A search on my blog recently asked the question: “How do you follow a chorus?”
Short answer: you don’t! You should be “following” the conductor. Or, rather, both of you need to be on the same page, with you anticipating what’s ahead in the score as well as in the rehearsal.
In a previous post, I talked about how to play a rehearsal.
With choruses across the country about to start rehearsals, I thought this would be a good time to approach the same topic from the opposite point of view.
If you are a pianist who walks into a rehearsal expecting to follow everyone else, you will not be effective. Our job is to help people learn the music.
Picture this: the conductor is rehearsing an SATB piece. You’re playing the voice parts. Let’s say that the tenors have a difficult section, and slow down while they’re figuring it out.
What would you do? Play SAB together, then the tenor part late? (Try it! Not so easy!)
A better approach would be to play all parts together, emphasizing the tenor line. Because the tenors in this scenario are the only section having trouble, their part could be played a little louder and more percussively than the others. (Try using your thumbs.) In that way, we are contributing to the rehearsal, helping them learn their part. They hear it in rhythm, and get with the program.
A rehearsal pianist is NOT wallpaper. Even though you may hear people say, “You were so good, we didn’t know you were there!” that can be translated into how helpful you actually were.
When one part is rehearsing separately, as soon as the singers are fairly comfortable we can add the solo line, if there is one, and the bass line. This could be the bass voice part or the lowest part of the accompaniment’s left hand. The chorus gets an idea of the chord structure this way, which helps them hear where they are, how their parts relate to the whole.
Avoid playing anything that sounds dense until later in the learning process. Density confuses people, when what they really need is something clear and reliable to hang onto.
An effective rehearsal pianist is NOT a passive attendee. Just showing up is not enough.
If a rehearsal pianist does not play confidently, most likely s/he has not looked at the music. Even in a situation where sightreading is required, the playing should be far better than that superficial level. If anything, rather than following anyone, you should be providing pitches ahead of time.
When a pianist looks at the music in advance, s/he knows where the key changes are; where the repeats are and marks them; knows all difficult passages, introductions, and postludes; knows all voice parts, as well as obligato instrumental solos; AND can play any part in combination with anything else. If there is a difficult jump between pages, his/her eyes may not focus quickly enough. As soon as that happens, s/he puts an arrow in the margin.