etiquette for musicians

Lesson #1: Hiring a pianist 

This could actually be a multi-part lesson, because people hire pianists to accompany all sorts of things, like end-of-semester juries (final exam for students of performance, for those of you who don't know), choral rehearsals, degree recitals, auditions, you-name-it. For today, let's start with the sort of requests I'm getting right now, which are panicked emails from undergraduates who are scrambling to find a pianist for their juries. And let's start with an example of what not to do, namely send me an email like the one I got this morning (I'm paraphrasing heavily here and leaving out specifics, because I do have to maintain at least some level of professionalism here):

Hi, my name is ____ and I'm a ____ major. I have my jury in ten days and I know it's crunch time but my accompanist just backed out on me a week ago. The piece is pretty tricky, but we don't need much rehearsal time. Of course I'll pay you, I just hope it's not too much per hour.

Uh, yeah. This kind of request guarantees the answer will be NO. First of all, what have you been doing since last week when you found out your pianist couldn't play for you, if indeed that is true? (I get that sob story all the time, and I'm not convinced those kids don't lie about it to cover their own irresponsibility.) I don't care how desperate you are, I'm not obligated to learn a difficult piece at the last minute because you didn't get your act together. Second of all, what's with the "I hope it's not too much per hour" bit? You've got to be kidding me. You don't wait until the last minute to find a pianist to learn a really difficult piece at the last minute during the busiest time of the semester, and then on top of it all hope for a bargain price. Everything about that is just insulting. This is how I earn my living, yo.

(Of course, professional that I am, I just respectfully declined, saying I have another performance that day and that I'm too busy the week leading up to the jury, which is all true. I could have given this person a dressing down, but I didn't. I prefer not to burn my bridges before I've even met a person, you know?)

A better way go about asking a pianist for a last-minute request is to humbly ask if she is available to play a difficult piece (it is pretty important to be up front about that) on short notice and you are more than happy to pay what she asks because you are so totally appreciative that she is willing to save your sorry ass.


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