Topic: Sight reading on college juries

ok, here's one I couldn't find any previous thread on.

We have this "discussion" every end of semester when it's jury time. Our WW coordinator feels it necessary to have our students do a little sight reading at the end of their juries.

I don't discount the usefullness of sight reading (better understanding of rhythm, melodies, scales, intervals, etc.), but several of us debate the inclusion at jury time, when students have been preparing sometimes for months their solo material, only to have their finely prepared performance marred by a poor sight reading experience.

Everyone processes new music in different ways and at different speeds. It doesn't mean this student is better than that one.

What do other schools/universities/conservatories do out there?

Thanks!

Harry Searing
Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Heckelphone
Faculty: Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division (NY), Montclair State University (NJ) &  CUNY (NY)
President, LRQ Publishing - featuring the bassoon music of Francisco Mignone

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

We don't include SR on juries but we have started including it on ensemble placement auditions at the beginning of each semester.  It sure points out their weaknesses quickly.

Dr. Kent Moore
Principal Lecturer In Bassoon and Theory
Northern Arizona University

Re: Sight reading on college juries

Harry, good to start this thread! Some of my ruminations about sight-reading (SR!) follow. SR is of critical importance for ensemble musicians who make their living reading music.

In my opinion, there is not often a standardized music reading 'system' (like solfege or Kodaly) used in American music education, so there is not often a specific SR curriculum. Our music majors seem to come by it gradually. Individual teachers may have an SR component in their teaching, but it may not synchronize with work being done in conducted ensembles.

SR relies upon the immediate recognition of musical notation - scales, arpeggios and rhythmic patterns. Hence, I propose we DO NOT require scales and arpeggios by memory until students are well along in their development. While memorizing scales and arp's forces the player to practice them, they do not deeply learn what they look like. I am particularly opposed to requiring memorized scales in competitions held for young and or beginning wind players

Students who are skilled at SR, sometimes rely on that skill to supplant genuine practicing. As a result, conductors who factor in an SR score sometimes choose better SR's to be leading players, when they might not work as hard at the music as a less-skilled SR'r.

I suspect there are many ways to learn to SR. It would be revealing for teachers to consider how they learned to SR. I improved my SR by reading duets with my junior high school instrumental teacher. I believe improvement of SR is one reason why duets appear in method books / tutors.

If SR was required in juries, the various studio teachers should consider the levels of difficulty based on the relative complexity of technique on different instruments. In other words, the same SR example should not be used for all instruments!

Here's a proposal that might outrage ensemble conductors at music schools: Require one piece at some concerts to be read at sight with no previous rehearsal! Piece not to be chosen by that ensemble's conductor. It would be a test of the players and the conductor.  Imagine the outcome! We might have a new TV show "So, You Think You Can Sight Read!"

Very best wishes to all for 2010! Christopher Weait

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University
www.weaitmusic.com

Re: Sight reading on college juries

that's a great idea, Chris!  When I was in high school, we did the state band festivals and as part of the competition,  we always had to sightread a piece  that even our band director didn't get until we were on stage in front of the judges.  I really enjoyed that!

Darlene

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Great idea! I do remember sight-reading one of the French concours sight-reading pieces by Massanet in a master class. It was in Db minor and mostly in tenor clef. It sounded like an aria from "Manon", which is not too surprising, as it was composed at about the same time. I'm afraid I am a perfect example of the player being a good SR and not practicing hard!

David Bell
Alexandria, VA

David Bell
Alexandria, VA
amateur bassoon and contra bassoon

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Have just been discussing this issue with a colleague - over pending Youth Orchestra auditions.

We find it valuable to assess what a player can do with material they have had for up to a week to prepare. So it's more "prepared sight reading".

UK exam boards have traditionally included sight reading and in my experience of preparing students for such exams, seldom do they weight the marks so that an imperfect rendering is enough to fail a candidate.

If the sight reading is making that much difference it is likely the rest of the performance is also below par.

Sight reading is maybe one of the best diagnostic tools we teachers have of seeing into the player's processing especially of musical time. I try to use the first reading of new repertoire in this way as well as placing small sight-reading tasks for students on a regular basis.

A golden rule of sight  reading is to maintain continuity - don't correct errors such as missed accidentals or rhythmic slips - we want to see how you would cope in a group situation where the imperative is to stay with the rest of the players.

Another variant I sometimes inflict, is to ask the student to play an extract again, with some modification - perhaps tempo, phrasing, dynamic - it is valuable to find out how responsive players will be to conductors' interpretations, matching of style with other players etc.

As to the statement "Everyone processes new music in different ways and at different speeds. It doesn't mean this student is better than that one" --- I have to both agree ( - individually -  about the different ways and different speeds), but when one is sight reading in an ensemble, there cannot be different speeds.

I again invite debate on strategies for teaching the processing of timing - usually the most problematic aspect of reading (both at sight and even when some preparation has been done).

Neville

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor

Re: Sight reading on college juries

I think sight reading should be emphasized more at the student level.  Chris makes some great points and I think there should be etude books dedicated to teaching better sight reading skills.  Maybe there are books?   My teachers in junior high and high school (show players in Las Vegas) had me sight read a lot and even play certain etudes backwards or ask me to play them in different ways during lessons.  I still read through new music or take etudes I haven't played in 10 years and read through them while I'm working on reeds.

Sight reading is Extremely important in what I do.  In the studio you read through the chart once (mostly making sure the parts are correct) and record.  For our Pops concerts we often get the music at the 1st rehearsal.  I've had to sight read concerts quite a bit, sometimes on Principal bassoon with 10 minutes notice.  Big Band jazz gigs are usually all sight reading.   I agree with Chris in that seeing the scales is important for reading skills, although for jazz players scale memorization is really important, but having the visual in your head can be very helpful.  Having the scale patterns under your fingers is SO important.

Maybe this can be you next book Chris???


Mark Ortwein
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Studio Musician (Bassoons, Saxophones, Clarinets, Flutes)
Yamaha Artist

Mark Ortwein
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
OrtweinWoodwinds.com

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Oh Mark, please tell our readers you did not give me an opening to do unabashed self-promotion of my publications:

'Bassoon Scales for Reading', 'Bassoon Intervals for Reading' and 'Oboe (or Sax) Scales for Reading' are all based on the premise that we must fluently recognize scales and arpeggios in order to improve sight reading. 'Bassoon Strategies for the Next Level' is also useful, but it focuses mainly on practicing techniques.

They are available on my website ,www.weaitmusic.com>, from various wonderful retailers in the US, Canada, German and the UK. And you can get them by sending me inquiry by e-mail at <chris@weait.com>

How's that for commercialism?

There are books that encourage sight reading. However, one could do as you suggest - read stuff. For the youngest players, sight-reading might ideally be done with a duet partner with whom to swap places as quality control.

I strongly agree with you saying SR is extremely important. I, too, have experienced many, many one rehearsal Pops programs. Interestingly, pops music is often more technically and rhythmically difficult than music for orchestral subscription concerts. Jazz-influenced pops music inspired me to learn the octatonic and blues scales! All best, Chris

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University
www.weaitmusic.com

Re: Sight reading on college juries

Thank you Neville, for useful reminders to be applied when we require sight reading in auditions. I heartily support the concept 'prepared sight reading'. If it is done without a teacher's guidance it would test the player's ability to solve musical problems. Very best wishes from the cold Northern Hemisphere. Chris

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University
www.weaitmusic.com

Re: Sight reading on college juries

Great comments from everyone (so far - please continue!)

Chris, I'll take my usual 10% commission! (ha!) Years ago, with the old type of forum, you would have gotten reprimanded for such commercialism!

Harry Searing
Bassoon, Contrabassoon, Heckelphone
Faculty: Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division (NY), Montclair State University (NJ) &  CUNY (NY)
President, LRQ Publishing - featuring the bassoon music of Francisco Mignone

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Chris - I'm going to have to check out your books!! 

One book I used a lot (and now use with sax students) is "The Technique of the Saxophone" - Vol. 2 -Chord Studies by Joe Viola.  It first has all the chord tones; then different patterns on the chord tones (Same pattern for each scale such as: C Major, C minor, C 7, C minor 7, C minor 7 (b5), and C diminished 7); and then 2 short etudes based on the chords with out any real patterns that are really good for building sight reading skills. 

I may have to put some of these on Finale and into bass clef and see how they work for bassoon.

Mark

Mark Ortwein
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
OrtweinWoodwinds.com

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Mark, As a quick test of the sax scale patterns you described, you could read them on bassoon by imagining bass (or tenor!) clef with the required key changes (minus 3 sharps or plus 3 flats for bass clef, minus 2 sharps or plus two flats for tenor). I'm pretty sure the patterns you describe will work very well on bassoon. What's different, and sadly missing, for bassoonists is we don't often get to practice arpeggio patterns like that in our classical tradition. That is not to say that we shouldn't practice them! All best wishes, Chris

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University
www.weaitmusic.com

Re: Sight reading on college juries

I do transposing just as you describe with tenor clef when I'm reading a Bb part - and have done a lot of that with Eb sax parts with Bass clef.

Just easier to put them on Finale and then can give them to students to play also.

Mark Ortwein
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
OrtweinWoodwinds.com

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

We don't include sightreading on our juries either. However, I think we should and I think it would be beneficial for all juries to do so. Sightreading is of such importance and is essential for any musician no matter what.

I cannot tell you in how many situations I have been given a piece of music and told to play it in performance in a very short time. It is because of my sightreading that I am able to do this with no worries. I only wish I had been required to do it more earlier! I am a huge proponent of sightreading on juries. Much like schools and state governments are so focused on state testing these days, what better way to demonstrate competency and validity in our profession than sightreading!

I wholeheartedly think that every college musician should be required to sightread on juries. What a great way to judge improvement over the course of a college career!

Shawn

Shawn Reynolds
Professor of Oboe/EH - Youngstown State University
Howland Schools - MS (director of bands); HS (Asst. Dir of Bands, Marching, Symphonic)

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

So far, this seems to be mostly a discussion between teachers. Great! Maybe one of you can help me....

I am a fairly advanced student (to give you a general idea, I recently played a successful senior recital including the Vaughan Williams Concerto); however, my sight reading skills lag far, far behind. I hated it when my conductors didn't give me music ahead of time, because reading sessions are always utterly humiliating for me. I have recently begun a project to improve the situation, as my teacher is concerned it will prevent me from holding a job.

So far, I'm gathering two things: 1) learn what patterns look like and 2) practice, practice, practice.

Does anyone out there have other specific suggestions that could help me do this more effectively?

B.Mus. University of New Hampshire

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

My most successful students, as far as sight reading, have a very good understanding of rhythm.  I make them count out every rhythm they have problems with, and encourage them to get in the habit of counting every rhythm every time while they play.  Some of them are incredulous when I tell them that I count out evey whole note I play, even after 55 years of playing.  I encourage students to get some percussion experience, if possible, and have had pretty good success with HS double reed students joining the drumline to play 2nd or 4th Bass Drum (which you absolutely cannot play without counting carefully).  A local legend of a HS Band Director would do clinics where he worked intensely with students on counting rhythms, and invariably improved the sight reading capabilities of the bands and individual students participating.  He taught a strange counting system where every note off the beat was given an "AND" designation.  So he counted 2 eight notes as "ONE-AND" and unfortunately counted dotted eighth and sixteenth as " ONE-AND" as well as basic 6/8 rhythms, etc.  Seemed counter productive to me...I was taught, and have always used "1-E-&-A" for duple meters and either "1-LA-LI" or "1-TRIP-LET" for triple subdivisions of the beat.  In any case an understanding of rhythm seems crucial in developing good sight reading skills.  I often have my college students count out even simple exercises that are easily memorized, just to make sure they understand the exact rhythm as opposed to just memorize the melody.

Frank Watson
Greenville (SC) Symphony Orchestra
Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra'
Converse College
Presbyterian College
retired Middle School Band Director (34 yrs)

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Re: Sight reading on college juries

Hello, good to see the sight-reading (SR) discussion continuing.

Responding to the remarks about using SR on juries, I have now had experience with might be considered a half-way step toward a sight-reading requirement - the One-Week Piece. It is used by the woodwind faculty at the Capital University Conservatory of Music where I am the instructor of bassoon.

Each student is assigned a one-week piece one week before the jury. They must learn that piece without any assistance from their teacher. I assigned a different piece to each student; the jurors had copies. The one-week piece is one of 3 components required for the jury that include: assignments from the term's lessons, scales and arpeggios and sight-reading.

Responding to Vana. You appear to already be making progress toward improving your SR by saying <So far, I'm gathering two things: 1) learn what patterns look like and 2) practice, practice, practice.>

I suggest identifying what the most confusing element is when you sight-read. Is it rhythm, pitches, dynamics, articulations, etc? Once identified, work more specifically on the weakest element.

Having a sight-reading "buddy" for duets is very useful. Play short duets that gradually increase in difficulty. After playing each one, identify your errors and allow your buddy help you to identify errors. Another alternative is to record your sight-reading, but I strongly recommend using short selections.

A related point is to check your eyesight - be sure you are seeing the music clearly.

Best wishes to all for the New Year!

Christopher Weait,
Principal bassoon, Toronto Symphony (1968 - 1985)
IDRS Honorary Member; Emeritus professor Ohio State University
www.weaitmusic.com