Guest blog by pianist Norma Wilson

Norma Wilson is a pianist and flautist from the West Country. She first visited Allegro Optical in 2020 and has since collaborated with us on several projects including The RSM & BAPAM, Sustaining A Career Into Old Age podcast. 

In this blog, Norma talks about how Wet Macular Degeneration has impacted her career and how she manages her condition to continue playing.

Wet Macular Degeneration – a musicians perspective.

I am a keen amateur musician.  From a young age I would borrow music scores from the library and I am a proficient sight-reader.  In 2016 I was diagnosed with Wet Macular Degeneration in both eyes. The onset was very sudden ( I noticed Fiona Bruce looked beetroot colour with a very long face when I watched the News) and when the second eye was affected I was devastated when the Eye Consultant said it could affect the way I read music. 

I had noticed that when I looked at music notation the lines were wavy, there were some blurry patches.  The main problem was the light, I would get a sparkling effect when I moved my eyes from the score to the keyboard and back again.  The light was refracted and I had a general feeling that my vision was distorted.  

Fortunately, I read an article about Allegro Optical, in SideView, the Macular Society Newsletter.  I live in Bristol but made the journey to Meltham to see if they could help me. Allegro Optical describe themselves as a musicians’ optician.  It was a very different eye assessment, I took music along, there was a piano and a music stand.  The measuring process to make me special ‘music reading glasses’ took quite a while.  Allegro Optical have a piano and music stands, so I took some music with me and my flute which I play as well as the piano. 

  • I had an eye test, which included an OCT scan, a field of vision scan my eye movements were tracked and I had an eScoop assessment for my AMD.
  • They measured the distance between the music score to my eyes both seated at the piano and standing with my flute in front of a music stand.  They were trying to find my ‘working distance’  in my case 21 “
  • My previous optician had tried several times to make me some music reading glasses, they were single view with increased magnification, but that did not address the problem and created more distortion and reduced the field of vision. 
  • Allegro Optical were considering colour and prism. They measured eye to music, eye to stand, eye to piano and how wide my field of vision was. I was persuaded to have a slight yellow filter, I have to say this has helped reduce the sense of eye strain. 

When we consider how a musician reads a score we know that

  • You often read more than one line at a time, treble and bass clefs, but if you play with other people you read across four or more staves.  Your eyes are looking up and down and across. If you then turn your gaze away from the score to look at your fellow musicians you are looking into a different light source and back again. 
  • Light is of the essence, so getting advice on this is important. 
  • Relying solely on reading from a paper score is not always easy so over the years I have been advised to get an IPad Pro (larger iPad A4) and to use several Apps:
  • it depends greatly on which software is used, but Scoringnotes.com for instance tends to make adaptations that work for the visual effect of the score.
    > More detailed information on this can be found here:
    https://www.imore.com/best-music-reading-apps-ipad
    https://www.musicnotes.com/now/tips/the-3-best-hands-free-page-turners/
  • IMSLP  International Music Score Library Project  it started in February 2006. It is a project for the creation of a virtual library of public domain music scores based on the wiki principal. There is  forScore, Piascore, Musescore etc

I was advised that I scan my own score and then get it in Dropbox and then get that into the App ForScore which I use on the iPad. But whether or not you do that or just download, the important thing to get it bigger is to have an iPad Pro (large screen size) and then turn it on its side. That makes the music much bigger—though of course then you have to turn the page twice as much! Using an iPad also helps because it is backlit so the light is more consistent. 

It is important for me that I continue to play music as I age and with my specialist music reading glasses, iPad and the use of various Apps I know I can continue for many years to come. 

Norma Wilson

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