Collaborative Pianists How To Treat Them and What To Expect From Them.

A friend of mine posted this little photo on social media the other day, and it gave me the push I needed to finish writing this post that I have been working on for a while:

Collaborative Pianist Jokes

I have devoted my life to being a collaborative artist. After years and years studying by myself in a practice room to become a soloist, I eventually discovered that I don’t enjoy playing alone. I was always drawn to chamber music, vocal repertoire, and ultimately, the vocal arts stole my heart. I am very passionate about my work with singers, especially young singers and emerging professionals. It is a gratifying and exciting career.

As a collaborator, you learn to put your ego aside and work with others, some natural collaborators and some who are not. You learn to accept some personality traits that may not correspond to your own and you learn to cope with your recital partners’ stress levels as you put your own aside. You even know to be a calming force for them during their preparation or while on stage. Sometimes you play fiendishly complex music only not to be noticed even when you play it perfectly because that is what you trained to do. When a few select people notice you after performances (very often those who have studied the piano), you don’t mind not being the center of attention since it is all part of the “gig.” The rewards far surpass what some may perceive as negative experiences. I have a previous blog post detailing my thoughts on this matter: What am I?

For a long time and still today to some extent, the singer-friendly pianist is seen as someone who could not make it as a soloist or a chamber musician, looked down on by soloists. However, that could not be further from the truth. I see playing with singers as a calling. I studied languages, poetry, various styles, conventions in singing, conducting, and prompting because this is all part of this multi-faceted career. So much more is expected of a collaborative pianist than people realize. More often than not, we have to be the most prepared and knowledgeable person in the room, all the while staying modest. Having three degrees in solo performance, I don’t regret choosing to go into the collaborative arts for one moment.

Playing Together:

When playing with our colleagues, our artistic voices should unite to make a cohesive musical impression. To achieve this, the pianist must play with conviction, confidence, and a complete and deep understanding of the text. This kind of preparation adds to the depth and layers of any performance.

I have noticed that some things are missing in young singers’ overall training, as it relates to professional etiquette to the collaborative partner. I am fortunate enough to work with colleagues who teach their students how to treat a singer-friendly pianist. Still, we can’t expect young singers or instrumentalists to understand how to cultivate their collaborative partner relationships if we are not helping them learn, or leading by example. Hopefully, these following points will help put those who need it on the right track.

  1. Equal partnership: The collaborative pianist is your equal, and you should see them as such. When you are on stage with your collaborative partner, you share the performance as a team, no matter the singer’s level or the pianist; you are a team at that moment in time. We shouldn’t forget that the composers (mostly pianists themselves) gave the piano an important voice in the composition. As I always say: “You are only as good as the person you are performing with”, so it is essential that whatever you do on stage, you do together!
  2. Repertoire: When you throw new repertoire at your pianist a few days before a performance, decide to do a transposed version of your piece at the last minute, or if there is no time to rehearse together, please be aware that the pianist can refuse to do this on short notice. Performing art-song repertoire requires time, discussion, agreements. Sure, your pianist can probably “wing it” with you, but you should both want to dig deeper than that for performance. Remember that you are both performing, and both need preparation time together.
  3. Know your score: This is so important! Know your score ( I know, I wrote it twice), and by this, I mean all of it, not just your line. Take the time to look at the piano score closely. Frequently the majority of the information from the composer is written in the piano score. You will also better understand your entrances and what you should hear to draw your inspiration from to sing your phrase. Know the piano part as well as you know your part. This goes for when you sing with an orchestra as well. Keep your eye out for a future post on this! 
  4. Forget the old-fashioned “lead and follow” approach: There are times when the singer creates the moment and times when the pianist creates the moment. Performance should be musically satisfying for both artists. This is achieved by discussing the musical agreements you will make with your partner, as in rubato, ritenuto, tempo, color choices, by examining the meaning of the text and deciding what you both wish to convey. A unified idea of the piece will only make it more convincing to your audience. Of course there is always room for spontaneity in a performance, and that comes with time together and experience.
  5. Qualifications: Collaborative pianists have extensive study not only in song and opera but as accomplished soloists. They have chosen the career path of collaborating with others and are committed to doing that with you out of a genuine desire to make music with others. They can sight-read with expression; they are flexible, good listeners, and are capable of learning mountains of music in the short-term. Keep in mind that while you are learning your recital, the pianist is probably learning your program alongside several more demanding programs.
  6. Contacting a pianist: When you have the date of your performance, be sure to communicate with the pianist in a timely fashion. Provide the date, venue, and budget available for the concert. Plan a rehearsal schedule. An ensemble can only be successful with the appropriate amount of rehearsals to prepare for a performance.
  7. Gratitude is an attitude: It is always appropriate to thank the pianist after a performance regardless of how you may feel after the performance. If the pianist had not agreed to play with you, you could have not been singing in the performance, so gratitude for the service is really a good place to start.

Take note…

Here is a list of pet peeves pianists have. I wish I could say these rarely happen, but they happen more often than you think. It is just because people don’t realize that they are doing this; after all, the thing the collaborative pianist does best is “make it work.” I know there are probably different peeves that people have, but these are the ones that I feel are important to mention for now.

  • Your Score: When providing music to your pianist, please make sure that all the notes are printed on the page, including the bass line and key/time signature. I used to accept less than perfect scores and fill in what is missing or find an alternate score. These days, I am upfront if a score is not clear and tell the singer that they need to provide a better copy. I also give a better score to the singer when I have it. It is an excellent idea to keep a file of clean and clear PDFs of your scores to send to your collaborative partner. Be sure that the PDFs are the same edition you are using.
  • Nodding: When in performance, try to avoid the “nod to the pianist to start playing”. It feels uncomfortable, and it breaks the mood and flow of the performance, not to mention, the pianist also has to feel ready to start and may need a little more time to put themselves in that mind space. Discuss with your pianist ahead of time when possible what you do to prepare between selections. Usually, the pianist can tell by looking at your profile when you are ready to start singing
  • The Vanna White hand gesture: You finish singing, the audience applauds, and you bow; you turn to your pianist and extend an arm as a presentation. This is one of my personal biggest pet peeves. As partners, we should bow together. I always suggest that when the singer is done, they look over to me or wait for me to stand, and we bow together. This presentational gesture, however well-meaning may have been done in the past when collaborative pianists were not seen as equal performing partners, but is a bit out of place in today’s performance practice. 

Vanna White: is an American television personality and film actress known as the hostess of Wheel of Fortune

The Vanna White presentational arm gesture: Avoid at all costs
  • Preparation: Come to your rehearsals/coaching sessions fully prepared. We never expect to be teaching you notes, pitches, and rhythms; these are your tasks to complete even before you make an appointment with a pianist. A good performer should anticipate their entrances to prepare in time and ready to make musical decisions.
  • The “Well..on the recording” argument: Please try and avoid using this phrase. We need to find our interpretation of the piece and a tempo suitable to both of our ideas of the interpretation. We are creating a moment and should not be copying it from a recording, no matter how beautiful it may be!
  • Posting on Social Media: There is nothing more alarming than scrolling through your social media feed and seeing a video clip of yourself playing out of the blue. When you perform with anyone on stage, please make sure you have permission to publish the clip before you share it. If they give you permission to post it, please identify them respectfully in the post. It is considered bad form not to mention the other people in your clip.

What you can expect from your Collaborative Pianist:

  1. Preparation: If you have provided your program well in advance, the pianist should be exceptionally well prepared both musically and textually for the rehearsal to be productive. They should know their translation of the text and the context of the pieces you are performing. They should also have already formed an idea of their artistic contribution to the performance.
  2. Communication: Sometimes we are busy, and it takes a while to get back to messages (sometimes we need a nudge), but if a pianist constantly does not reply, move on to the next person on your list.
  3. Openness: Your sessions are filled with discussions and musical experimentations. Preparing a recital together is a two-way street, no matter the singer’s level or the pianist. You both have a stakein the process.
  4. Support: That is at the core of what we do as collaborative pianists. We are there to be with you in your preparation and on stage. You should have a good feeling when you work with the pianist. You should feel free and welcome to engage in musical discussions and choices.
  5. Knowing the vocal line: The singer-friendly pianist should be fully able to sing the score’s vocal line. It is rarely a beautiful sound, but it is part of the job. Only by singing it and playing the piano part simultaneously can you fully understand the space needed to sing a phrase or take an organic breath or how fast you can sing the text. The collaborative pianist who can do this is head and shoulders above the rest.
  6. Always gives their best:  The collaborative pianist always gives their best and treats the music with the utmost respect, even if they are playing something straightforward or a piece they have played for twenty years or more. They give the same intensity to every score they find in front of them to deliver the very best performance they can provide.

Being a collaborative artist is extremely rewarding. It is like a calling for most of us, and we would never want it any other way! It is one of the most intimate musical settings, dependent on communication and mutual respect. As a singer, you will always need a collaborative pianist, and there is no way around this. I hope these tips can help you maintain and cherish the pianists in your life and help them cherish you in return.

Do you want to learn more about preparing your score for a pianist or Choosing your vocal coach and pianist

Post Image:

Adanya Dunn, Mezzo-Soprano
Nathalie Doucet, Piano
Photo: Francoise Bolechowski

Creating Your Social Media Brand as an Emerging Artist

Social media is a big part of our lives. I would not say that I am an expert at navigating social media platforms, but I have been responsible for content for a few organizations and for my own professional use. With everyone – including colleagues and potential employers – now owning some form of social media account, how can you ensure that you effectively build your professional network and engage in exciting discussions while maintaining appropriate professional behavior?

Whatever you put on your social media accounts is a direct reflection of you – so, it is good to know how to use it strategically and responsibly. Technology is impacting the arts in much the same way it is affecting our daily lives. It is in a constant state of flux, and the adoption of multiple platforms is the driving force in marketing trends and opera performance practices. Many cultural fields that may not have traditionally engaged in technology use are now adopting and embracing it to reach, engage, and attract audiences. This fact has never been so evident than during this pandemic when social media is almost the only connection artists, schools and companies have with their audiences. Artists are caught between two worlds: A hundreds-of-years-old art form and technologically advanced platforms.

As a young emerging artist, what should you be putting out into the world? What is appropriate content? You may already have accounts, and a firm grasp of how to put yourself out there, but here are a few suggestions of how you may want to look at building your Social Media presence:

Creating a Digital Persona

Step 1: Develop your “Brand” (“branding” describes the process of creating a recognizable name or image attached to your work)

  1. Who are you? What makes you unique?What do you do?
  2. What do you want to highlight about yourself? What makes you stand out?
  3. Create a digital portfolio of your work. (Start with what you have and build on it.)
  4. A professional headshot you can use for all platfroms including your website
  5. Video(s) of a performance(s): It is important that you only post recordings which show you in the best possible light because everyone is watching. Make sure to regularly replace them with current content.
  6. Photos of yourself in action in opera productions; concerts; etc

Step 2: Research: Look around and draw inspiration from what you see.

  1. How are other performers in the arts utilizing Social Media?
  2. Whose profile is interesting and why? Analyze their techniques and what draws you to their content.
  3. What can you take as inspiration from these accounts without becoming an exact copy?
  4. Which technology platform(s) will give you access to the audience you want to engage?
  5. Watch tutorials on how to use the different platforms. Choose platforms that are interesting to you.
  6. Start with one platform and build your brand.

Step 3: Start Using Social Media

  1. Start small: choose one platform and create your account.
    • Include interesting posts and information: Save photos of your cute pets and your culinary skills for your private account. You will want to look at your professional profile as a business card-what you put out into your professional network.
    • Keep your message/content focused on a clear subject. If you are a singer, you want to be seen as a singer.
    • Numbers will increase in time: Don’t worry about how many followers you have. This takes time, so be patient!
  2. Make sure that your Brand always drives your social media presence.
    • Have an identifiable name. Choose a name that is related to your field (Many singers use their full name and voice type)
    • Each account you use should represent your brand; if possible, use the same name and photos on all your accounts.
  3. Think about the feel and look of your account
    • Use the same banner or profile images (make it easy to tell which performer is attached to your account)
    • Use a similar account name which also builds brand recognition.
    • As your account becomes more advanced, you may wish to create an email address for professional correspondence. It is a good idea to set this up initially – even if you will not be using it right away – as it enables you to create an account that matches your brand name.
    • Link accounts. This way, your audience can find you on multiple platforms. You can also encourage responses on various media platforms and engage with multiple audience groups.
    • Keep information up-to-date on all of your accounts. Refresh clips regularly as your voice grows and you become more professional.

Step 4: Keep Track of New Trends

  1. Don’t get complacent – review your numbers and decide which responses matter most to you overall.
  2. Keep track of new technology and explore new social media trends and concepts. Not every trend fits everyone, but it is good to stay informed.
  3. Regularly post fresh and engaging content but be careful not to over-post as this can make your audience uncomfortable, and eventually, they may end up unfollowing you. Posting for the sake of posting is not how you keep your content fresh.
  4. Be yourself. The things that make you unique are the things that make you stand out from the rest of the “noise” online.

Pitfalls of Social Media

The significant amount of data available via social media platforms makes it very easy for the public to develop a perception (positive and/or negative!) about a singer based solely on their digital content. Therefore, you should decide which aspects of your life you would like to share on social media and which elements to keep private. Filtering your message before posting it is of the utmost importance. Social media can influence your standing with an employer and potentially affect your present and/or future employment status. Professionalism in posted content and online interaction is essential and helps the singer retain and build a positive reputation.

A Simple Rule to Follow: Never post anything online that is damaging or negative regarding a production; performance; director; conductor; administrative staff; faculty; fellow singer; costume worn in a performance; etc. An opera company may not discuss the consequences of a negative post with you. However, posts of this nature can lead to professional disaster(s) for future seasons.

Social Media Platforms Currently in Popular Use


It is a good idea to set up a professional page to keep private and professional posts separate. You can still post professional content on your private page, but I would discourage photos of a personal nature on your professional profile.

  • Suggested frequency of use: post content 1-2 times per week or on special occasions (concerts, events, or announcements)
  • Types of posts: Articles, photos, concert announcements
  • Goal: These posts show up on your contact’s newsfeed. Ask yourself: what would you want to see from a performer as you are scrolling through your feed? In other words, what do your followers want to see vs. what you may want to post
  • Profile: Your two photos (profile and cover) should immediately tell followers about you or your story. Ensure that the photos are related to your profession (i.e., a headshot and a photo of a performance) to let followers know what to expect should they decide to “like” your page.


  • Suggested frequency: Every 24-48 hours or periodically
  • Types of posts: This is the visual diary of your artistic journey. Keep captions short and hashtags relevant to what is in the photo (people swipe through their feed much faster on Instagram).
  • Goal: Visually represent an emotion or an important moment in your journey. Stay loyal to your brand.
  • Instagram stories and reels: These are a more spontaneous version of your feed. Even though the stories vanish after 24 hours, be responsible and only post things that cannot come back to haunt you. The screenshot function exists, and nobody is safe from it and remember…everyone is watching!
  • Tips: IG takeovers generate more followers and can be fun. Generally, a company or an organization invites you to do a takeover as a form of promotion, so it is good that you become familiar with this medium.


  • Suggested frequency: There is no real limit on the frequency of posting on Twitter. The platform was designed for prolific posting.
  • Types of posts: Text-focused, but also great for sharing articles and other links
  • Goal: Quick shoutouts to other artists, articles, or thoughts about your art. Mentions (@) and hashtags (#) are a huge part of building a Twitter audience.


  • Suggested frequency: 1-3/month
  • Types of posts: This is your platform to showcase/share your performances. Your presence here is the quickest way for people to get to hear what you do.
  • Goal: High-quality videos that show you in the best possible light.
  • Profile: Create a YouTube channel with a nice photo and good content.
  • Tips: The titles of your videos let people know what they will be viewing. List your name and other vital information, for example, your pianist, your ensemble, the date of the recording.
  • Use extreme care in choosing your material. Regularly delete videos that do not portray you in your most current state or vocal and artistic development.

Be mindful of what you are posting on these platforms. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. You want to show your online professional personality, but you don’t want people to fail to recognize you when they meet you in person. Here are a few of my what-NOT-to-post tips:

  1. Copying others: Be inspired by other accounts-remain true to yourself, and do not copy other accounts. You don’t have to recreate yourself for social media, and it should not feel like a chore to create your content.
  2. Don’t post anything overly calculated: Unnatural poses and setups stick out like a sore thumb and are not your most authentic voice.
  3. Repetitiveness: Captions like “best cast ever!” get old when you use it in each and every post.
  4. Negativity: Refrain from venting about your problems on your professional feed.
  5. Consent: If you post about others or have other people in your photo and/or video, don’t post unless you get consent from the other individuals involved. That is just common courtesy.
  6. Negative or hateful comments: If you are getting these kinds of comments, congratulations, you have arrived! It is a sign of success, and the more visible you are, the more people take it upon themselves to tell you what they think. The best course of action as a young emerging singer is not to engage or separate yourself from them by blocking them if it gets too heavy.

The amount of time and effort devoted to creating a well-executed digital persona also impacts its success level. The most engaging online content consists of genuine observations, photographs of performances, and experiences that provide the audience with a real connection to the artist.

As we embrace and use Social Media and all technological advances in the arts, it is crucial to keep in mind that it will be accessible to everyone and they will all have an opinion. Content that is personalized and genuine stands out from the online “noise” generated by millions of users. Keeping a narrow and focused message format is vital to attracting people to your accounts. There is a fine line between posting content that is genuinely engaging and posting content for content’s sake. The adage of “quality over quantity” will serve you well as you work to develop a strategic and effective professional social media presence!