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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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A Scottish Pianists journey to clear vision – From Perthshire to Saddleworth

Scottish pianist Muriel Johnstone

travelled through The Torrent to visit The Optical Majician in Saddleworth

Muriel Johnstone is arguably one of Scotlands’ most prolific composers of Scottish country dance music ever, and one of the Scottish Country Dance Society’s best-loved musicians. Born in West Hartlepool, England to Scottish parents who were both dancers, Muriel was exposed to music from a young age. Muriel studied music at Edinburgh University and went on to forge an enviable career with a vast catalogue of recordings, compositions and publications.

Muriel Johnstone is arguably one of Scotlands’ most prolific composers of Scottish country dance music ever, and one of the Scottish Country Dance Society’s best-loved musicians. Born in West Hartlepool, England to Scottish parents who were both dancers, Muriel was exposed to music from a young age. Muriel studied music at Edinburgh University and went on to forge an enviable career with a vast catalogue of , compositions and .she buys her glasses at Allegro Optical Opticians

Having taught and performed in many countries including the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and many more, muriel knows a thing or two about Scottish music. Having qualified in the study of classical music (BMus and LRAM) she has become a sought after performer, accompanist (especially for dance) and teacher, bringing into prominence the role of piano in traditional music.

Muriel has over 800 compositions in the Traditional Scottish genre, a good many of which are for dancing. With many pieces commissioned to celebrate events and festivals. Muriel’s Scottish dance music includes reels, jigs, strathspeys, pastoral airs and waltzes. Her additional repertoire encompasses other forms of music inspired by the beautiful landscape of her home.

The Dilemma

With so many fantastic achievements under her belt and a huge catalogue of compositions, Muriel was becoming frustrated when making music. Having had pretty poor eyesight all her life Muriel turned to laser surgery in 2005. She elected to undergo monovision correction and chose bilateral monovision LASIK correction. Monovision (MV) is a correction to compensate for presbyopia. One eye is corrected for distance while the other eye corrected for near vision. Patients should be able to suppress the blurred image from one eye and see clearly at all distances without glasses. However, this surgery may not be suitable for some patients. Those whom night driving and/or reading are an essential part of their life. Reading music on the stand is an essential part of Muriel’s life. Recently this compromise in visual acuity was becoming an increasing problem.

Muriel Johnstone is arguably one of Scotlands’ most prolific composers of Scottish country dance music ever, and one of the Scottish Country Dance Society’s best-loved musicians. Born in West Hartlepool, England to Scottish parents who were both dancers, Muriel was exposed to music from a young age. Muriel studied music at Edinburgh University and went on to forge an enviable career with a vast catalogue of , compositions and .she buys her glasses at Allegro Optical Opticians

Our regular readers will have seen previous blogs where we talk about the problems monovision refractive surgery causes musicians. Muriel is no exception. Like Swiss Cornet player Angelo Bearpark, the surgery had a detrimental effect on Muriel’s vision when focusing on the music stand. Muriel visited her usual optician in November 2018 but was unhappy with the solution provided. She returned in February and was dispensed with a pair of varifocals. While useful for daily tasks were unsuitable for playing the piano.

Muriel then visited her optician for a third time in July and was dispensed with a pair of single vision glasses for driving. However these were not as clear as the varifocals. She was also provided with a pair of occupational lenses for music. But she couldn’t read the music without leaning forward considerably, which wasn’t practical. It seemed her optician was unable to help and at this point Muriel began researching musicians eyecare and discovered Allegro Optical.

The Happy Meeting

Muriel contacted us and explained her problems with her vision. She talked about her frustration at a failure to acquire a satisfactory solution. We talked at length about Muriel’s working distances, the instruments she plays and her previous refractive surgery. However our location, in the heart of Saddleworth in the small village of Greenfield, was hardly convenient. We are over 500 kilometers from Muriels’ home, but she decided to fly down for a consultation anyway.

Managing Director Stephen met Muriel at the airport. They had a very wet trip to Greenfield from Manchester chatting about all things music. When they arrived, Muriel received an extended eye examination with our fabulous Gospel singer, flautist and optometrist Gemma. Having performed in some iconic venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate Modern, Gemma completely understands a performers visual needs and was able to find a suitable prescription.

Figure it out

As a result of the bilateral monovision LASIK correction Gemma found Muriel needed uneven near and music stand additions. She also has a variable ocular dominance, as would be expected post LASIK.

Playing a piano and sometimes the organ Muriel needs a very wide field of view. Her previous optician had tried to address this by dispensing Zeiss Occupational lenses. They felt the working distance of the lenses were the closest to Muriel’s needs. Sadly for Muriel they didn’t work as she had to keep leaning forwards to get the music in focus.

Unfortunately Zeiss, like most large lens manufacturers don’t make lenses specifically for musicians. So it was always going to be a bit of a compromise. Even using the best of the ZEISS Office Lens portfolio with Maximum Intermediate Distance (M.I.D.) technology, the lenses didn’t work.

The Solution

To resolve Muriel’s vision problems and give her clear vision across four sheets of music and the ability to see her audience we had to create a lens design to her Muriel the widest possible field of view. We based her lens design on our Fogotto range of lenses but added an anamorphic component design to widen her field of view further. The term anamorphic derives from the Greek words meaning ”formed again.” This enables us to squeeze in more lateral vision. We also incorporated some prism assistance to help with fixation and fatigue when playing for long periods of time.

Muriel’s lenses are made from a 1.67 high index optical resin. This provides durability with minimal weight as she often plays for hours at a time. The last thing she needs is a heavy pair of spectacles weighing on her nose. As Muriel doesn’t always play alone, at times she needs to see her fellow performers, so we needed to produce the lenses in as wide but flattering shape as possible. Muriel chose the beautiful Crystal Diva rimless frame by Silhouette, although we glazed it with a larger lens shape to give a better field of view.

Muriel Johnstone is arguably one of Scotlands’ most prolific composers of Scottish country dance music ever, and one of the Scottish Country Dance Society’s best-loved musicians. Born in West Hartlepool, England to Scottish parents who were both dancers, Muriel was exposed to music from a young age. Muriel studied music at Edinburgh University and went on to forge an enviable career with a vast catalogue of , compositions and .she buys her glasses at Allegro Optical Opticians

A Celebration Jig

Once fitted with her new glasses a few weeks later Muriel was delighted. She was utterly surprised by the clarity her new spectacles provided. We even had a cheeky whisky to celebrate. When asked how she felt about her new glasses she said; “I just want you to know how THRILLED I am with all of my new glasses. My eyes feel very comfortable in the varifocals and later today I hope to have a long session at the piano to really test my (stunning) music glasses! Thank you again.”

Why do musicians come to Allegro Optical?

As an independent family run business, we are gaining an international reputation for professional excellence and an inventive approach to meeting customer needs.

Now known internationally as the ‘Musicians Opticians’ we are attracting many clients from across Europe and further afield. Our groundbreaking work with performers, players and conductors has resulted in Allegro Optical becoming the first and only opticians to gain registration with the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM).

We treat each client as an individual because they are. It is true that no two musicians are the same, So why should their vision correction be? We enjoy creating unique lenses to meet a musician’s particular needs. As musicians ourselves we can ask the right questions and interpret the answers accordingly.

Award-winning eye-care

So successful has Allegro Optical been in helping performers that this year alone we have scooped no less than five national and regional awards. These awards include the National ‘Best New Arts & Entertainment Business of the Year‘ at a gala event in London. Managing Director Sheryl Doe was awarded the 2019 ‘Dispensing Optician of the Year‘ and she has been shortlisted for the AOP Dispensing Optician of the year 2020.

During March Allegro Optical was awarded the ‘Scale-Up Business of the Year‘ at the regional finals of the Federation of Small Business awards in York and went on to receive the FSB Chairman’s award at the national finals in May. Finally winning the FBU Yorkshire family business of the year. Allegro Optical’s unique optical solution and our cutting edge approach to dispensing has led to the group being named finalists in the Huddersfield Examiners Business Awards in the Innovation and Enterprise category.

The company has been featured in many national publications including The Times 4BarsRest, The British Bandsman and Music Teacher Magazine.

Are you are a musician who is struggling with their vision? Is making music is no longer the enjoyable experience it once was? If so call us at either Greenfield on 01457 353100 or Meltham on 01484 907090.