Seeing the music was becoming a bit of a performance
Helen Williams discovered the cornet in 1975 and has gone on to become one of the world’s finest flugelhorn players. She plays for the current No:1 world ranked Cory Brass Band from Wales. One of Helen’s many achievements was becoming the first and only female principal cornet to win the British Open in 1996 with the Marple Band from Greater Manchester. Since then she has also won the award for the Best Soloist, a feat she repeated 20 years later with the Cory Band.
Helen had a long and successful career with Foden’s Band before she and her husband Glyn moved from Cheshire to South Wales to Join The Cory Band in 2015. She helped them to the unprecedented Grand Slam of 2016, with wins at the European Championships, the British Open, the National Championships and Brass in Concert. Helen won the best instrumentalist at the Open and Nationals and also 4barsrest Player of the Year. Helen has also won the Best Flugel award at Brass in Concert for the last 3 years in a row.
Why Helen was struggling to see the music
The first time Allegro Optical met Helen she complained that reading the music was becoming more difficult. Finding a solution to seeing both the music notation and the conductor (Phillip Harper) was increasingly problematic. Helen said she had been muddling along with the mixture of different spectacles and contact lenses. Helen’s journey to finding the perfect optical solution has been far from an easy ride. With more than one obstacle to overcome it was far from straightforward. Helen, who is presbyopic, also has pronounced ocular dominance, the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye to the other.
It is this disparity between the images, (which decreases with distance), which was causing Helen some problems when playing. The phenomenon of eye dominance is well established in sports science. Knowing which eye dominates can help an athlete achieve better head and eye coordination and to interpret faster responses. Some athletes are cross-dominant, meaning that a right-handed person is left-eye dominant or a left-handed person is right-eye dominant; this can be an advantage in some sports, but it can be a potentially serious disadvantage in others such as archery and target shooting.
Helen had a similar problem to the left eye/ right-hand dominant archer. Her right eye was dominating her vision and her brain was processing the right image by preference. This was causing focusing problems, particularly when playing a solo. When playing Helen always had the music stand to her left, with the bell of her instrument partially obscuring the field of view in her right eye, and blurring her vision binocularly. This happened sub-consciously and her brain did not know which eye was providing the information. It just knew that this was the best available and so her visual acuity was reduced.
A clear solution
Helen had visited her usual opticians and opted for a varifocal solution. But it was still not giving her the clarity she needed when playing. At Allegro Optical we came up with a monocular lens solution. When playing a solo her music stand is so far to one side she needed to read the music from the bottom left corner of her lens. Something which can’t be done in a standard varifocal design lens. We dispensed Helen with our wide field Fogoto lens to correct Helen’s right eye. This allowed her to see the music stand and conductor. But for the left non-dominant eye we dispensed a digital, inverted, outset power boost lens for the two music stand distances only. This allowed Helen’s less dominant eye to deliver a crystal clear image at those two distances while letting the dominant eye process all other distances. This “induced” and “forced” monocular situation allows Helen to view two pages of music notation clearly, giving her a much wider field of view than a conventional binocular solution.
We caught up with Helen at the Sage in Gateshead, where The Cory Band were competing in the 42nd Brass in Concert competition, which the band subsequently won and Helen was awarded the Fesa Trophy for Best Flugel Award. When asked about her new glasses Helen said “To be able to see my music in both seated and standing solo positions, not to mention seeing the conductor, and to be able to interact with the audience is priceless. I had begun to think that all of the above would never be an option, but Allegro have worked so hard to help overcome my particular problems. I cannot thank them enough.”
Making music requires the ability to focus quickly at many different distances. But this can present real problems to musicians particularly if their instrument obscures their visual field. As a result of this, some musicians go on to develop postural problems as a result of their compromised visual clarity.
With an understanding of the playing and seating positions of professional musicians, and a very knowledgeable team of optical professionals Allegro Optical are ideally placed to resolve these issues and many more. Once visual clarity is restored and the optical disorders corrected the musicians working and playing life can easily be improved.
Many Musicians who experience focusing problems are unaware that there are affordable solutions to their vision problems. Most Optometrists and Opticians either prescribe and dispense single vision lenses for the music stand, or Computer or Office lenses which don’t give enough depth of view.
This case study has illustrated the variety of optical challenges that optical practitioners may face when a musician presents in practice. Allegro Optical have won many optical and business awards for their specialist work in the field of musicians eye care. We are frequently quoted by the Association of Dispensing Opticians (ABDO)
We’re always happy to offer advice
If you are a musician who is experiencing visual or focusing issues when playing give us a call to book an appointment or for an informal chat. Call Allegro Optical in Meltham, near Huddersfield on 01484 907090.