An Open Letter to Accompanists

Dear Accompanists of the World,

Last week, I posted an article about the many days of the year that celebrate some form of dancing—ballet, hip hop, ballroom, and many more.  However, there is one important element of dance who needs to be appreciated, and yet is constantly ignored as a background player: you, the accompanist.

You are the forgotten heroes of the dance and performance world.  Rehearsals are useless without you, classes are dull.  But you do so much more than that.

You play just a hair slower when you see that we’re having problems with a fast combination, but not enough that the teacher will catch you doing it.  You subtly emphasize the melody when I’m behind.  You wink at me after I get called out by the choreographer for messing up the steps.

For me, a good accompanist is the reason that gets me out of bed for a 9am ballet class.  You’re the reason I hold my developee just a little higher, that balance just a fraction longer.  You pull that extra oomph out of me when I think I have no more to give.

When I was nine years old, I wanted to quit ballet.  Ballet can be a boring exercise, particularly because it is so dependent on strengthening tiny muscles and holding frankly absurd positions for painful minutes, and after six years of being told to turn my feet in unnatural directions, I was tapped out.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom and apathy for my suffering, refused to let me quit.  I spent another three years going to dance out of duty.  In fact, my mom ended up putting me in a summer workshop where I took dance for six hours a day (there’s a reason we don’t complain to my mom), but it was this workshop that changed my view of dance.

I didn’t notice at first that they had brought in a new accompanist for this workshop.  To me, accompanists played the same classical airs, but seemed to run the melodies through a filter that made everything seem like a dirge playing in half time.  They seemed less like humans, and more like animated metrenomes.

And then she started playing.

She didn’t play Bach.  She didn’t play Rachmaninoff.  She played Harry Potter.  And how she played it.  It wasn’t just about plunking out the notes, but making music.  She didn’t look down on us because this was just another Saturday morning ballet class full of twelve-year-olds, but a special concert that only we got to hear.

For the first time in ballet class in years, I wanted to dance.  I wanted to dance well enough to fit that music, and I’ve been working towards it ever since.

When an accompanist plays well, they become another character in the dance that you can interact with.  They add more flavor to the piece, and dancer and musician can feed off of each other creating a symphony of music and dance together.  Great accompanists are great musicians who truly see that all the world is a stage and hold nothing back, even in rehearsals.

I cannot thank you enough for the hours of sweaty rehearsals, repetitive numbers, and the infinite patience and skill you bring to each and every occasion. There’s not an accompanist appreciation day—yet—but I think you all deserve our respect and gratitude for inspiring us to become skilled, versatile performers.

 

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