We glorify our winners. Raise them up on the dais, and quite rightly hang golden medals around their necks. Who hasn’t heard of Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Novak Djokovic, Ash Barty, Chris Hemsworth, Nicole Kidman? Who hasn’t had goosebumps, and been totally transformed by an incredible performance on violin, or any other instrument, yet barely acknowledged the accompanist was there?
I know I’m certainly guilty as charged.
A true accompanist is an interesting creature. While they might also be a performer, and capable of truly incredible feats in their own right, that’s not what they’re there for. Rather, a true accompanist serves to bring out the best in the performer, and might even compensate for their weaknesses and mistakes while claiming none of the glory. My violin teacher used to do this when we performed in concerts, and my mother is a piano accompanist who has accompanied singers and musicians in later life out of nothing more than kindness. Never asked a penny. Meanwhile, as she played the piano, she might teach them the correct German pronunciation for the German songs, or how to read music, which had nothing to do with playing the piano, but also helped to bring out their best. It is also what our son does when he is on sound.
What’s brought all this to mind? While working towards my son’s 18th Birthday photo book and slide show, I was looking through our ski photos from 2013 and there I was achieving my mission impossible. Instead of climbing Mt Everest and going up the mountain which wasn’t a possibility with my muscle weakness issues, I decided to go down the mountain instead.
As you can see, I made it down the mountain (if you can call Perisher a mountain, but I’ll conveniently overlook that I wasn’t skiing down the Swiss Alps and rest on my laurels. Perisher was steep and terrifying enough for me!!) However, what you might not notice in that photo on first inspection, is there’s a blue man further up the hill. He is no coincidence. Rather, that’s Tom, my Adaptive Ski Instructor, who I accessed via the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association. He’s not wearing any gold medals, or receiving any acknowledgement of his selfless capacity to get behind me, and extend my capacity. Enable me not only to get to the bottom, but to even make a start. I remember getting off the chairlift and standing at the top and looking down, something you should never do. OMG!!! It was terror on steroids, particularly as the bit at the start was very steep. Again, it wasn’t the Swiss Alps, but compared to the very gentle slope on the magic carpet, it was vertical. So what did Tom do? He held my hands or maybe it was my poles but he went backwards down this scary bit so I could go forwards. Obviously, that wasn’t a big deal for him, but it meant the world to me. It enabled me to get started, and feel so supported and encouraged and have a go despite my overwhelming fear, and my physical disability. I am incredibly grateful, and hope in turn that I might be able to give someone else what he gave me in someway. What my violin teacher also gave me. Someone who enhances your light, and is overjoyed to stand in your shadow as you strut forward, and never tries to cut you down to make themselves look good. After all, it’s all about you, not about them. Although you might be paying for their services, the money spent bears no correlation to who they’ve enabled you to become.
Obviously, being an accompanist is a rather under-rated role. It’s a rather subtle unappreciated form of leadership, which goes on behind the scenes to build other people up on the quiet. However, while we’re drawn like magnets to the stars, but a true star will always defer to the source of their light.
Have you ever been an accompanist for someone else is some way? Or, perhaps you’ve accompanied someone else? What are your thoughts? Is there something you’d like to add?