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ACCOMPANIST SELECTION

We are currently looking for a new piano accompanist for our group.  At present there are (8) candidates and I wanted to know if anyone has ideas about a "selection criteria sheet" to be used in the process for grading each individual.
 
Cliff Barcliff
President,
Greater Philadelphia Chorale
gpchorale.com
on June 25, 2013 7:08am
a-Technical pianistic skill, b- musicality,(lovely phrases, artistic accenting, expression)  c-ability to follow and work with your director would be the most important criteria, I think. They should play in a style that supports your choir, but dos not overpower or "baby" them with too much pianistic leadership. If you do jazz, Gospel, or baroque da capo pieces that require beyond-the-page creativity, test that skill.  Promtpness, how they represent your group,  and organization are also important.
I would suggest:
1. Based on experience and recommendations, narrow your search to 3 or 4 candidates. Make one a "wild card", in that, although their background/experience may not be as impressive/extensive, something about their cover letter intrigues you, or you wish to give them an opportunity.  Who knows?  You might be fostering/ministering to an undiscovered Mozart or  Moses Hogan.  Will they need to lead in your director's absence?  Check that skill.
2. Set up a schedule (based on the candidates availability, which you check first) for each of the 3 or 4 candidates to be "guest pianist" for 2 weeks.  It needs to be at least 2 weeks, to compensate for the facts that on either week some of your voting members may be out of town, the chosen music may not be their best skill area, they may be nervous, their cat may have died, etc..  or the director might not be in his/her best mood.  ;)  "Guest pianist" is more respectful professionally.  "Auditionee" sounds like one with little experience and, after all, they are your pianist - keyboard artist - for that week.  Give them some of the music to practice ahead, (especially the more technically-demanding ones) but tell them that one or two pieces (less-difficult) they will be expected to sight-read.  Solicit the advice of any pianists you know on this, even if they are not currently performers.  After they play your rehearsal, have a short punch-and-cookie time to chat.  You'll get a feeling for their personality, ease of interaction,  and where they are on the scale of "Gracious-I'll follow-director-or-soloist"  to "I'm-the-real-musician-here-follow-my-advice".
3. Draw up a simple voting ballot - it can be a half-sheet with a scale based on the criteria above:  (Be sure to put the candidate's name at the top! ;)
"Playing ability - technical skill
Superior    Excellent     Good     Fair    Poor     (add the other lines for other criteria as you wish)
As a singer, I felt supported by the pianist;
Very well     well      mostly    iffy    unsupported"
Have an objective person - someone who does not know your choir - tally/total the scores and report to you.   You'll need all the results - not just the highest score - in case one accepts another position.  The Director should have their vote count double or triple, and have veto power, as s/he needs to be able to work with this person.
Discuss whether this person will be part-time-salaried or paid by the hour.
Best Wishes,
Lucy - who has been in both positions recently - as he "guest" having her skills evaluated, and the singer, later the director, evlauating the pianist.
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 25, 2013 3:14pm
I agree with Lucy that inviting the top candidates to play for a couple of rehearsals is a great idea. So many questions can be answered simply by working with the pianist in a rehearsal situation, from musicianship to personality to ability to play different musical styles. 
 
However, I would hope that your Chorale started by writing a detailed job description that identifies your needs and standards for the position. If you have listed the skills necessary for the position, then you already have the "selection criteria", just as a business lists the required skills for any position in their company. You might find it useful to make two lists -- the absolutely necessary requirements for the job (eg. must know treble from bass clef, must be able to play hands together) and the wish list of useful skills (eg. playing jazz from a lead sheet, improvising gospel style, conducting).
 
If the job requires skills and experience beyond playing the piano, such as conducting, improvising, arranging, running sectionals -- then that must be in the job description and considered when negotiating the compensation package. As a professional accompanist, I've been in situations where I was hired by a choir to play for rehearsals and suddenly found myself running rehearsals while the conductor went off to a big gig for a month, or writing out an arrangement when presented with an illegible lead sheet, or being told I was taking the women for a sectional as I arrived to rehearsal.  I don't mind taking one for the team every once in a while, but if that's part of the expectation for the position, it also needs to be part of the job description and the interview discussion.
 
Best of luck with your selection process,
 
Nancy
Applauded by an audience of 1
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