‘What is Accompanying…Really?’ Brings High School Music Students to Gainesville Campus

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Brenau University’s Ben Leaptrott has been accompanying as a pianist for almost 40 years and devised a program to educate Gainesville-area high school music-students on what it means to be an accompanist during the What is Accompanying…Really? master-class styled workshop on Tuesday, March 19 at 1 p.m. The event, in the Banks Recital Hall of the John S. Burd Center, is free and open to the public in addition to the scores of high school students who will be in attendance. 

“Pianists are a rare breed,” Leaptrott said. “They practice alone and listen to themselves, but as an accompanist you need to be able to hear the other person, anticipant and change what you do to fit what the soloist has in mind.”

Dr. Barbara Steinhuas, the music department chair at Brenau, said this event is a great experience for the students, but also for audience members to “understand the detailed magic of what is done at the keyboard to really bring out the highlights of a melody line.”

Around half a dozen students received music for 18th century Italian arias, the standard repertoire for beginning vocalists, to learn and then perform, on the university’s new Steinway piano, under the guidance of Leaptrott. Instead of accompanying a vocalist, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra member and violinist Ken Wagner will be playing the melodies on his violin for the student pianists to accompany.

“We’ll go through what makes a better listener, how do you know what the person you’re playing for wants, so they get used to the idea of what it’s like to accompany,” he said.

Ben Leaptrott
Ben Leaptrott performs on the new Steinway piano at Brenau University. The students performing in What is Accompanying…Really? will be playing the new instrument.

Leaptrott expressed the importance of kids who are coming up and going to college to understand the importance of accompanying and how it can be their “bread and butter.” By working as an accompanist, students have the opportunity to earn money while honing their craft and gaining real world experience.

“All through my college years I did a lot of accompanying.  It’s what’s kept me alive as far as my piano career, ” Leaptrott said. “Their eyes will be opened and that’s the whole idea behind it; to get them thinking,”