Conversation about self -accompaniment with Ewa Leszczyńska, a polish singer and pianist

Ewa Leszczyńska; I am so curious how you started to perform as a multi instrumentalist?
Paula Bär-Giese: I started as a pianist and just liked it to sing, so I got singing lessons as well for the fun. By studying the music it was natural for me to take place behind the piano and to accompany myself. My husband told me that that was special, I was surprised. So I took advantage of this and started to do this more seriously.
In the mean time I started my singing studies and little by little I learned more difficult music to accompany myself.

Ewa Leszczyńska: How do you feel on stage? How does the audience react?
Paula Bär-Giese: The audience reacts differently: sometimes I get the idea that they don’t even notice that I do both things! But sometimes they say to me that it seems them very difficult to do so.
In general people react positively on my performances. Sometimes they think that I would sing better if I did have a pianist…
Maybe that’s because they can’t imagine that you can do both things well. Of they do miss a part of the facial expression because I’m sitting behind my instrument?

Ewa Leszczyńska: What is the difference in singing ? Does playing disturbs singing? If yes , how?
Paula Bär-Giese: I don’t think that playing disturbs the singing, but you have to know both the piano and the singing part very, very well, and it has to be melted together as one thing.
For myself was and is singing very good for my playing: the natural flow and breathing of singing did learn me a lot about music and improved my piano playing.
Another very important subject is the body posture. Pianists tend to bend forward a little (I do) and singing learns me daily not to. And to play from by belt, like singing.
Bending would disturb the support of the breathing.

Ewa Leszczyńska: Do you think that self-partnering brings unique interpretative qualities?
Paula Bär-Giese: Yes, I do. A singer and a pianist always try to create one interpretation, as one soul. That is in fact not possible with two people… our case it is exactly how it is!

Ewa Leszczyńska: Why would you prefer self-accompaniment?
Paula Bär-Giese: In my case: as I wrote it felt natural for me to accompany myself. You have the full musical experience while studying and that makes your musical experience much deeper.
That makes my singing and playing better.
If you are all on your own, you have to give all you have, no singer or pianist you can rely on. It is all your thing.
You can study a lot more if you accompany yourself, you don’t have to make appointments with your colleagues (that are always busy).

Ewa Leszczyńska: What are the difficulties that has to face the singer and what are the problems that has to face the pianist creating a duo of two instruments in one person?
Paula Bär-Giese: The singer always should take care of the breath and the flow…..the pianopart shouldn’t disturb that. The horizontal flow of the breath can be disturbed by the vertical movements of the pianopart, especially when the music is staccato or has big jumps. Another difficulty can be poly rhythmical parts. Sometimes the pianopart has already poly rhythmical parts, and if the singing part also has a complicated rhythm, the combination may become a real challenge.
Both the piano and the singing part deserve full attention, the articulation of both the words as the fingers, the different accents, slurs, bows, dynamics etc. should become one thing that naturally flows. The expression of the piano part should not be less if you accompany yourself.
Accompany yourself means that you have to be aware of you whole body and emotions.

Ewa Leszczyńska: How do you think - shall we perform by heart? (For sure with heart ;)

Paula Bär-Giese: That is a personal matter I think. Gustav Leonhardt used to say: “Why play by hart if there exists sheet music?”
First of all the performer should feel comfortable. That can be the case with of without sheet music.
Playing by heart can give more freedom, but playing from sheet music does not have to disturb that….
In fact: if you know your music well, you do not need to read a lot.

We have to bear in mind that playing by hart is invented in the period of the great virtuoso pianists to impress the audience.
Is that what we want to do?

Ewa Leszczyńska: How do you prepare to the concert in context of self-partnering?
Paula Bär-Giese: I do like to play a few days in advantage of the concert the whole program without stopping, to feel how it goes. So you can feel what goes well and what not.
You can also check your stamina.
It is always looking for the equilibrium between study and relaxing. Studying to intensive may exhaust you (and your voice), so you will be tired on the concert day. You also should always keep your interpretation fresh.
Good preparation is really very important, of course. You have to do two jobs at the same time!

In fact three jobs, if you also introduce the pieces to the audience.

Ewa Leszczyńska: Do you have also experience on the big concert halls? How do you find yourself in big acoustic spaces ?
Paula Bär-Giese: I did play and sing in big churches. They have a lot of acoustic, so I had to be extra clear in articulation and be careful with the right pedal.
My voice likes the big halls!

Ewa Leszczyńska: When you make self-partnering concerts don’t you miss the eye-to-eye contact with public?
Paula Bär-Giese: Yes, sometimes. I hope to compensate with the musical expression and the ‘feeling’ with the audience.
On the other hand: a standing singer does not really make eye contact with the public either. That would be uncomfortable for both the public and the singer . The facial expression however can be seen better if you stand up.
And sometimes I do stand up in an opera aria (as you can see in my performance of the ‘Doll aria’ from Offenbach, and that surprise has a big effect on the audience!).

Self-accompanied singing Paula Bär-Giese videos

Bayerisches Nationalmuseum München

Johannes Brahms - Lied (um 1889) Text Joseph von Eichendorff (1837)

Walther Wolfgang Freiherr von Goethe compositions

Henri Duparc 1870 - l'Invitation au voyage

Gabriël Fauré - Clair de lune

Franz Liszt Haus Weimar

AVE MARIA - Bach/Gounod


'O quante volte' - Bellini

Doll's song from “The Tales of Hoffman”

Casta Diva Bellini

Amarilli, mia bella - Giulio Caccini


Queen  Hortense - Palace 't Loo