(alternate title: I Am Not a Used Car, Please Don’t Kick My Tires)
To the best of my memory, this is a transcript of a phone call I received a few minutes ago. My unspoken thoughts are in [brackets].
John Cleese: PICK UP YOUR PHONE, YOU SILLY BASTARD! PICK UP YOUR PHONE, YOU SI…
Me: [Unfamiliar number = accompanying gig?] Hello?
Girl: Hello, is this, Liz…… Rem..i…zowski?
Me: Yes. [Hey she got my name right! Probably an accompanying gig. Probably a wind player if she saw my ad specializing in contemporary music.]
Girl: I’m calling about accompanying.
Girl: Can I ask you a few questions?
Girl: Are you available from 12:45-1:00 on Mondays?
Me: Yes? Why, is that your lesson time? [get out a Post-It. Write it down. 15 minute lesson means…]
Girl: Yeah, that’s the last half of my lesson. I’m a Vocal Ed major.
Me: Okay. [Great.]
Girl: I’m just calling around to compare.
Girl: How long have you been playing piano?
Me: [Seriously? Has this girl never done this before?] Uh, about 20 years.
Girl: Oh, wow! [why is this surprising?]
Me: Yeah, I graduated from FSU with my MM in Piano Performance in the spring.
Girl: How long have you been accompanying people?
Me: Um… about 10 years. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Girl: Okay. What’s your specialty?
Me: [She definitely didn’t read my flier. She just tore off a tab from every one she found and started calling numbers.] Well it’s on my flier – contemporary music. I’ve been to a few festivals and worked with some big names, like eighth blackbird. [Stopping there, because any other name I throw out, she’s bound not to know.]
Girl: But you play Classical music, right?
Me: [SERIOUSLY!?] Uh, yes. I have two degrees in piano performance. Just to warn you, I hate playing musical theater. [ZING].
Girl: Okay…. [she’s writing that down.] And what are your rates?
Girl: Okay, thanks! That’s all I needed to know. I’ll be calling you within 24 hours if you’re the one I pick.
Me: Okay, thanks…?
Girl: Okay bye!
Did someone neglect to tell me I’m a used car? Because that’s how that call went down. I’m half-hoping she doesn’t call me back, that she finds someone cheaper, someone willing to play musical theater, or someone specifically advertising for vocalists (I’ve seen the fliers, don’t tell me they don’t exist, Girl.) On the other hand, I’m half-hoping she calls me back, so I can give her my set of questions. Something like this:
First off, can I get your name? Okay, Girl, thanks. Next, please understand that you are not hiring “a person to play piano in the background.” You are hiring a collaborator. Please treat us as such. We’re not going to think it’s a privilege working with you if you treat us like it is; in fact, we’ll probably hate it unless you treat us as equals. So, next time you go comparative accompanist shopping, think of it as asking if we’d like to work with you. Ask if we have any questions. Give us your name. Treat us like musicians – not hired help.
So, now can I ask YOU a few questions? Great.
Why did you call me, when there are people specifically advertising that they’d like to accompany vocalists, and I’m advertising that I’d like to play contemporary music? You don’t appear to be singing anything contemporary. It just doesn’t seem like efficient shopping.
Am I playing a jury with you this semester? How many times do I have to be in your studio class? What time is that?
Who’s your major professor?
What is your repertoire level? What’s the last aria you sang? Who’s your favorite composer?
ARE you going to be singing a bunch of musical theater?
Are you okay with some basic terms – namely, that you show up to rehearsals prepared and on time, and you notify me at least 6 hours prior if you have to cancel? And if you don’t abide these, you still have to pay me?
If, after listening to your answers, I do decide that it will be worth my time and effort to work with you, please consider the nature of an artistic relationship. It’s pretty simple – we respect each other’s time. I will hold up my end of the bargain because you’re paying me to do it. If you start wasting my time or treating me like hired help, just remember one thing: I have the capability to warn every other accompanist in the network next year when you’re trying to find someone else. Thanks for your time! I’ll call you back within 24 hours with my decision.