“Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.” Will Cuppy
I get so many emails from people wanting to complain or wanting me to weigh in on someone else’s behavior or to come up with a solution. Often, it is singers complaining about their choir directors. Sometimes, it’s choir directors complaining about their singers. Do I get emails from accompanists? YES I DO! Right after the choir year ended, I got quite a few of the usual emails from various types of people and will certainly be writing about some thorny situations later this summer. But the single email which struck me most as being a bit odd was from an accompanist…..doing someone a “favor.”
Bernie* is the chief accompanist for a college in the Midwest. He’s on piano faculty as well as accompanist for all the school’s choral organizations, supervises student accompanists and has been accompanying choirs since he was a child. Bernie is very intuitive and does what needs to be done, at rehearsal or performance, without prompting, is a wonderful sight reader and has a great relationship with all the choral directors on faculty. Bernie wrote me to ask what he should have done in a strange situation which arose during their last concert of the year.
The local children’s choir was asked to be guest artists for the choral department’s final concert. One of the music faculty had a child singing with them and the whole faculty agreed it would be a good thing for the college and the community for the children to perform on the concert. The children would perform several selections as well as be included in a massed choir piece at the end of the program. Bernie would accompany for his own ensembles as well as the massed number.
All was lovely until the day of the concert. The children and their director, Marsha*, arrived on time for the warm-up but the children’s accompanist was nowhere to be found. They called his cell phone and texted him but could not get hold of him. The children’s time for rehearsal was over and they were finally able to reach their accompanist. He had been in a minor traffic accident and was waiting to be seen in the emergency room (he was fine, just scratches) but would not be able to make the concert. Marsha was livid her choir would not be able to perform until Bernie volunteered to play for them. Music was scrounged up for him so he would have music. Bernie made it clear to Marsha he would do the best he could but would be sight reading.
The college choirs’ portion of the concert went off without a hitch. And then it was time for Marsha and her choir to sing. The first two pieces went well, with Bernie sight reading flawlessly. The third, a Bach duet, started well but Marsha began to speed up, then leaned over to his side of the podium and started to clap at him! Bernie kept up her tempo but dropped notes if needed so he could do so, reasoning as long as the harmonic structure was there it would be fine. And it was fine enough for the children to get a standing ovation. Marsha took her bow but did not gesture for Bernie to receive a bow. The massed number went well and the conductor of that piece gestured for Bernie to stand for a solo bow, since he went “above and beyond” he told Bernie later.
After the concert, Marsha would not speak to Bernie and was snippy to the director of the choral department. Both Bernie and his boss were at a loss as to why. The choral department invited them to perform, and then helped them overcome an unfortunate situation. Bernie did Marsha and the children’s choir a favor. Bernie’s boss wonders about her behavior after the concert.
Bernie asked me what they could have done differently. I told him he behaved perfectly and what he and the college director did was appropriate. The rest is Marsha’s problem.