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Working with an Audition Pianist

January 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Missouri State UniversityWhether auditioning for opera or musical theater, it's essential for singers to understand the role of the audition pianist and how they can contribute to an audition. Think of it as a partnership: Both people involved wish to present you in the best possible light. “It’s a collaboration, and we want you to do well,” says Yvonne Wormer, collaborative pianist at Sonoma State University. Here are some tips she offers to help the pianist help you at your next audition.

  • Make it easy: When choosing a song, consider the arrangement. Certain composers are almost impossible to sight-read. If you want to do something difficult — like Sondheim — bring your own pianist to the audition.
  • Stay organized: Music more than three pages long should be taped back-to-back and arranged in a binder like a book. Fewer than three pages should be taped side-to-side, accordion style. Don't use plastic sheet covers, as they can create a blinding glare. Don't bring wrinkled or torn paper. If you must make cuts, mark them in red ink.
  • Prepare: Make sure you’ve taken your music to a pianist and that they can play it. Be familiar with how the piece sounds. If you’ve been listening to a recording it might not be in the same key as the sheet music, so make sure you have the music in the key you are prepared to sing.
  • Never blame the pianist: Sight-reading is difficult even for the best musicians. Be prepared for mistakes but don't let them derail your performance. Whatever happens, be sure to thank the pianist afterwards as s/he maybe the show's music director or conductor and have significant influence on casting.
  • Choose your tempo: It's crucial that you give the pianist an accurate tempo. To do this, simply sing the first few bars of the piece. Don't ever clap, snap, or conduct at the pianist, as it can be considered rude. Metronome markings are also helpful.

Rehearsal accompanists are some of the most talented, under-appreciated musicians in theater. Many have advanced degrees, studied their entire lives, and are sorely underpaid. Be nice to them and they will help you shine.

Sarah Sloan is a classical singer and voice teacher in the East Bay. You can find her blog at www.sarahsloan.net.