Even now in her early 70s, Aurit, my wife, still plays the piano quite well, although her fingers aren’t as nimble and flexible as when she was younger. If truth be told, she had the potential to be an outstanding concert pianist. That’s what her teachers and even one acclaimed visiting foreign pianist told her.
The road of life has twists and turns. Something can turn us around and change our plans and dreams. She met me, we got married and had children, and she gave up a future career as a piano concert performer.
But then she did not let her prowess as a pianist go to waste. As one door closes, another one opens. She gave piano lessons for a while and then found new joy in being an accompanist. She had a great stint accompanying budding pianists, violinists, cellists, flutists as well as vocal groups and individual singers. Many went on to build successful careers. But came the time when my wife had to stop due to age and health issues.
What she cherishes most in her memory is accompanying a retired tenor who every Saturday afternoon would sing arias from the great operas such as “Nessun Dorma,” or “Tatarin” and other immortal operatic songs. The old school gentleman was once the toast of Philippine opera and probably those Saturday afternoon interludes were his way of reliving the glory of yesterday’s performances.
It’s a demanding but a thankless job, underappreciated and overlooked but absolutely essential. Of course, my wife is very much aware that she can never make a career out of being an accompanist. She often does it as a favor to friends, and any occasional honorarium given to her is just a paltry sum.
Yet, even without the pay or the recognition she deserves, my wife’s performance as an accompanist is never half-hearted. She always gives her full dedication to every engagement. The moment a performance is under way, she is completely lost in the moment, filled with the joy of bringing to life magnificent music in synchrony with a soloist performer.
This is the key to being an excellent accompanist: to accept fully one’s supporting role as an inconspicuous “collaborator,” providing the musical boost and upliftment that a soloist or singer needs to soar in high-pressure settings like concerts, competitions and auditions. She is single-mindedly focused on helping the solo performer give her best, muting or covering her inadequacies or lapses, always making sure not to drown her rendition. As one musician said, accompanying is based on a desire for completion—“to be whole, to be in harmony, to be connected.”
But accompanying is not just confined to the world of music.
Even world-famous performers and achievers in other fields of endeavors had accomplices to enable them to scale heights never reached before. For every hailed hero who gets to the top of Mt. Everest, there is a Sherpa who accompanied and supported him all the way to the top.
In business, we know the main performer, but we tend to forget the partner who made their success possible. Bill Gates and Paul Allen built Microsoft, as we know it today. But note that one of them is more known because the other didn’t mind being the silent half.
Where would Steve Jobs be without Steve Wozniak? The fusion of Woz’s technical skills and Jobs’ business foresight gave birth to Apple. Of course you know who became more famous.
It was the same with John Lennon and Paul McCartney who together achieved tremendous success as a songwriting team. They complemented and completed each other. But when they parted ways and went on their respective solo careers, their compositions were not as great as when they “accompanied” each together.
What about you and me? Come to think of it, don’t we all need an accompanist in our own life or at least someone to share the load with? No one can achieve a great performance by doing and going it alone.
My wife is an example of a good life accompanist. I don’t consider her as my better half for nothing. I am most of the time up in the clouds and she brings me down to earth. She patiently ministers to my needs, physical, emotional and mental. And I in turn return the “accompaniment” when she needs it.
While we’re at it, let us reflect on ourselves. Individually, are we not also performing supporting roles to someone we love, live or work with? Sometimes our mere presence is enough to uplift or inspire someone. Every one of us is needed to serve as a wind beneath the wings of another person, content to let her shine, always walking a step behind, to paraphrase the lines of that popular song.
If so, with generosity of spirit, let us strive to give it our best to support the people we love and work with and enable them to “fly higher than an eagle,” so they can be the best they can be, either in a small, day-to-day way, or on the world’s larger stage.
Then, there are those who also serve by doing their tasks in the wings, in the shadows, out of the limelight. They too are “accompanists” in the broader and looser sense of the word. They collect our garbage, maintain our water and sewage systems, making sure our buses and trains run properly, that we have food to serve on our table.
What about the proofreaders, food service crew, delivery riders and many more who enable us to go on with our tasks and our lives. We can take everything for granted because of the support work they do. They may not be doing extraordinary deeds, they may not even be regarded as “heroes” in the sense that we know, but they remain unsung.
In the Oscar Awards, supporting actors get their due recognition. So why shouldn’t we rise and silently applaud all the supporting cast in our daily lives? Let us remember to celebrate them by showing our gratitude and recognition in whatever way we can.
Let’s give one big round of applause to all the unsung accompanists of the world!