Two musical partnerships were simultaneously featured at a concert sometime ago: while the baritone and his accompanist were making music in blissful togetherness, the same accompanist and his “page-turner” were having a silent discord, if not an uneasy co-existence.
The page-turner was intelligent-looking, solemn-faced, bespectacled—he could not have been more than ten—who was appropriately dressed in coat and tie for the occasion. He stood stiffly and uncomfortably at attention, and a punster might have remarked that here was a “page-turner” who was behaving very much like a page. In any case, our young “page-turner” had his eyes glued to the music sheet and indeed was taking his role quite seriously.
He might have been making a “debut” that evening, for he appeared a trifle too anxious to do his job right. Each time he would turn the page, the piano accompanist would shake his head ever so slightly, doubtless to indicate to his eager attendant that the last-printed note on the music score had not been played.
Through the fumblings of the youngster, the pianist pursued the even tenor of his playing, with nary a facial muscle flinching. Once the boy turned the page too soon, although the pianist had shaken his head with disapproval, the music score very nearly fell to the floor.
The pianist took the incident with magnificent serenity, never missing a note while deftly averting—with a swift motion of the left hand—what might have been a minor calamity.
Indeed, the old pro had given us bungling amateurs in the audience an eloquent lesson on how to keep our cool. I now suppose that piano accompanists are also called “assisting artists” because they keep their presence of mind under the most trying circumstance and thus can always be counted on to assist any soloist in distress.
I must now proceed to the other musical partnership, that which was prevailing between singer and accompanist. Their teamwork was equally absorbing, but as you will see in a minute, for an altogether different reason—if the first partnership amused, this second one mystified. A particular puzzle which defied my comprehension and detection was how the pianist could tell just when the singer was ready to begin a song. The baritone gave no signal to the pianist, not any that was visible or audible to me.
Could it possibly be a foot signal? There seemed no clue to indicate it was that. Yet, coordination between the singer and the pianist was so close, not once was there a lack of rapport. What, then, was the “secret code”?
Hearing my dilemma days later, the impresario mercifully informed me that the secret code was merely the singer clearing his throat before every vocal rendition.