Why We Play: Sight Reading

The near-ream of paper that makes up my newest repertoire disguises the old music from the new. Having recently joined a a local philharmonic orchestra, I am new, thus everything I am playing is new — to me. The other members have been participating for more than my handful of rehearsals thus most of this same music is far more familiar to them.

Except this one piece. It is new. It is new to everyone. Me. Them. All of us. This is a fact that becomes increasingly apparent as we play through it as a group for the first time.

I rarely have use for the word “cacophony” but this is such an occasion. The definition of “a harsh discordant mixture of sounds” is apt and appropriate, though perhaps misses the nuance of subtle joy that blurs through the effort.

Unraveling a new song — or in this case, a very old song but a song new to us as a group — is an experience I am discovering to be rich in abstract and complex emotions tied to a bridging of various flavours: uncertainty blurred with exhilaration, embarrassment smudged against amusement, or even anxiety slammed into the exuberance of unwrapping a surprise gift.

This is sight reading: reading through an unfamiliar, unpracticed piece of music, dots and lines speckled across the lines of staff on the white paper and transformed into the roughest cut of sound that starts to resemble a song. It is an effort that is difficult enough as a soloist. As part of an ensemble it is an act of coordination and skill that will take me many more years to master.