Sight-reading at a recording session
Sight-reading is when you play a piece of music that you’re seeing for the first time.
When I see a piece for the first time, my priorities are learning the notes & rhythms, then deciding what kind of energy will bring them to life.
By “what kind of energy,” I mean the spectrum of possibilities for vibrato, dynamics, tone color, & any other detail related to expression.
To some extent, the composer provides these details. At the micro-level, performers are often left with tremendous agency.
In bringing a piece to “life,” I mean a way of playing that's so compelling in its expression, it distracts the listeners from thinking they’re hearing “notes,” immersing them in an experience removed from their day-to-day existence.
A few days ago, my chamber ensemble Ears Engaged recorded a concert for our virtual residency with the Iris Music Project. On a tight schedule, I ended up sight-reading a duet at the recording session.
While sight-reading my part, I decided to give the first movement a brighter, more rigid kind of energy than the second, which is more veiled & introspective.
Here are a couple excerpts:
Listening back, if I could play this again, I'd change several things:
Overall, I'd collaborate more with my duet partner (this was the first time we’d played together since March), explore a wider range of dynamics & tone colors, and be more careful with my note-endings (how my sound "blends" with the silence that follows).
In the first excerpt, I’d be more precise with rhythm, possibly using a “snappier” articulation for greater contrast with the lyrical parts.
For the second, I’d put more energy into the grace notes, for greater contrast with the more mellow rhythms. I'd also use a smoother, perhaps more hollow sound; the flute's higher notes tend to be so piercing.
Towards the end, I'd communicate more character through rhythm — in other words, I'd be more intentional about sound quality as I move between notes.
Lastly, to remark on a faux paus unrelated to music...
As a female performer, I had not realized how, from the camera's angle, my skirt appears much shorter than I thought.
It says a lot about me and how I've been socialized — that I am so deeply mortified to know an entire audience of strangers (residents at a senior home, of all people) can see a few more inches of my legs. I imagine them scandalized, thinking of me as shameless & careless about how I present my body.
To avoid spiraling, I don't have much more to say here — other than it was an honest mistake.
When it comes to these topics, I'm interested in seeing the discursive network of shaming dismantled in favor of respectful, transparent conversations about how the bodies of female performers are viewed & presented.