Understanding our Role in Musical Collaboration

Christine Zerafa

My PhD research project investigates the role of the pianist as a duo partner when working with singers and instrumentalists. The profession entitled ‘piano accompanist’, ‘collaborative pianist’ and ‘ensemble pianist’, amongst other titles, may seem simple to define at first glance. However, there are many aspects that require further detailed understanding of the role and go beyond the generally perceived picture of the pianist presiding at the piano in 'support' of the singer or the instrumentalist. My practice-led research has aimed to address specific research questions: What is it that I actually do in what is regarded as a specialised profession, and what do other musicians that work with me expect from me? What is my role in the rehearsal process, and how does it change in different scenarios and collaborations? What rehearsal approaches and structures do we adopt? 

My project brings together literature sources and articles from the British Newspaper Archive to gather information on the duo pianist in the nineteenth and twentieth century, shedding light on the portrayal of the profession in concert posters and reviews, as well as uncovering different jobs that were practised at the time. Alongside this review, this research carries out a series of interviews with professional pianists as well as singers and instrumentalists based in the UK with the aim of collecting further information on this field as it is currently being practised in the 21st century.

All of this is put into perspective by analysing my own personal experience in various case scenarios of working with a spectrum of musicians, from students to highly-established international artists. The Academy has been instrumental in creating the right environment for me to carry out my research, as it has helped me form many different partnerships with singers and instrumentalists, all of which have contributed to moulding my professional work in the last few years.My research has extended into my professional life, and the case studies in my PhD have featured real-life collaborations leading to concert performances. The different case studies are defined by different types of partnerships: contrasting short-term collaborations which display varying hierarchies of authority between us, a short-term project in a reunited partnership, and long-term collaborations formed over a number of years, which also includes collaboration with my life partner, a professional saxophonist. The methodology has involved video recording rehearsals, followed by in-depth analysis of rehearsal structure and coding of discussion points that arise.

Observations obtained from this empirical research show that my role at the piano is ever-changing and my attitude in rehearsal varies, depending on how established the other musician is, the amount of rehearsal time available, and the degree of authority I have in the engagement. Rehearsal structure, as well as the number and type of discussion points triggered, also vary in different scenarios. My case studies, along with the interviews, help define the different roles and approaches that a duo pianist adopts in musical collaboration. Most importantly, this project has helped define and understand my artistic and social role in my own professional practice.

Audio and Video


If you would like to find out more about this project, please don't hesitate to get in touch:

Christina Zerafa

Briony Cox-Williams

Project Status: Complete