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  • Writer's pictureMarkdavin Obenza

Sight-reading. A barrier.

Sight-reading. Many (perhaps most) singers dread it—I hear you. However, I see the lack of proficiency in this skill as the biggest barrier preventing singers from executing at their full (and advertised) potential in a professional setting with limited rehearsals. It's why I have an inherent mistrust in demo tapes.

While some get around this problem by learning music ahead of time and/or by rote, it comes with some level of inflexibility—what if we have to change a few notes? Not to mention some added stress which no doubt negatively impacts performance. We need singers to have a solid abstract understanding of the relationship between the notes on the page and their corresponding sounds.

Some thoughts:

1. Is sight-reading underemphasized at the college level? If the goal is to prepare singers to become professional soloists, then it follows that such a program would primarily focus on the vocal production and technique required to project over a large orchestra—not so much musicianship. (Soloists often have to memorize music anyway).

2. Is it too late to significantly improve sight-reading once you become an adult? In my experience, singers that have had extensive musical training (choir or instrumental) as children tend to demonstrate higher levels of musicianship.

3. Vocal performance programs select first and foremost for singers that demonstrate a high level of raw vocal talent over musicianship. And maybe instrumental performance programs select for the inverse—musicianship/sightreading, then...tone? This could explain why instrumentalists could sight-read circles around the singers in sightsinging class (UW).

Perhaps we need vocal programs that prepare singers specifically for professional ensemble singing, not just opera or solo singing. There is a growing professional singing scene here in the Pacific Northwest, but in order to thrive we need more ensemble-ready singers. How do we do this?

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