i am a sight reader. it is what i do. usually, if i can’t sight read a piece then it is going to be super hard to learn. and really learning pieces takes awhile for me. dr. edwards once told me that people who sight read well often do not memorize well……well, maybe that is true but i have an extra bit of excuse. all my memory work in piano is muscle. i have no visual memory. most people say what does that mean? my explanation is i don’t form pictures in my head (except sometimes when i dream–yep, makes it that much weirder). maybe a better explanation is one i found on the internet the other day when my friend sarah was in disbelief mode:
I have never been able to “see” something in my mind’s eye. When I was 12, I underwent various IQ tests because my teachers had identified me as a candidate for the gifted and talented program. The person performing the test told my mother that I could not visualize. Until then, I thought everyone was like me– that the ‘mind’s eye’ was a figure of speech, not a reality. I can recognize a face when I see it, but not pull up a picture in my head to describe it to someone. The same is true of objects, landscapes, etc. I can memorize a list of facts about an image (color, size, shape, etc) but never see it. To remember where a building is on a street, I would have to memorize a list of the buildings in order. I could not ‘see’ that it was next to such and such place. This has been more of a curiosity in my life than anything else; it did not interfere with me obtaining a Ph.D. in a scientific field.
so yeah, except for the advanced degree, that is me. i was first aware of this difference in high school. in spanish class i could translate and write really well, but had trouble speaking. it took me too long to think of how to say things. the teacher asked me if i formed and read responses in my head and i asked what she was talking about. one other time in college i read mention of it in a book. until post college that was all i ever really thought about it…except for when it came to piano.
a lot of musicians see the page of music or part of the page when they memorize. not me. not at all. memorization is completely muscle memory from playing a passage over and over and over….well you get the picture…no pun intended.
easier to do in high school when you work on one song during contest season. college is a whole other ballgame.
so i made mention previously that i was doing a lot of accompanying. tower choir, chorale, celebration, jazz band. 20+ hours of voice lessons a semester, plus senior and graduate recitals. i played in all four studios, but mr. mitchell had me in patty schultz’s and his studio the most. he said patty was picky and hard on accompanists (weymuth said the same to me years later when i accompanied a choral reading workshop where he put me with patty and mulholland.). i never had an issue with patty and loved playing in her studio. i also had to as part of my scholarship play for instrumentalists on recital. i was usually put in the flute studio with dr. mcdonald. she was hard on accompanists and never quick to give any kind of complement. the lit was hard, but interesting and a lot of my friends were flutists.
another scholarship requirement was that you get a B or above in your lessons. i had dr. kramer, and i will say by the time i taught at nw, he was a completely different person. i will not elaborate in print, but i respect the work he does now with the students, and can see a lot of great things he did while i was a student as well. in lessons we were assigned 3 pieces a semester. 1 had to be memorized for juries. my first semester i had a 3 page mendelssohn piece (memorized), a beethoven sonata movement, and a bach 2 part invention. i got an A that semester.
second semester i had two senior recitals and a graduate recital. i talked to kramer about feeling like i couldn’t commit to all the accompanying and my piano pieces…and stated that performances where people were counting on me seemed more important than work for a class where all i’d be hurting was my grade. i don’t remember the pieces at this point…but i managed to squeak out a B.
third semester….by now i was pretty much “the” senior recital accompanist. my sophomore year i played at least 3-4 senior recitals per semester. i have a more intense conversation with kramer as i’m again feeling overwhelmed. i also tell him about my memorization problem. this semester he assigns me a 3 part invention, a liszt piece, and a chopin piece. there was no way memorization was going to happen. i asked how much it would lower my grade. his response was that he would talk to the other two teachers and explain my issue…juries come, i don’t have a memorized piece…i get C’s and dr. bobo writes, “you are doing too many hard level pieces in one semester”…..no shit. really?
i get notice that because i have a C i am losing my scholarship…..patty is my adviser….she gets it before i do and calls me in. i explain. she is livid. she talks to bobo….kramer never told them of my issues, and they all agree that i am overloaded. bobo says there is nothing they can do however, and i will still lose my scholarship (granted, i am on a presidential scholarship that covers all my tuition and most of my room and board–so i’m not completely upset). there is discussion among the voice faculty since i am as an undergrad pretty much doing the job of a hired staff accompanist, so they give me a voice scholarship that covers half what i lost in piano….and i change my major to voice and not piano. great weight off my shoulder. no way could i ever have done a senior recital on piano since the norm is “all memorized”.
i did still have to take another semester of keyboard to fulfill my requirement for graduation. i chose organ with dr. edwards. we had a lesson, and then the second after a week of practice. at the end of that lesson she says to me, “you aren’t nearly as hard to work with as i’d been told”. gee, wonder who told you that? the same person who failed to let you know my issues???? i did so well in organ that i played the opening at the spring scholarship recognition awards. and, from second semester sophomore year on, i had only A’s on my report cards.
now my only playing issues were nerves….have i mentioned passing out the first time i played for a tower choir performance? another day maybe.