While at my voice lesson the other day - yes, I still take lessons and continually learn new things - one of my colleagues complained about something. We were discussing students who are beginning to perform in front of audiences, and she told me of a student who essentially ignored the accompaniment. This student would rush ahead, chop off notes in certain phrases, make other notes inappropriately long - essentially this person has no concept of how to phrase things properly. It got me thinking about many things we need to consider when we decide to perform. One of the oft-overlooked components to a performance is accompaniment.
One of my pet peeves is when a singer doesn't learn how to phrase things properly. When someone breathes in the middle of a word, or throws away the elegance of a line, it really bothers me. Imagine if you were reading a sonnet of Shakespeare and decided to pause in the wrong spot, throwing off the meter...it would make the poem sound imbalanced and not at all like the great work it's supposed to be, right? Same idea applies to song. The singer has to learn the song like a poem. The ebb and flow, the punctuation - both musical and grammatical. It's extra work, but it makes all the difference. The performer who takes the time and care to learn proper phrasing and flow of the piece will ALWAYS sound more polished. This leads me on to another component of the performance, collaborating with your accompanist.
I've never been a huge fan of the term "accompanist" because the people who do this job are so much more than a mere sidekick to the vocal line. The collaborative artist - usually a pianist, but basically anyone providing the "accompaniment" to your performance - is a person to be respected. These people are the ones who have the unenviable task of creating the ambience of the piece, keeping the rhythm and flow smooth, and listening to the vocalist for any changes or issues that may arise. Sometimes, if an issue occurs, the collaborative artist will need to fill in the gaps and improvise. Basically, the person playing for you is supposed to have your back at all times. So, it can come as a great insult when a soloist doesn't know how to phrase things, or plows through a moment where the collaborative artist has his or her own little solo moment to play.
Anyone thinking of a career as a singer must also realize that he or she needs to be a good listener and team player. It's NOT all about you. It's about you AND your collaborative artist working TOGETHER to create something unique and beautiful. You wouldn't ruin the iambic pentameter of a Shakespeare sonnet, so why would you ruin a great song by rushing through or breating in the wrong spot? Respect the poetry of the music. Respect the artists who help you bring it to life. A successful performance is one where everyone on stage feels each other and reads each other. I have often said that this is why it is so beneficial for a young musician to be in a band or choir or small ensemble. Teamwork is key. We all need to learn to collaborate with one another!