had two years of great experiences.

To this day I'm still proud of that performance. I gave it my all.

Edited: July 22, 2018, 8:08 PM · A highly skilled pianist is worth the commute and cost. In some areas, it's common to travel a distance to work with specific musicians. If you have the budget and transportation, I'd consider the pianist whom your teacher recommends. Offer to pay the pianist an extra fee to commute to your festival.
July 22, 2018, 9:03 PM · If you don't mind my asking, how did you end up with this wretched pianist? I hope it was not your teacher's recommendation.
Edited: July 22, 2018, 10:25 PM · I agree with Frieda, a good pianist is worth the trouble if they take your competition seriously and play well. It is one less thing to worry about so you can fully concentrate on being at your best. It will also give the first pianist something to think about when she realizes you no longer require her services.

However, if that's just not possible, I think Ryan's advise is good. Just tune that pianist completely out. Maybe pretend she's playing decently. I think the judges are professional enough to know the difference between your performance and hers.

I was watching the video clip just recently of Midori when she was 14 and the E string broke on two violins she was playing during a very difficult piece. When the first broke, she played the concertmaster's violin without breaking a sweat - but the E string broke on that as well, and they had to give the assistant principal's violin to her, which thankfully didn't break. But the key thing, was she KEPT GOING and played like a boss, even when things were literally falling apart on her. At the end of the piece, Leonard Bernstein, the concertmaster, the assistant 1st principal and the entire audience were in awe! She made the New York Times headlines the next day. It was pretty amazing!

So if it comes down to it and you can't get rid of that awful pianist, pay her NO MIND and just play like a boss! You'll stand out much better that way and impress the judges.

July 23, 2018, 6:36 AM · Hi everyone, thanks for your concern!
The usual accompanist I use is actually someone who lives around 150km away from me, and I do pay him good money to accompany me. He is totally worth the money and time, as every time I've performed with him, I have received a standing ovation.

However, this time, due to limited time to find an accompanist who could accompany me on the day of the eisteddfod, I had to select the local pianist in my area (5km away from me). My teacher did not introduce me to her, but I had known of her before and decided to give her a try. Worst idea ever.

Never thought that the Beethoven Spring Sonata could sound like Bartok.

After reading these comments, I'm leaning towards entering in the competition, however I still have doubts...

And also Rhiannon, I've watched the Midori video before, she's simply spectacular!

Edited: July 23, 2018, 8:37 AM · Why not bill it as the "Write-Off Spring Sonata"?

Actually, it's possible that if you make sure the pianist's name is on the programme and she believes the local newspaper might be there, she might make sure she plays the parts properly.

July 23, 2018, 9:25 AM · If the competition focuses on the violin, then just go with what you have. The audience will recognize your good playing and the pianist will be embarrassed.

Unprepared accompanists are a common problem. I've had it many times, even with doctoral accompanying majors.

Edited: July 23, 2018, 10:13 AM · The problem in a case like that - it's YOUR competition, not hers. She is "only" the accompanist, even if what you have to pay her for three hours of rehearsal plus one hours of performance is approximately 50% of the price you might probably win, but for her it's mainly a job. If you are choosing pieces she hasn't in her standard repertoire, then a proper preparation of those pieces will take her several times as much effort than the time she spends playing together with you. If she's well booked, be it as a teacher or a performer, most probably 60 bucks per hour is just adequate in her eyes (and also in mine), and several hours of additional practice simply does not pay her bills.

From my own experience as a pianist in an earlier life I'd say, if you want a good pianist, then find one you enjoy working with. Treat him/her well, play TOGETHER and regard/communicate him/her as a co-artist and not as "just the accompanist". Make sure that he/she also enjoys it. Then hopefully also for your pianist it will not be "only a job", where it's mainly about money.

When I now and then accompanied vocalists, it often took me pretty much more effort to prepare my part than them... Just a thought.

July 23, 2018, 10:27 AM · I think it's unprofessional for a pianist to show up unprepared, period, and as a paying customer of an accompanist, you have a right to object.

I think these issues are exacerbated by the fact that the pianist is not "just" an accompanist. They are a collaborator, especially in the sonata repertoire. Their musicianship helps to highlight yours, or detract from it. Good hand-offs between the parts, blending, etc. can only happen if the pianist is an active collaborator.

Edited: July 23, 2018, 11:31 AM · Lydia, how true. And I'd also say that if the expected income is not regarded as appropriate for the whole project, then one should not take part in it.
In a situation like that, when there isn't a big budget to burn, it might be better to find an advanced amateur or student than a professional - who still would need more than just a few hours to prepare, if it really was about "collaboration" and not "just accompanism".

I haven't been a professional pianist - pulled the break before entering university and went for something else. But I think I do know a bit what I'm talking about, since I did the piano part in most of Beethoven and Mozart violin sonatas, and tons of lyric songs like Schubert, Brahms, Schumann and elsewhat. Usually I wasn't paid, but eventually I liked the sopranist ;-) And I enjoyed making music together. But whoa, often it felt like as if I had the work (bloody hell, the piano part from the Spring Sonata isn't easier than the violin part...) and someone else the honor. Which wasn't especially bad for me, since I never enjoyed being in the spotlight, which was one of the main reasons I did not follow a pro career.

For me, this arrangement was okay. For someone else who had to live from it, $240 (for three hours rehearsal plus one hour performance x $60, plus let's say ten to twenty hours of focused preparation depending on the grade of difficulty and the reading skills of the pianist) the calculation may look different.
So, if you need a pianist for a project you will not earn money with from ticket s ales etc., then look for someone who does it out of enthusiasm and not out of the need to pay his bills, even if this has some draw offs in the performance level. Another option might be to choose the pieces together with your hired pianist and focus on what he/she's already got in his repertoire, plus eventually one new piece but not more.
I do not want to offend someone here, but simply throw in that from a different point of view things can look differently. Kaori, this is not an excuse for your pianists behavior, I also think that this was simply unprofessional. But -provided the chosen pieces were all new to her, what performance level would you have expected for the $, and how should this work for the pianist?

Edited: July 23, 2018, 11:52 AM · Nuuska you say this so well and I would simply add that I think you should tell the pianist what you think i.e. it sounds too rough for a live performance, and ask if they think that more rehearsal time together that you're happy to pay for would get things up to speed.
July 23, 2018, 12:16 PM · Jepp.
July 23, 2018, 5:07 PM · There is so much competition around where I live that pianists who cannot play those parts competently at sight will probably not get hired. But then, those are pretty standard pieces so most collaborative pianists who put their name up already know how to play them.
July 23, 2018, 5:32 PM · Hi everyone,
Again, thank you for your comments and suggestions. I'm really taking things on board!
After 2 rehearsals with this wretched pianist, I've found out (from external sources) that she's a mom of 2 and is pretty much doing acconpanying to pay the bills. She was supposedly a "virtuoso" when she was in elementary school, but quit due to pressure. She restarted piano after becoming a mom, and made that into her career.

The usual guy I use really enjoys playing the piano and it's just unfortunate that he's unavailable this time.

I would ask for more rehearsals, however this pianist is pretty busy on her plate too (hence why she can't practice). I have one more rehearsal on Thursday- I'll see how it goes.

July 23, 2018, 5:37 PM · I also ditto the opinions of everyone who's commented, the pianist is vital for a performance to succeed or fail, especially in a sonata, where the pianist isn't JUST an accompanist. I think I'll perform at the eisteddfod, and make a fool of the pianist...
July 23, 2018, 11:42 PM · If so, then the pianist will fool herself. The only thing you've got to do is to stay on track. A situation like this can be quite distracting. But somehow it is also a chance to grow, if you can regard it like that...
July 24, 2018, 10:04 AM · Realizing you only have a few days left, I wonder if the following could help any.

-Offering an incentive or portion of possible winnings, perhaps future work or recommendations
-Having a sit down discussion with the accompanist so you can express how important this is to you
-Having frequent short correspondences (text, e-mail) leading up to the moment asking questions about certain sections, phrasing, and such to keep in her/his mind that there are expectations to be met.

You shouldn't have to do these things with a dedicated professional, but unfortunately it happens. It teaches us to try and avoid such situations.

Good Luck!

July 24, 2018, 10:18 AM · Kaori- it sounds like your level of practicality has gone way up since your original post. Getting people to perform at a much higher level with a good attitude is the main goal of business management! You want to spur improvement in an effective way, but you don't want to be critical or make them feel bad so that they sabotage you or seek retribution or just get worse. It requires a delicate balance.

Possibly if you approach her that you think she's doing wonderfully, given her situation, etc., but you're not sure if you should go through with the final performance, in a nice way, she may be motivated to get the payment for that performance. Not that you wouldn't give her pay you agreed to for the rehearsals, but that may be an extra incentive for her to perform her best.

Also, it's generally not sympathetic to complain about people one's got in a relationship with- personal, or business. People will be sympathetic to your face, but the first thing they think is "well, they're the one who hired them" or married them, or whatever, so it ends up being a reflection on the complainer. It is smart to look for solutions and alternatives in a positive way as you seem to be doing now. That's very constructive!!

Edited: July 24, 2018, 12:34 PM · Tom Bop said: “Also, it's generally not sympathetic to complain about people one's got in a relationship with - personal, or business. People will be sympathetic to your face, but the first thing they think is "well, they're the one who hired them" or married them, or whatever, so it ends up being a reflection on the complainer.”

Not once did I ever think this when I read Kaori's post. Please don't speak for me.

July 24, 2018, 9:41 PM · Rhiannon, no reason to personalize this- I don't know you at all, was not thinking about you in the least, and I did not say "everyone" would think that. Just a generic "people," meaning "some people," and only trying to pass along a little life lesson, fwiw.
July 24, 2018, 11:39 PM · The pianist is shooting herself in the foot. Let her. It isn't your responsibility to try to cajole someone who is supposedly a professional into behaving like a professional.

Play your best under the circumstances and never hire this pianist again.

Edited: July 25, 2018, 1:05 AM · Tom if you read over your post, you were projecting what YOU were thinking on everyone else.

Why not just be honest and write, "the first thing I thought is 'well, they're the one who hired them" or married them, or whatever, so it ends up being a reflection on the complainer"? Because it's what YOU thought. That would be more accurate.

Who are all these people that you said thought these things???

July 25, 2018, 10:01 AM · There are other ways to make money than being an accompanist. Why, just last month I made $14823 selling insurance from my home... (insert link to scam website)
July 25, 2018, 2:13 PM · I agree with Mary Ellen. Your pianist is going to be playing in front of a jury of professionals. That's her own professional reputation on the line. You can bet that if "Beethoven sounds like Bartok", as you put it, in the Spring Sonata (which is a core sonata in the *piano* repertoire as well), none of those people are going to ever recommend that anyone work with her.
Edited: July 25, 2018, 6:08 PM · “No matter how terribly or beautifully the other person is playing, you got to do what you got to do. You still have to be you.”

My daughter had a piano lesson today and when her teacher said the above, it made me think of this thread.

Edited: July 26, 2018, 1:05 PM · Kiki, your daughter's piano teacher probably reads this forum!
July 26, 2018, 9:16 AM · I hope Kaori will let us know how it goes.
July 27, 2018, 3:48 PM · Update: Had a rehearsal with the pianist yesterday, and I think she realised that she sounded terrible, so she practiced.
My competition is tonight, will let everyone know on how it goes!
July 27, 2018, 8:23 PM · Break an E string! (I mean a leg.)
July 28, 2018, 6:13 AM · Dear everyone who has posted on this forum,

I was able to place 3rd in the Beethoven Spring section (the pianist practiced her part, but there was really no musical interplay because she was so busy with her notes) and 2nd in the Kreisler Tambourin Chinois and 1st in the 3rd movement of Mendelssohn.

Lesson learnt: always use a good pianist, and when your good pianist is unavailable, you always have a backup! (searching for backup pianists now)

Thank you everyone for your input, and I really appreciate this online community!


July 28, 2018, 6:57 AM · Congrats on your achievement - especially, the Mendelssohn!
July 28, 2018, 9:56 AM · I'm glad you played.

I'm sure you learned a lot from the experience.

July 28, 2018, 12:01 PM · Congrats!

However, it seems that the first rehearsal (and possibly second) with the pianist were a complete waste of both your time and money. You basically had to pay her twice for her to realize that she wasn't doing her job. That's absolutely terrible. If I were the pianist, I'd feel bad and reimburse you.... but oh well.

July 28, 2018, 2:27 PM · Congratulations!

And I agree that the moral thing on the pianist’s part would be to reimburse you, but she likely won’t offer and you can’t ask. Just never hire her again.

July 28, 2018, 3:13 PM · If I were in your shoes (and I have been), I wouldn't ask for a reimbursement, but I would write a very polite email saying that I basically wasted my time and money for her to realize that she wasn't doing her job and ultimately behaving this way affects one's reputation and brings one way down to the pile of recommendation lists. In music (probably in all fields), reputation is the most important thing you have to protect, and she didn't seem to care enough about her reputation. There's no way to thrive in the music business if you 're not on top of things.
July 28, 2018, 4:07 PM · Definitely. I will not ask for a reimbursement, nor will I email her saying that her rehearsal performances of the Spring sounded terrible. I will do what Mary Ellen said, and just never hire her again.

I've definitely learnt a HUGE lesson from this, and I would like for others to learn from this too. ALWAYS perform with a pianist who has learnt their part and can help you with more musical ideas!!


July 28, 2018, 4:28 PM · Kaori, Congrats on the medal! Great job! You're smart to take Mary Ellen's advice- you've learned the important lesson to vet people carefully in the future... spend the energy developing your skills even further.

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