I have been playing the piano, accompanying for choirs, soloists, and ensembles full-time for over 11 years, longer if you count accompanying specials for church. I thought I would take a minute to share some tips that I have learned. Maybe these will be useful for my students and any others who are or have been accompanying. This is especially geared to four-part choir accompanying in a school setting, but may be applicable for other situations, too. Some of these might seem basic, but here goes:
1. Play out. The choir tends to sing stronger when they have strong support.
2. Be confident. If you're going to make a mistake, make a big one.
3. Learn to keep a steady beat. At many times you are the only metronome they will have. Practice with a metronome and imagine a drumbeat in your head.
4. Follow the director for certain cues, but don't depend on him/her. Be a conductor/director yourself from the piano.
5. Younger kids need to hear more melody, even during performances, so don't be afraid to add more of the melody line.
6. If you hear a part struggling, try to play that part out (especially in rehearsals).
7. Four-part harmony can be difficult to read and play. If necessary, play just the tenor & alto lines since they tend to be the hardest to find. Add the bass if possible, too, but it's usually ok to leave out the soprano.
8. Learn what your director likes. Some like you to play just the parts while others prefer you to play as much accompaniment as possible.
9. Try to guess what the director is thinking. Guess where he's going to start and be ready.
10. Learn to play either parts or accompaniment, or a mixture of both. Practice!
11. You will tend to perform the way you practice, so practice the performance.
12. Practice an hour before a concert so the music is fresh in your mind.
13. Match the style of the singers, and lead them with the way you play. If they are supposed to be sining soft, play quieter. If they are supposed to be singing smoothly, play as smoothly as you can. The singers will tend to emulate you.
14. Be a leader.
15. The introduction is important. You are setting the mood for the piece.
16. Sight read lots of music.
17. Before a concert, get lots of rest so you have a clear mind.
18. Try to help the choir in its entrances, especially if they are staggered. Try to play out at least the first phrase of an entrance.
19. Keep your music organized. Minimize page turns by making copies and keeping your music in a binder.
20. Use a pencil. Write notes to yourself (maybe come up with your own shorthand system). Don't think you will remember something in the middle of a performance. You just might blank!
21. Listen listen listen.
22. Work on facial expression. Try to have a pleasant expression on your face, no matter WHAT happens!
23. Support your director, even if you don't necessarily agree.
24. If you have a disagreement with or suggestion for the director, try to discuss this away from the students. Present the director perfect in public!
25. Enjoy making music!