Is Accompanist a Five-Syllable Word?

On paper, when you look at it, the word “accompanist” is easy to read. And yet, half the time or maybe more, when I am introduced at a show, the word comes out with an extra syllable. It probably happens more with silent film accompaniment than with most other piano accompaniment.

I accompany silent films, on piano or theatre organ. This makes me a silent film accompanist. It’s those two versions of the word that get mixed, I think, in people’s heads. Perhaps it’s because of the unusual unicorn-ey-ness of the work, that the word “accompany” or “accompanies” gets in the way.

Ben Model Stumfilmdager 2017
silent film accompanist Ben Model accompanying Laurel & Hardy in From Soup To Nuts at the 2017 “Silent Film Days” (Stumfilmdager) festival in Tromsø, Norway, in the historic 1916 Verdensteatret cinema. photo by Lars Andersen

Because I am often introduced at shows or to people socially as a silent film “accompany-ist”. Sometimes people have trouble getting the word “accompany-ist” out. I’m not complaining about this, actually — I’m really intrigued by this unusual quirk of the human brain.

My wife teaches musical theater on a university level, and has for many years. She and her colleagues have no trouble referring to the people who play piano in their classes as “accompanists”. But then, those accompanists don’t tell people they “accompany” singers. They’re musical theater or musical accompanists. I’ll bet the same is true in the classical music realm. 

I could be completely wrong about all this. But I have noticed this word trips people up when they tell people or an audience of my profession. I’ve also noticed there’s a tendency to pantomime playing the piano at the same time, as part of getting tongue-tied over “is it accompanist or accompany-ist?”. This isn’t a dig or a criticism against anyone. I’m just fascinated by the fact that it happens and why it does.

In case it helps, here’s what it looks like:

si-lent film ac-com-pan-ist

Thanks, and I’ll see you at the silents!

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James Bigwood

Not unlike those folk who pronounce “mischievous” as “mis-chiev-i-ous”…