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Collaborative piano: the life of an accompanist

September 27, 2016

Chadron State College student Drew Kasch of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, right, performs at his senior saxophone recital April 16, 2016, with Bobby Pace, CSC accompanist. (Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College) Chadron State College student Drew Kasch of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, right, performs at his senior saxophone recital April 16, 2016, with Bobby Pace, CSC accompanist. (Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College)
Chadron State College music department members, from left, Bobby Pace and Brooks Hafey, are interviewed by Genevieve Randall, host of "Friday LIVE," Nebraska Public Radio's weekly arts and culture magazine Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Photo by Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College) Chadron State College music department members, from left, Bobby Pace and Brooks Hafey, are interviewed by Genevieve Randall, host of "Friday LIVE," Nebraska Public Radio's weekly arts and culture magazine Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Photo by Tena L. Cook/Chadron State College)

CHADRON – Helping move Chadron State College musical performances forward with the right mood and pace is the job of CSC accompanist Bobby Pace.

Pace, who has a master’s degree in music accompanying and a master’s in music theory, said being an accompanist is like being a choreographer. With eye contact, a nod of the head or facial expression, an accompanist can subtly and quietly coordinate an ensemble.

“The other performers rely on the accompanist to be there, providing a foundation, guiding them,” Pace said.

In his position, he accompanies all CSC choirs during rehearsals, juries (semester finals) and performances. He also accompanies the theatre department’s annual musical, which includes six weeks of rehearsals and performances.

Additionally, he accompanies all private vocal and instrumental student lessons, except guitar and piano. During private rehearsals, he often finds himself in a coaching role making suggestions to students regarding presentation.

“It can be a demanding field. The literature is so vast,” he said. “Accompanists are good sight readers when we have to be, usually in audition settings. But it is a false notion that that’s all we do. We prefer to rehearse before we perform.”

Pace travels with the CSC Choir on its biennial tour. He also attends conferences and accompanies the vocal jazz group at festivals. Being flexible while traveling to different venues is part of being an accompanist.

“I’m so used to adapting. When I did opera outreach to school children through Florida State University, I just asked for a piano with 88 keys and a pedal that works,” Pace said.

Although the work can be demanding at times, Pace says he feels valued by his colleagues at CSC.

“At a lot of other institutions, a staff accompanist is a robotic workhorse. I’m glad this job offers some prestige,” Pace said. “Sometimes when I see the schedule I wonder if it can all be done, but then I remember, ‘Oh yeah, this is how I function best, when I have things I like to do.’”

In addition to his accompanist responsibilities, Pace is also responsible for many departmental duties including coordinating marketing efforts, maintaining a master calendar, scheduling and confirming events, designing and printing programs, overseeing a student who creates event posters and working with office assistant Jessyca Hovendick to organize the annual High Plains Band and Choir Festival on campus.

Dr. Jim Margetts, dean of Liberal Arts and a former music faculty member and accompanist, said Pace is a consummate professional.

“He is such a supportive collaborator. He really mentors the music students through the process of working with an accompanist. We are lucky to have him,” Margetts said.

Although accompanying and solo performing are two different skill sets, Pace possesses both. In early September, he performed a solo recital of his old favorites in Memorial Hall.

“Solo piano requires a lot of practice time alone. I prefer the work of an accompanist collaborating with other people,” said Pace, who was pleased his mother could tune into the CSC Live streaming broadcast. “I had taken a long break from it, but decided it was time to push myself so I practiced a lot this summer to prepare.”

When the school year comes to a close, Pace’s thoughts turn to participating in summer music festivals. The past two years Pace has played piano for musical theatre at Interlochen, an international summer camp for 2,500 students in northern Michigan. While completing his graduate programs, Pace performed at festivals in Italy, Los Angeles and Orlando.

“Summer is an important time for musicians in higher education to travel and perform internationally. That’s when all the festivals happen,” Pace said.

—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator

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