Saturday, May 24, 2014

All's Well that Ends Well for the Accompanist

not my actual diva, but a reasonable facsimile

The Thursday night recital went off, though it would be a stretch to say it did so without a hitch.  I would like to know precisely what was the soprano's adviser's role in the process. We as performance majors pay those people big bucks to advise us.  I don't know if the adviser attempted to advise but the degree candidate refused to listen, or if the degree candidate, unbeknownst to me, is the offspring of someone important among benefactors to the university's music department -- I do know that the diva's parents have no eminence in the department itself, but perhaps her parents are big donors. In any event, if any good advice was being given, it was being summarily disregarded.

My first issue was with the selections. For instrumentalists, we're still required at most universities to hit major works from designated musical eras. The requirements for repertoire for voice recitals have gotten a bit flaky at most institutions in recent years.A smart person would use this to his or her advantage. Greater flexibility in selections allows one to form a theme of sorts, which is, in my idea, a good idea if one isn't hitting the major music eras with one's choices. At the very least, use the greater freedom to choose the prettiest songs one can find. I've attended and accompanied for enough of these recitals to know that  pretty beats impressive every time, and this is particularly so if one's attempt at impressive fails to impress.

The diva opened with "A Je Veux Vivre" from Romeo and Juliet by Gonoud.  I've always considered this piece somewhat blah, but it was clearly the least obnoxious work in the program. She didn't render it particularly well, but neither did she have all attendees with even average pitch discernment fighting their way out of the exits as though the building had caught fire.

From there it only got worse. She sang Ernest Chausson's "Chanson Perpetuelle," which translates to "never-ending song." it truly felt that the song would never end. When I was really little,  a lady named Shari Lewis hosted a program called "Lamb Chop" or something like that . Each episode ended with the puppet characters singing, "This is the song that doesn't end. Yes, it goes on and on, my friend. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever just because . . ." and then the song repeated until it faded out. The problem is that our soprano didn't fade out. I wondered at some point if I should segue into the "Lamb Chop" song, then fade out gradually, but thought better of it.

The diva thoroughly butchered "Alfin Mucciderete" by Scarlatti, which was a selection that I had previously liked. She ruined the song for me. I think it was at this point that one of the other voice majors handed the adviser a paper bag. I don't know whether she was supposed to put it over her head or throw up in it. Either use would have been both understandable and fitting.

I'll skip a few selections because I'm trying to delete them from my memory. She ended with "Mein Herr Marquis" otherwise known as "The Laughing Song," from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. With all due respect to Strauss, even considering for context, it's arguably one of the most ridiculous pieces ever composed.  She didn't put any sort of a new spin on it that lent respectability. I followed her the best I could, but she didn't know the piece well enough to be performing it and at one point actually forgot her lyrics. She should've faked it and just started singing "ha! ha! ha!" until she remembered where she was, but she's not a fast thinker. Instead, she turned and glared at me as though it had been my fault that she didn't know the piece.

I always find these things out after the fact, and this was no exception, but her glare at me very nearly cost her the recital.  Failing a senior recital is usually not an option. One may receive a mediocre [ or worse] score, but if one has jumped through enough hoops to have been extended the privilege of performing a senior recital, one will almost assuredly receive a "pass" on the final outcome.The department chair was present and in perfect position to catch a full view of the diva's glare at me.  At the immediate conclusion of the recital, he took the diva and her adviser aside.  Everything I know is from a fellow piano major who served as a stage hand because he needed the money. He told me the department chair totally ripped into her. Even if a discrepancy is the fault of an accompanist, it's considered a major faux pas to in any way call attention to such. (It goes both ways. An accompanist has an obligation to do everything in his or her power to avoid making a soloist look bad.) If said discrepancy is not the fault of an accompanist, it's doubly the responsibility of the soloist to own the error. The department chair told her she was a disgrace to the department.

The department chair apologized to me in the diva's presence for her rudeness and told me I had done an outstanding job.  I was gracious and thanked him without flashing a huge smile in her face.

The end result is that the diva will earn her degree but that she would be wise not to ask for any recommendations from anyone in the department.

When I was given my envelope with five one hundred dollar bills, I held each up to the light and examined it as though I had the skill to determine a counterfeit bill from the real thing. Truthfully, I probably wouldn't have recognized them as fakes  unless they'd had Dick Cheney's picture on them. Even though it may have been too late, I took the bills to the bank to get a professional opinion that they were legitimate. I shouldn't have been so concerned. If I'm not smart enough to tell the real deal from a fake, what are the odds that the diva would have had the street-smarts to come up with counterfeits that looked sufficiently legitimate to fool the casual observer?


  1. I forgot my lyrics once at a recital. It was only my second time singing a solo in public. I probably glared at my accompanist... Or just looked panicked!

    Sounds like a rather farcical recital you played for, but at least it was a well paid one!

  2. Knotty, being mostly not a singer, it's not something I've had to deal with quite so much. There's always the possibility of forgetting music, but for piano, where it's most likely, there's really no one to stare down when it happens. You have to just keep playing whether it's the right music or not. (As a kid I once segued from a Haydn sonata to a Mozart after a cadenza. I was only ten, i think. My teacher said it was quick thinking. my mom wasn't upset with me because she knew the problem wasn't lack of practice or preparation but just one of those things where your mind goes totally blank when the stakes are really high, or as high as they can be for a ten-year-old , anyway. .In terms of glaring at your accompanist there's the panicked "what do I do now?" look, and there's the "It's all YOUR fault" look, and I think I can tell the difference. The main thing would be to just keep singing. Go back to a refrain or verse, and a decent accompanist should be able to find you. You know that, of course.

    1. Yeah, I know that now! In my case, it was totally unexpected. Just had a brain fart at the worst possible time.