I was wandering the halls of the U of T's Faculty of Music yesterday, and noticed two flyers tacked to a bulletin board. One was advertising the services of an "accompanist"; the other was for a "collaborative pianist."
In case you haven't heard, "collaborative pianist" means accompanist. The term arose in the 1990s, and has been adopted by numerous music faculties and conservatories.
In an effort find out more, I discovered that Toronto pianist Christopher Foley runs a website called The Collaborative Piano Blog (http://collaborativepiano.blogspot.com). Here, he explains that the word accompanist, "has traditionally implied inferiority, subservience, working ‘for' rather than ‘with' a recital partner. Collaborative piano, on the other hand, is a term that implies equality, association, and teamwork."
I'm of two minds on this matter. First, I'd like to say that I fully agree that any pianist who plays in the Franck Sonata or Die Winterreise is, and must be, a full artistic partner with the other musician (the violinist or singer) on stage. There's nothing secondary about the pianist's role in this situation.
But I have my doubts about whether simply inventing a new term is going to have any effect. The enterprise smacks of Newspeak and political correctness. If "collaborative pianist" is universally accepted (and this hasn't yet happened), will people's perceptions necessarily change?
Certainly, perceptions have a long way to go. It's still common to see a poster for a recital that announces the "soloist" in big letters, with the accompanist or (collaborative pianist) beneath, in smaller type.
Here at The WholeNote, we receive plenty of notices for recitals in which the pianist is listed as "TBA," or omitted altogether. I've never seen a press release for a violin recital that didn't mention the violinist, but did give the pianist's name. And when concert presenters are planning their seasons, do they phone up the manager and say they'd like to book such-and-such an accompanist - who may bring along any violinist he or she chooses?
I also find myself wondering if singers and instrumental soloists are really buying into this idea: if they are, then why haven't I heard of a "collaborative soprano"? And how can pianists describe themselves as "collaborating" if the person they're trying to collaborate with doesn't see the relationship in those terms?
Until pianists achieve full equality - not just in concert billing, but also in repertoire selection, artistic interpretation, audience appreciation, fees, and other things as well - isn't changing the name just an empty gesture?
Colin Eatock, Managing Editor