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Tips on Working with a Pianist for Auditions or Examinations

1. Allow for sufficient rehearsal

Ideally, rehearsals should be similar to the preparation for a recital, with both partners working together in the service of the music and its presentation. Discuss a sensible rehearsal schedule with your pianist, well in advance of the event, but be prepared to be flexible if the repertoire is difficult. It takes time to develop good ensemble and no two performances of a work are the same, particularly when developing a new partnership.

2. Agree fees in advance

It is important that you have agreed a mutually-satisfactory fee schedule before working with a professional collaborative pianist. Any decision about fees must take into consideration the quantity and difficulty of the music to be prepared and travel requirements involved. Keep in mind your pianist is a professional and needs to learn their part (and yours) so that the first rehearsal is not just a sight-reading exercise. In some cases, this will require considerable time and effort, particularly if the repertoire is unfamiliar or virtuosic. Think of it as an investment in developing your future opportunities.


3. Confirm the repertoire and sheet music in advance

Some auditions or exams have a time limit and works may need to be cut to size. This should be worked out with your pianist and rehearsed thoroughly so that it sounds as natural as possible.  It is also important to make yourself familiar with the piano part before the first meeting – this should go without saying but is too often not the case. If your pianist doesn’t have their own musical scores, provide them with legible copies, in good condition, well before the rehearsals start. In some cases, score editions are an issue and singers usually prefer the transposition best suited to their particular voice-type. Sort this out early to avoid later confusion.


4. Make sure your pianist is well-informed

Ensure your pianist knows the date and time of the event and the venue in which it will take place. Is the venue difficult to find? Will there be an opportunity for a warm-up before the performance and when will this be? Are there any dress requirements? Make sure you both have access to mobile numbers in case of issues or emergency.


5. Make the most of the day

Don’t forget that auditions and exams are performances and should be treated as such. You should request the opportunity to rehearse briefly in the venue; to become used to the acoustic, the sight-lines with your pianist and the sound of an unfamiliar piano in the space. This is not too much to ask of a sympathetic and perceptive panel. Use the time immediately before the performance well, so that you feel able to reveal your true ability and potential.


6. Show your pianist respect

While you are the one being auditioned or examined, remember that your collaborative pianist may well be performing before a panel of fellow professional musicians. Inadequate rehearsal or a dismissive attitude during the performance could place unreasonable pressure on your pianist and indicate a lack of respect for musical partners and an inability (or unwillingness) to recognise professional standards of behaviour. This is likely to be noticed by the adjudicating panel.


When the performance begins, you will soon appreciate the value of careful preparation. Most of all, you will be aware that you are not alone – you have with you a familiar and respected colleague who will support you, through thick and thin, as you aim to present the very best you have to offer. Jo Allan puts it simply when she says, “the pianist is not just part of the scenery. Without a capable person behind you, you can’t be as good”.

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