One week ago we were in attendance at the Region 4 Conference of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians and Dr. Joy Berg, president, came up to me with an important question: “Kathy, will you play for the choral reading session? This is one detail which slipped through the cracks.”
It was about 8:45 in the morning, and the Choral Reading Session was scheduled to begin at 9:00 am — just 15 minutes away. Led by Dr. Bradley Ellingboe of the University of New Mexico, the choral reading session was to focus on the music of ALCM composers.
“Sure, I can do it.”
“Here’s the packet of music.”
And with that, we walked over to Geeting Hall where there was a large rehearsal space. I must confess that I have been sightreading music all my life, from day one. That means that while I was a student, I did not practice during the week following a music lesson. I simply sightread my music, and faked out my teacher every week!
You see, my sisters and I grew up without television, and we had nothing to amuse ourselves except the piano. We used to play a sightreading game — one sister would open a book of music at random and the other sister would have to play at sight whatever page was opened. As soon as that sister made a mistake, she would lose her turn, and it would be the other girl’s opportunity to be the sightreader. As a result, all three of us are involved in music as adults and we are all excellent sightreaders. It also helps that all of us have perfect pitch.
In case you don’t know, sightreading is the ability to play music without seeing it or rehearsing it beforehand. I found the Wikipedia entry for sightreading which also discusses a musician’s ability to sight-read silently — to be able to hear all the notes of the music on the page at sight without playing them on an instrument. That’s what I did in those 15 minutes before the session began. I quickly scanned the music to search for any tone clusters or difficult rhythmic passages.
The Wikipedia article also brought up an important point: “The ability to sight-read partly depends on a strong short-term musical memory. An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicates that highly skilled musicians tend to look ahead further in the music, storing and processing the notes until they are played; this is referred to as the eye–hand span.”
My sister Doris helped tremendously by turning pages for me and playing the obbligato solo parts and the pedal in the organ accompaniments. Whatever — my sightreading didn’t fail me, and I don’t think I hit a single wrong note. As I told people, this is nothing miraculous — it’s something I’ve done my whole life.