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  • Writer's picturePaul Miller

Flying the Flag for the Collaborative Pianist

On the evening of Thursday 25th March 2021, the Dean, staff and students of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music were joined by prominent members of the profession in paying tribute to the pianist David G. Miller AM, who was leaving the Conservatorium after 40 years of formative service in the discipline of Collaborative Piano.

Mr Miller addressed the audience after a very entertaining musical program hosted by one of his students, the conductor, presenter and accompanist Guy Noble. This is what he said:

To my many students I say a very special thank you. The pride I have in you is very difficult to describe adequately. You are a new generation of collaborative pianists. You are teaching a different generation as well and achieving success in a wide variety of areas. You are flying the flag, but, unfortunately you are now in the firing line.

Somebody once said that if you can’t play the piano, you can always teach; and then others added - if you can’t do either, you can accompany. How dare they! This is not going to happen when we have the sort of accompanists we have here and the people who have worked with them know exactly how important this relationship can be.

But there are still forces which we need to counter and we now have the numbers to do this. I’ve been delighted at the success for example of the Accompanists’ Guild of NSW and I encourage any of you who are accompaniment students or who have studied accompaniment to contact the Guild and join up now! United we stand, divided we fall! We might well remember the altercation we had with the AMEB concerning recorded accompaniments for examinations. We got up and said, “do you really want to replace your pianist with a machine that always sounds the same and has no opinions of its own?” I don’t know whether we won that argument but we certainly made a fuss about it. I was very proud of the support that we had, not only from pianists but also from people who knew the value of a good collaborative pianist.

We still have a lot to do. Collaborative pianists are the very foundation of the music profession and we believe we are very important to the Sydney Conservatorium as well. Dr Michael Halliwell once said at a conference for first year students that the vocal unit is my unit and we’re here at the top of the Conservatorium, in prime position. I got up and said that any large building or structure needs a good foundation. Guess where the Collaborative Piano unit is! I then pointed to the basement where our studios are.

We still have work to do convincing audiences that we have an essential role to play in a musical partnership where the whole is so much more that the sum of the parts. We are not just ‘sensitive’ and ‘supportive’ (remember Gerald Moore’s “Am I Too Loud?”), we have something very important to contribute to any performance and the technical ability to convey this to our audience and partners. Our decision to collaborate is our first choice. We will not settle for being treated as second-rate musicians.

We must continue to be vigilant in our progress towards true recognition. Tonight, we’ve seen some stunning examples of the partnerships which have been made possible by pianists working at this level. If I’ve had anything to do with that, I’m very proud.

Thank you.


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