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I have a gig coming up, it's playing piano for a party of older Broadway singers that want to make requests and sing along while I accompany. They have their books and I have Hal Leonard's "Ultimate Broadway Fakebook" (Over 700 songs). In general they like old show tunes: Jerome Kern, Rodgers & Hart, Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Kander & Ebb, Bock & Harnick, Bernstein & Sondheim. No Andrew Lloyd Weber or les Miz. Favorites are "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Sondheim's "Our Time". Anything from "Finian's Rainbow" and anything by Sondheim.
My question: I am used to playing in time with slight rubato. But when I listen to Broadway pianists and singers they seem to operate in a different world of timing with frequent extreme rubato, speed up, rubato, speed up, all very well coordinated. How do they manage that timing where every phrase is dramatically different? Is there some sort of routine more than just slow down at the end of every phrase and then pick it up again? I expect the answer will be "Listen to the singer..." But it seems that could be risky when you are sight reading a little lead sheet and not familiar with the songs.. Might there not be some method to it than more than "Just listen to the singer" ???
Here is an example from Finian's Rainbow titled "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love":
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
You always follow the singer's tempo and rubato. There is generally standard places where singers will add rubato, hang onto a note a bit longer, etc. Do lots of listening to professional recordings of the standards on youtube before hand to get an idea of what is traditionally done. This will also help you get accustomed to the style.
An accompanist should be able to listen while sight reading and follow the singer's lead. Also, there's usually not surprises with this stuff, so if you do enough of it, you can predict where these things will happen. It's a part of the process of learning to accompany, so really this is all the prep you can do. Then listen, listen, listen, while you are playing with them.
private piano/voice teacher FT www.valeoconservatory.com Petrof 9'2, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
The reason those singers and pianists can stay together is because they know that literature very well. A good deal of the tempo changes are for dramatic or staging reasons. The performers and the rehearsal pianists have all worked with a stage director, and then rehearsed the material to death. You should too.
The pianists who look like they're sight-reading know those musicals very well, and are aware of the performance practice and stage direction already. They already know what to expect.
The convention for the golden-age period is that orchestra and singer will be together the whole time. Since you're the accompanist, the ensemble is your responsibility including whatever rubato the singer does, letting them breath, etc., and especially if the song lends itself to that. For example, I can't imagine anybody singing "I could have danced all night" without making the ensemble pretty clean. Sorry!
If, however, the singers sing in a more "pop" or jazz style, then a perfect ensemble is not expected throughout. Generally, you keep time while the singer does whatever it is they do, and then you meet up at the downbeat, and end phrases together. Hopefully, they know where that is. Gershwin's "Summertime" is one thing that is often done like that and especially when it's sung by a jazz or pop singer, even though Gershwin said not to.
Another way to prepare for this is to make yourself sing the vocal line while playing the piano part. If you can make yourself do it with 90% accuracy and consistency, and sort of in tempo, you'll be freer to listen and know your part better when you actually get in front of the singer.
And morodienne is right. Listening to a lot of the classic recordings of these songs will help you learn some of the performance practice. Make detailed notes on your score while you listen, and then try to imitate what you've heard from your written notes as you practice.
P. S., Don't sight-read these songs. Several of them, especially a lot of the Sondheim arrangements, are particularly hard to play e.g. "another hundred people". If you've got a few days, start working on them.
I mean, you want to be asked back don't you?
Edited by laguna_greg (06/17/1301:10 AM) Edit Reason: thought more of something more!