The other morning I played for a men’s trio in a Sunday school class. The class met in the church auditorium so the men used the microphones. As soon as I started the introduction, I realized that the piano monitor was not on. This meant that I could not hear the vocals through the monitor either. Thankfully, I could see the men enough to read their lips as they sang. Also, I played considerably softer in order to hear them as much as possible.
My natural tendency when I cannot hear the piano through the monitor is to play louder and harder. That physically hurts my hands. My first priority is to follow the vocalists; adjusting the volume of the piano helps to accomplish that goal.
The song went fine and I think we stayed together. The men said they could hear the piano through their monitor. Amazing how a little sound (or the lack thereof) can affect the pianist and vocalists!
Do you have any stories involving sound systems/equipment? I would love to hear them!
Have you ever listened to a song and had trouble hearing the vocals because the accompaniment was too loud? A couple weeks ago, I watched a YouTube video where the instruments overpowered the vocals. It was very distracting to say the least. I started thinking about how we as accompanists can balance the accompaniment properly.
Of course, the sound system will play a part in this balancing act. A good sound man understands that the accompaniment should be softer than the vocals (or other instruments, in case of an instrumental special). If you are accompanying without a sound system, you can properly balance the accompaniment using these following options:
1. Listen. While this option might seem obvious, make sure you can hear the person whom you are accompanying.
2. Use the soft pedal. This is a great option especially if no sound system is available.
3. Play with a lighter touch. Maybe your piano does not have a soft pedal. Using a light touch on the keys will help the accompaniment sound softer.
4. Play fewer notes. This option would be the last resort, but it works. Playing chords in half notes would produce less noise than rapid broken chords in sixteenth notes.
The word accompaniment carries the idea of supporting or complementing. My goal when I accompany is to support and complement other musicians, not overpower them.
Do you have any thoughts on this subject? I would love to hear from you!
Depending on your church’s order of service, you (the church accompanist) might play for about twenty minutes, or at least sit at the piano for that long. When you leave the piano for the message, you might only have to play again for the invitation.
In our church, the offering occurs at the end of the service. This week is my turn to play the offertory, and I have been requested to play a “big” song. Last night, I went to our church auditorium and practiced on the grand piano. I wanted to get a realistic feel of the sound quality, so I turned on the sound system. Wow, it was loud (which was good)! My overall practice lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes. During that time, I practiced my offertory at least ten times (sorry, I did not keep count). The first several times were horrible! My hands were cold, my reactions were slow and my head was pounding.
I took a break from that song and played some other songs for fun. Then I came back to the offertory and played it again. Finally, it sounded decent! Some spots were still shaky, so I singled out those areas and worked out the kinks. I played the song a couple more times until I felt very confident with the results.
As church accompanists, we play for many elements in the service – preludes, choir, hymns, special music, and offertories. All elements have importance to the service. With the offering at the end of the service, this is the last music the congregation will hear before leaving. My responsibility is to leave them with a positive reflection of the service. Therefore, I need to have the endurance to give it my best for every element – especially the offertory!
Of course, I cannot accomplish this on my own. The Lord gives me the strength and ability to play every Sunday. Everything I do is for His glory. I am prepared as much as possible; now I just have to rely on Him and enjoy the song!
How is your church platform set up? How well can you see the pulpit? Do you have enough room to sit comfortably on the bench?
These seemingly little details make a big difference. I played in one church where the piano faced an outside wall. My back was to the choir director – not the best situation!
My preference is to watch the faces or mouths of the people for whom I am accompanying. This way I can be sensitive to any catch breaths, tempo changes, etc. We have a digital piano in our church that sits farther back of the stage, making the angle difficult for accompanying. I have to be even more attentive when playing on the digital piano for this reason. It is important to be able to follow the performer.
Keep your area around the piano neat and organized! Music books stacked on the piano are distracting to the audience. Take your music with you when you leave the piano or set it down out of sight. Our pianos have shelves next to them for storing the hymnbooks and other music. These are relatively new additions and I love them already!
Do you have any tips for improving visualization at the piano? What methods do you use to keep your music organized?