If you play an instrument or sing, you probably understand the difficulties and horrors of sight-reading music. Even if you don’t, you can imagine how terrible it would be to be forced to play a song at full speed without ever having seen it before. Sound fun? NOPE.
Now, I love playing violin. When the conductor of my orchestra recently handed out new music for us to play, I was SO excited. “Yay, new interesting stuff to play! No more wanting to throw my violin at the wall after playing scales for an hour!” Except, I was wrong. I still wanted to throw my violin at a wall when it was over with.
“All right, let’s get started! First movement. One and two and go!” We started off at about 500 beats per second. (Not really, but it sure felt like it!) No one even had a chance to look over what we were about to play, but my stand partner and I managed to squeak out a few notes before looking at each other in utter confusion. The room sounded like there were about 50 screeching cats wandering around in it.
Not our piece, but in my mind, this is what just went down.
After about two painful minutes, the first movement of the piece was over. This cruel and unusual punishment continued on for four movements. Halfway through playing, my friend and I just gave up and burst out laughing. We were some of the best in our section, and yet we had no idea what was going on!
“This isn’t even helping us!” I said half laughing, half in despair. “Oh yes it is!” My conductor replied with a smug look on his face. “No it’s not! Why can’t we play slower? We’re not getting anywhere!” I argued back, as innocently as I could. “No, trust me. Sight-reading helps you be a better player,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I tend to disagree…” I mumbled under my breath. “Well you can disagree all you want!” “Okay fine, I will!” By then my stand partner was having trouble containing her laughter. “Fine! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” My conductor ended the argument and turned away. I cracked up.
How in the world was not being able to play something supposed to help me get better at playing? Um, I’m not a prodigy! Maybe if we played it at a somewhat reasonable speed, it would be helpful. I get that sight-reading helps you to read music more quickly, but if I can’t play any of it, I don’t see where it gets me. After going through the last movement, my conductor paused for a lecture. “Now, as Noelle just asked earlier, why can’t we play it slower? Well the reason is you have to be able to sight-read music at full speed. What if you get called in last minute to fill in for someone at a concert?” He asked us. “You tell them you’re sick and dying!” My friend shouted out. Our conductor sighed. “If you play music but can’t understand the mechanics of it, it’s like reading words out of a book but not comprehending it. It’s like making a recipe for the first time. If you don’t know how it is supposed to look and taste, then you won’t do a very good job, will you?” Um, what? Isn’t that what just happened to us? Congratulations on contradicting yourself… I shook my head and chuckled.
To put it lightly, that wasn’t exactly my favorite rehearsal. But hey, they can’t all be great, right? At least I got a funny story out of it, and I was able to laugh through the confusion and screeching cats! Just goes to show that when the horrors of sight-reading put cloud nine out of reach for me, I can still find my way on cloud eight and a half. 🙂
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