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The empathic nature of the piano accompanist

King, Elaine; Roussou, Evgenia


Evgenia Roussou


Caroline Waddington


The ways in which humans interact in any society or culture have occupied the attention of researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds over centuries, including philosophers, psychologists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists and musicologists. Indeed, relationships among people are a constant source of fascination, not least because they are unique (based upon time, place and circumstance) and dynamic (subject to change over time), but because they are open to interpretation (that is, they may be understood in different ways both within and outside the relationship according to the varying perspectives of individuals). Over the past several decades there has been a growing preoccupation with the notion of empathy in human relationships, or, broadly (and perhaps somewhat crudely) speaking, ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ (Oxford English Dictionary). 1 For the purposes of this chapter, empathy will be regarded as an ‘intersubjectively motivated experience marked by affective, cognitive and motor attunement’ (after Doğantan-Dack, 2015) that, in the context of music ensemble playing, is shaped primarily through ‘interpersonal awareness’, or acute listening and communication skills (after Myers & White, 2012). This definition makes three assumptions about empathy (Doğantan-Dack, 2015): first, empathy is biologically and culturally embedded as a fundamental response to human interaction; second, empathy is a dynamic and emerging phenomenon that underpins creative collaborative processes; and third, empathy is a crucial factor in group music-making. 2 Indeed, in their study of empathy in musical performance, Sharon Myers and Catherine White (2012) claim that ‘being in a relationship where one is understood by another is something to which people respond and highly value’; moreover, in the case of music ensemble playing, they state that ‘interpersonal awareness dictates success’ (p. 255). This chapter will focus on further investigating empathic relationships in ensemble music performance by exploring the perspectives of professional performers working in the specialist context of the Western art solo–accompaniment duo chamber ensemble. The stereotypical myths of inferiority surrounding the pianist within this medium present a particularly interesting case for study, not least because the empathic nature of the piano accompanist might be seen to dictate the success of the soloist.


King, E., & Roussou, E. (2017). The empathic nature of the piano accompanist. In E. King, & C. Waddington (Eds.), Music and empathy. Routledge.

Online Publication Date Mar 16, 2017
Publication Date Mar 24, 2017
Deposit Date May 15, 2017
Publicly Available Date May 15, 2017
Journal Music and empathy
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Book Title Music and empathy
Chapter Number 12
ISBN 9781317092599; 9781472445803
Keywords Music, Empathy
Public URL
Publisher URL Full details of the book are available at
Contract Date May 15, 2017


Book_chapter.pdf (1.4 Mb)

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