Exploring 5 activities you can do as a pianist/musician

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Since last march, I’m not a student anymore. Enough said… :-?

I thought many times what to do and as everyone know, the situation in Spain right now is really hard with the crisis – I guess it’s very hard everywhere for musicians anyway. Despite of looking for jobs as a teacher in music schools or trying to work free-lance from concerts and gigs, I realized that I won’t solve my life this way.

This year has been really nice so far as I’m working with 2 agencies from US since this summer and having lots of hope to get concerts and a worldwide promotion, but it doesn’t solve my ends of months right now. Lately I’m working on many projects at the same time that are not solving my ends of months neither but hoping it will, little by little. Here is list of the activities I have been doing, and I hope it can also give inspiration to other musicians or pianists.

 

Teaching: That’s the one I have done the least, as noone here wants to pay enough for a private piano lesson :cry: . I remember teaching a very gifted and intelligent child when I still lived in France 10 years ago and I really enjoyed it, but somehow I think I was lucky – not every children are like that. This year, I taught a few times an adult in Sevilla and I enjoyed it too, although I think teaching requires a method, it may be a personal method, but no improvisation. As a student, I hated when a teacher would stop me every half bar, and that’s what I do as a teacher!
It’s a huge responsability when you have to initiate a child as it may destroy his technique forever if you do it badly. Many times, things that seem easy or that I didn’t even think about may be difficult for a student – how am I supposed to explain something that I never explained to myself?
That’s why I think every pianist is not a teacher and this is something we have to learn if we want to do it well. Most of us just start to teach without any idea or experience! It’s like saying « you speak french, so you can teach french! ». Not that easy. :-|

 

Chamber music: Nothing new here, this is an option anyone can take, as far as you have a good partner – in my case, it’s my life partner, so it couldn’t be better. Here is the website of our piano duo.

Duo Pianissimo playing at les Adrets, september 2012

Duo Pianissimo playing at les Adrets, september 2012

It’s also better if you live near from each other. I know some chamber music groups that had to disappear because of distance: they couldn’t rehearse anymore or one of them got a job in an orchestra abroad… I guess if you live all in the same city, you have more possibilities to rehearse and you can develop a solid group that would think first in keeping the formation alive than on their own soloist projects.

Don’t try to create a chamber music group with somebody you have just listened to or you just think it would be possible to play with: try to play together first. As a student, I have played with most of my friends and I can tell you that to have 2 or 3 good musicians doesn’t mean that you will make a good chamber music group, that’s for sure! It’s like anything in life: because you know someone, will you become his or her friend? As friendship, as love, chamber music need this kind of electricity, this sparkle that happens rarely between people.

 

Collaborative pianist: that’s for people that love to sight read and prepare pieces in 20 minutes – that’s my thing. I hate to be stuck with the same piece for years as much as I love to be stressed and get 1 day notice gigs or coaching. If you have already some sight reading experience, don’t worry, after one week your sight reading will improve astonishingly, believe me. The urban legend that you have to transpose or read from orchestra scores is quite false, usually singers come with the scores in the right key of their songs – of course there are exceptions.

Some very helpful skills if you want to coach singers are also

1) to speak many languages. I speak french as a mother tong, fluent english, fluent spanish and ex-fluent german; singers always need some help with pronunciation. Now I just need to learn italian and russian…

2) to have good ears. I have perfect pitch, that’s even better, but not always necessary. You should be able at least to tell them if they are out of tune, too low or too high…

3) to have some ideas about singing technique. I had a few singing lessons some years ago, it didn’t go anywhere – just started to rain outside. But I know more or less how it works, how hard it is, what you can and what you cannot ask to a singer and how is their mentality. Usually they focus much more on their voice and on solving some technical issues than on the interpretation so you can really dare to tell them some ideas about phrasing or about the character of the piece, it will be always welcome.

As a collaborative, I have been coaching and accompanying some singers this year, and also played with choirs and soloists in some Zarzuelas and Operas productions. It means I had to follow the orchestra conductor and it’s not always easy for a solo pianist until you get used to it and you know well the conductor and his/her gestures.

It can be very rewarding sometimes if you like performing in public. Last summer and in october, I played at a « Antologia de la Zarzuela », a show based on extracts of Zarzuelas with soloists and choirs. We got 2 times a great audience of 500-700 people and the second time was with a live broadcast on the local TV in Jerez.

Playing at the Antologia de la Zarzuela live on OndaJerez, October 2th 2012

Playing at the Antologia de la Zarzuela live on OndaJerez, October 2nd 2012

If you want to learn more about this facet of a pianist’s life , I recommend you to have a look on the Collaborative Piano Blog.

 

Artist agency: My duo and life partner created last year with 2 other friends (musicians aswell) an enterprise promoting and managing music schools, workshops and organisation of artistic events like concerts, painting exhibitions, masterclasses… It’s called Libitum Gestion. Since summer, they are working on an artist agency and I decided to take part in this project.

Since I finished my studies, I wanted to start promoting myself and our piano duo anyway. The two agencies in USA are hopefully going to help but my idea was to find some concerts or festival organisations in my area, call them, send them our portfolio, and see what happens. But then I thought that to be a musician representing himself looks really difficult and the idea of « Hi, I’m a pianist, can I play at your festival? » sounded quite pathetic to me! That’s why I decided to work as an artist manager. In this way, my name as a pianist and as a duo is represented by the agency and there is less shame! It’s also another way to get some money for my ends of months: the more concerts I get for our artists, the more I earn. Besides, it’s a really nice way to help some of my colleagues building their career plus I may collaborate with them sometimes if they need a pianist. I must admit that it’s a lot of bureaucracy – I spend all my mornings at the computer writing emails, making portfolios, searching for concert organisations… I’m lucky that I like this kind of job! It’s also a very good way to understand how the musical world actually functions. As musicians, we are always living on another planet, focused only on practicing. We have no idea how all the administrative work is done, and I’m sure we are fooled many times.
This is really a field I don’t know and I’ll have to work a lot on it but I’m really excited about this new activity and all the possibilities it can offer.

 

Change Style: I don’t know why, classical musicians have a kind of snobism saying « I won’t low my level to play any other kinds of music ». First, it’s quite an insult to other musicians: it ISN’T EASY to play jazz or to improvise! I’m personally completely disable about that and I give all my respect to the musicians that are able to have a jamming session on stage. It’s just another language, and my brain is programed to follow a score and prepare everything in details before a performance, not to go there and see what happens…

Anyway, I’m not going to improvise, thank’s God. I’m just going to collaborate with a very nice jazz/soul singer, Danielle Wills, an english friend living in my area. We are now preparing a Christmas show and have some further demands to play some other kinds of repertoire to perform in hotels. I wouldn’t mind at all to play in an hotel every night, and have all my day free to practice or work on other activities. It’s music, it’s fun and it’s money! 8-) And not so easy as you would think: as we would be going only the two of us because of the economical situation, it means that I have to be playing many kinds of keyboard sounds, know when to change, put some rhythms… We have to rehearse a lot to find the perfect character and instrumentation of each song and I have to coordinate well everything. It isn’t as hard as a Brahms sonata, of course. And for now, it might help me to survive enough to keep on following my other targets.

With Danielle Wills, recording the video promotion of our Christmas show

With Danielle Wills, recording the video promotion of our Christmas show

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dievochka
    nov 12, 2012 @ 17:41:36

    Sure that, as an artist, you’ll have to  » study » all your life long !! Russian ( with me.. ?) italian.. for example ;) , marketing, some music sometimes…..

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