Last month, I interviewed for a position as the accompanist with The Greater Tiverton Community Chorus. (I am happy to say I got the job!) The panel asked me some great questions, and I thought it would be beneficial to write out expanded answers in a series of blog posts.
I first started accompanying when I was around eight years old, when I started playing with my church’s children’s choir and a young violin player at church who was a couple of years older than me. Since then, I have accompanied church choirs, school choruses, community choruses, and vocal and instrumental soloists. I’ve had a long time to think about my answers!
The third question was: What do you hope to be doing in five years?
My answer is: more of all I am doing now. That is, accompanying, teaching, and composing. I would like to increase the amount of classical chamber music I play as a collaborative pianist, I would like to increase the number of students I teach, and I hope that my composing career takes off. For clarification, I was asked if I was teaching and composing *until* my composition career takes off, and the answer is no. I need the balance of all three parts of my musical self.
The collaborative piano work gives me music and motivation to practice, which helps me maintain my piano and sight-reading skills. It gives me some social interaction. It is also fun to perform. And, while I told my parents when I was five years old that I would never be a concert pianist (soloist) and my personality is not really bent toward performing, I really enjoy being on stage in a group with other people. I don’t like the limelight, but I like bringing pieces to life with other people. Concerts bring together the community, and pleasing the people I play with and pleasing the audience brings me joy.
I have always felt that it is important for those of us who are ahead on the path to share our experience and wisdom with those who are coming behind us. We all have something to teach. I find teaching music especially important because it is a creative activity that develops diligence and focus while boosting good feelings. It can be a healthful option for bored or aimless kids who might otherwise be drawn into negative, self-destructive behaviors. Music lifts the spirits in mood and purpose and makes the world a better place in many ways. I believe teaching music, which betters both the lives of students and the community, is very important – so much so that I have at times even taught for free kids who otherwise would not have had the opportunity. I started teaching privately when I was 15, and I haven’t stopped. Even when I moved halfway across the country and back, even when my kids were babies. It’s not just a form of income, it is a calling.
Music composition is something I showed interest in from a very young age. I wrote my first piece when I was five or six (my mother says five.) It wasn’t anything spectacular, but I did write the notes on the correct lines and spaces and used the right number of beats in the measure for the time signature I used. I did originally go to college for music composition, but ultimately my anxiety and timid personality at the time kept me from pursuing it. I put it on hold for a long time until my youngest child was thirteen. By then, I was ready to try it and took lessons for the first time in 2013. Why then? Because I was bored. Very bored. I like accompanying, but reading off scores feels like reproduction work and I needed to do something more inventive. I like teaching, but I found that I needed to do something for myself and escape from the world of beginner books, simple solos, and correcting technique and rhythm.
I need all three of these aspects of my musical life. In many ways, they feed one another. Composing scratches the itch I have for making something new and working with performers on a different level of conversation. It gives me a place for personal growth and self-expression, and because I have that outlet I am renewed and can continue in my work as an accompanist and teacher. But composing is very hard. Even as I grow in skill, I don’t think this will change because it is emotionally exhausting. I put myself into my pieces, and I take a lot of emotional risk sending them “out there” and getting rejection emails at least once a week. I can get very discouraged. Enter accompanying. It provides some instantly gratifying good feelings when I get complimented for my work and am reminded that I am actually a decent musician who knows some things. It boosts my confidence and gives me strength to continue composing. It introduces me to a lot of new-to-me music – some old, some contemporary. The social part of rehearsal also prevents me from becoming a hermit who lives in the back room of my house. Teaching reminds me that music is not all about me. I am connected to something larger, which was passed on to me from my teachers, and I pass on to my students. Teaching is the only way to develop more accompanists and composers and continue the tradition of creating music and making the world a better place through beauty and art. As the tagline for my website says, I am a “composer, teacher, collaborative pianist.” I am all three.