Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Accompaniment takes on many forms in the music world and is essential to the world of dance and ballet. Here we'll be talking specifically about piano accompaniment for other instruments, singers, ballet and contemporary dance, though in the 20th century instruments such as the drums and percussion also accompany dance, for example. Piano accompaniment is universal because the piano has a wide range of possibilities, virtually an orchestra in itself. The pianist is often behind the scenes, particularly when accompanying singers or dances, nevertheless many performances which audiences attend would be impossible without him. Despite not often sharing the limelight, the pianist can also become an equal partner with certain works, and not only "accompany".
The piano accompanies string and wind instruments, opera singers and ballet dancers, also contemporary dancers. Each accompaniment is unique, with different demands and needs, but what is in common to all the different players and artists is the creative process. What is key is not only providing the necessary support in terms of background music but also an input of energy and inspiration that will carry the whole creative process further, pushing the boundaries of accompanist and soloist.
In this way we can talk about a partnership and the process takes on new meaning. Many great works of music, such as the violin and piano sonatas of Beethoven, are a perfect example of what can be achieved when the soloist and 'accompanist' complement each other in a perfect whole. The pianist always listens, observes and communicates, bringing fresh insight and excitement into a rehearsal, and finally, into a performance. Basically, it is a shared experience, and that is the best kind there is on a personal level, besides achieving professional results.
In the case of ballet and dance, the interaction is complex and can build a beautiful relationship of two very different mediums. With both classical ballet and contemporary dance, a major component is improvisation within forms. For example, daily ballet exercises have a standard form, beginning with exercises at the barre and preparing the dancer for performances of ballets on stage. The ballet class with live accompaniment depends on the coordination between ballet master/teacher, the dancer and the ballet pianist. The accompaniment searches for the essence of the movements, not just giving a rhythmical and metrical structure. The partnership gives a shared and joyful experience and is a creative development for everyone involved.
With contemporary dance, the process has an added element of complete freedom, where the accompanist and dancers are given an opportunity to explore the limits of expression.
Piano accompaniment is a necessary component of music and dance performances, but it also takes on new meaning as a shared experience between soloist and accompanist, bringing professional and personal results to a whole new level. This is when the accompanist truly inspires and communicates ideas, forming a partnership. Although other instruments also provide accompaniment, it is the piano with its orchestral possibilities that is most often used in classical music and dance. Through his skills as listener, observer and an imaginative approach, the accompanist can make an enormous difference between a routine job and a creative process. Working with diverse mediums, whether it is a second instrument, the human voice or body, the piano accompanist moves from behind the scenes into the limelight as an inspirational and energetic source, giving a fresh perspective on music making or body movements.
To summarise my experience as a piano accompanist here are 6 takeaway messages:
1. The piano accompanies diverse mediums: other instruments and dance
2. Essential skills are being a good listener, observer, improviser and communicator with imaginative responses
3. The accompanists becomes a partner in the creative process
4. Accompanying behind the scenes and leads to participation in the limelight
5. Accompaniment if truly creative leads to a shared experience, which is invaluable on a personal level
6. Accompanists inspire and communicate ideas
Ivana Pelić, piano accompanist