When I began to work professionally as a musician, the term “accompanist” was beginning to be replaced by “collaborative pianist.” This was intended to acknowledge pianists as equals with directors and soloists. I appreciated this shift, but, at the same time, was never ashamed of being an accompanist. In fact, as soon as I began accompanying in earnest, I never wanted to return to solo performance. As wonderful as solo performance can be, it never felt as rewarding as being a part of something bigger than myself, whether that was a small ensemble, a single singer, or an entire symphony. Since I’d began lessons at the age of five, piano (next to literature) had been my life’s occupation but, as soon as I assumed the role of accompanist, I knew I’d found my truer calling: not the solo life of the concert pianist, but the servant-leadership of the collaborative pianist.
Despite knowing in my heart that accompanying, not performing, was my calling, I completed my bachelor’s degree in piano performance. I successfully made it through solo recitals, but those never satisfied me; I found myself just enduring rather than enjoying them. Solo performance was a means to an end, a way to become the best musician I could be so I could better serve others through accompanying. Although I remember the standing ovation after my junior recital with great joy, I revel even more in memories of playing for choir concerts, encouraging struggling soloists, sight-reading last-minute auditions, and, generally, supporting the place and people I dearly loved through the music we shared. I discovered that I love accompanying for the very reason that so many pianists seem to dislike it: it is not about me.
The more I thought about this, the more theological it seemed to be. Did my faith, then, shape my career? Or has my career, wonderfully, come to image my faith? After all, the very name “Christianity” at once indicates that it is not about us and yet invites us to partake in the glory of our Savior. We are attuned and allowed to play as “instruments of righteousness” in His great symphony.
Following this strain, I began to consider not just individuals but the Church. I recall a seminary professor stating that he believes it will be small churches and humble, unknown pastors that change the world. Instead of mega-churches and media-charged preaching, the true Kingdom influencers will likely be those who are simply working humbly, quietly, and soberly, content and grateful to be a part of God’s work through no merit of their own.
I appreciate being referred to as a “collaborative pianist,” for it reveals the respect of my fellow musicians; however, I am also perfectly happy to be an accompanist, for I want nothing more than to be a small, vital part of something more than myself.