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Conducting: Do Bifocal contacts work for conducting?

Thank you so very much to all the wonderful people who wrote about the contact
lens question (below) and for all the support. It has been very helpful. I've divided
up the answers by category to get a better consensus. I will be trying these bifocal
contacts, and hopefully soon.

I hadn't elaborated on my history, but I did try the monovision idea - wearing only
one contact, and letting the brain adjust. I guess my brain wasn't up to snuff! I just
couldn't see enough detail to make it work. If the bifocal contacts don't work, I do
think I'll get the bifocal glasses, with plain glass on top. James Jordan at
Westminster Choir College first suggested using contacts to me instead of the
"granny" glasses because it does look strained to the singers, and might cause a
strained sound. Since the second comment of it looking intimidating, I decided I'd
better try again.


Have any of you ever tried bifocal contacts for conducting? I understand
there are weighted ones now, and wondered if they'd be any good for
reading a score. I currently use glasses that are small enough to push down my nose
a little, and look over the top to see the singers. Recently, though, someone told
me that the way I look over the top of them is a little intimidating, which may be
just right for my junior choir, but not always the best for adults!



I just discovered these 2 years ago and I love them. Especially for a
musician who has to see at so many different distances. Also the glasses
don't get caught in your hair. Try them; it takes time to find the right
presecription and there is compromise. For me, to be able to see to read,
my distance vision is less satisfactory, so if I go to listen to a
concert, I often go back to traditional bifocals. Joyce Keil

A member of this list sent your email to me. I wear bifocal contact
lenses. I am not a conductor, but a singer and a teacher. The bifocal
lenses I have are fabulous, though they were hard to get fitted. My eye
doctor didn't believe there were bifocal lenses that could work, but these
do. They aren't weighted. They are concentric circles; the center is for
distance and the outside ring is for close work. They are made by
International Contact Lens on Saunders St. in Rego Park (Queens) New York,
and he sends them all over the world. Your doctor would have to send him
the prescription and eye measurements. If you want, I can send you his
phone number, but you can probably get it from or -jackie jones

Seeing the music seems to be more and more of a challenge as the years go
by. Of course each of us certainly have somewhat different vision needs. My
optometrist has been great to work with me on this probably more than most.
Within the last year I have tried the Focus Progressive disposable contacts.
They have worked so much better than anything else I have tried for the
music reading problem. Everything up close is so clear now. For me the
distance is off a bit, but that is a small issue compared with being able to see to
read off the piano and music stand. Ask your optometrist about these. If they
work for you as well as they have worked for me you will feel like a new
person. Carrie Lynne Burke
Sounds just right to me, my adults are worse than the kids!
I got contacts several years ago to read scores while conducting. I am
near-sighted. Can you get contacts and change the position of your stand?
Carol G. Wooten

I wear bifocal contacts, and they've been a real blessing for conducting.
You really can see normally whether you're checking the score or looking
at your singers, and there's no weird adjustment-of-focus feeling. (Mine
are "Occasions" by Bausch & Lomb, in case that's useful.) My doctor warned
me up front that the contacts are either great or not, and that there was no
predicting which it would be, so I feel very fortunate. No more concerts with
glasses sliding down my nose! Good luck, Ann Foster

I wear bifocal contacts and have for several years. They are great if
you're not too picky about seeing perfectly either far away or close up.
They would probably be perfect for reading music on a stand--I have no
trouble. The trouble is that you have to fudge a little on one end to get
good sight at both ends. Try them at your optometrist's. He can give you
both options (reading very clearly, or seeing far away very clearly), and
you can see if you like them. They are a heck of a lot less trouble than
glasses...but you have to give up some clarity sometimes. Good luck.
Lynn Mitchell

I use them. I wear one regular contact in my weak eye and a bifocal in my
dominant eye. I can see just fine. Debbie Coleman

I went in to bifocal contact lenses last September after being
frustrated trying to read music to sing and basic reading in general. I
haven't been doing any conducting since getting them, but I can tell you
it has made a HUGE difference in being able to read at just about any
distance (computer, reading, singing). The biggest problem I have now is
night time vision and some distance ; I suspect that one lense is for seeing
closer up and the other for seeing farther away. For me, reading glasses
became totally useless in whatever I was doing. Check with your eye doctor --
it couldn't hurt to try them! --Laura Horwitz

You might ask your doctor about monovision which corrects both eyes
separately -- one for far distance and one for near. I tried bifocal
contacts briefly and found they really hampered reading ability in general
and monovision is better for all-around "survival." Everyone is
different, though. Good luck. I now mark my music more heavily, by the
way, and also have begun memorizing more, something I should have done
anyway! Hilary Apfelstadt

I tried bifocal contacts but had no luck with them. However, I'd
recommend getting regular bifocal eyeglasses. Since you are used to
wearing glasses anyway, you can get bifocal eyeglasses that have your
reading prescription in the bottom and just clear (what they call plano)
lenses at the top. This way you will be looking through, not over, your
glasses as you conduct. Many years ago I was an optician so I have some
experience in this area. Good luck to you, Vickie Hellyer

I haven't personally tried them. My vision isn't such that they will work
with me. I use regular contacts which work well for distances. By that
time I have learned the music well enough I don't need to rely on seeing
it as much. Or, if I need to see the music that well, I have gone to the
progressive bi-focal lenses (Vari-Lux). which allows me to work on the
computer, see music on the stand or piano, and look up at the choir all at
the same time. My wife has tried the bifocal contacts, but they didn't work for
her. According to her optometrist, they only work on about 25% (maybe
30%) of the people who try them. IHS, John Elving


When I talked to my eye doctor about bifocal contacts, he advised me not
to use them because of my astigmatisms - but they may be improved now, or
you may not have that problem. However, what we decided I should do is I
wear a contact in my left eye that enables me to look at the music and one
in my right eye that helps me see the conductor. I know this might not
work for everyone, but it is perfect for me. Kathy Boyce

You didn't mention if you need vision correction for distance. If you
don't then try what I have used successfully: mono vision contact lens
(singular). Yes, you wear ONE lens and your eyes/brain adjust for both
distance and reading. If you need long distance correction as well, there are
contact lenses which are for reading/near sightedness around the perimeter,
and distance in the center, avoiding the need for weighted lenses. Good luck!
Richard Garrin

Judy, I have had great success with monovision lenses. One eye for
reading, one for long distance. They are a bit of a pain until you get
used to them. But I hated the glasses slipping down my nose as I sweated
when conducting. Not everyone is comfortable with this set up, but works
for me. Good luck. Carroll

(Remember when we thought only OLD people wore bifocals?! )

I only wear contacts and haven't owned a pair of glasses since I was 12
years old --- a long time ago. I opted for trying the fitting of one
contact for one eye that takes care of seeing distance and the other eye
for seeing close up. I've talked with many people---most for whom this
works quite well. I personally have had no trouble. The brain is an
amazing thing---after a day, I never even noticed one eye working harder
at each individually assigned task. Talk with your eye doctor. Mary Beth

I am not sure about the bifocals that you are referring to. But I
have gotten just one bifocal from my doctor. One eye, which has the bifocal,
can see the music. The other eye can see the singers. The brain apparently
does the scrambling and deciding. I have to admit that the music can be a bit
blurry at first, but it is great to not have to choose between seeing
either the singers or the notes. I have found that, as a teacher of
conducting, I can get a great deal more from a student's face if he/she is
not wearing glasses. And I feel that, as a conductor, I have a wall in
front of me when I wear glasses. Also, my posture becomes bad, because I
have to look down in order to see properly through the glasses. With the
contact, my posture is better, I can see better, and my singers get the
full benefit of my eye-contact and facial expression. So...I highly recommend
finding any way to get rid of the glasses! Lots of luck Nina Nash-Robertson

I have not tried bifocal lenses, but I do wear one lens for reading and
one for distance. These work great for me, much better than the bifocal
glasses I wore before. My doctor said they don't work for everyone, but
the people who have them love them and I certainly do. When they put them
in your eyes, you will immediately know whether they work for you or not.
You might try this if you haven't already. Cheryl Dupont

I have worn "monovision" contact lenses for many years, and find them
entirely satisfactory for all purposes, including conducting. If you can
wear contacts, you may wish to investigate monovision; one eye is fitted
for close-up, the other for distance, and the brain miraculously
accomodates everything in-between. Good luck. Marilyn Jones


As I have gotten less young, I have found blended glasses (mine are
trifocal!) to work well. they take some getting used to, but it's amazing
what an up-and-down range your can develop (I have to deal with organ
music, stop jambs and choir members - all at different focal lengths).
The accompanying problem, however, is that the right and left edges blur
out, so that you have to turn your head frequently; i.e., you have to move
your head to maintain focus on anything wider than a newspaper single
column. I've heard that it's possible to combine contacts with glasses to
overcome certain problems, but have not tried that. My eye guy seems to
think that contacts won't solve my problem, which includes astigmatism.
good luck, David McCormick

I use bifocal glasses. I don't really need glasses to see far away, so
the correction is minimal but it gives me the option of looking at the
choir through the glasses and not over the frame. Raanan Shefa

If you are using eyeglasses now, have you considered bifocals or
progressive lenses for conducting? I need corrective lenses only for
distance vision, so as a singer, I found that I couldn't read the score
with my glasses on and couldn't see the conductor properly with them off.
Before I got my progressive lenses, I could get by when the distance to
the conductor was not terribly large, e.g., singing without orchestra or
in standard formation behind an orchestra. But for a Mahler 8 where I could
have been anywhere in the stage area, including in the first balcony almost
directly to the side of the conductor and I don't know what, maybe 75 or 80
feet away, that simply wouldn't do. My optometrist very carefully considered
all aspects of my needs, and gave me a prescription for corrective lenses that
allowed me to read the score with glasses on and then to see at whatever
distance I needed for following conductors. He even had sample scores to
check whether the proposed prescription worked before ordering the lenses. I
thought they were just wonderful, and I'm sure they were less expensive
than contacts. For that Mahler, I wound up in a subsidiary choir of about 25
behind the cellos and under the first balcony overhang. I was VERY glad of
those glasses! Good luck to you ...Sue Noble

Judy: I found a need for glasses that would allow what you descibe. My
solution was the graded lens which gradually goes from distance at the top
of the lens to close-up at the bottom. This way I am always looking
through the lens; however, it takes some getting used to as looking down
as you walk which can be tricky, especially at first. It works great for
score on stand up close/near to the distance of the last row of the choir
two to four metres in the distance. Gary Fisher

I don't wear contacts as I don't like to have anything in my eyes (a phobia ?).
I understand that the weighted contacts are made for those people who have
astigmatism (such as me) in order to keep the axis in the correct place. I have
are 2 pairs of bi-focal glasses. One for everyday 'normal' use and the other for
reading music. Although at my present age, I need correction for closeup and
distance, years ago when I only needed them for closeup/reading my glasses
were created like bi-focals except the 'top part' (for distance) was simply clear
glass with no prescription so that I could wear a standard pair of glasses. I am
an organist/choir director and the music rack is about an arm's length away
and high. Well not real high ....but.... I wanted the lower 'reading' portion with
the focal point at arms length and situated higher on the lens so that when I
looked straight ahead, I would continue to see through the lower/reading
portion of the glasses. This allows me to tilt my head upward only slightly to
read the music. Otherwise, with a normal pair of bi-focals, I would have to
tilt my head up considerably higher in order to use the lower/reading portion. I
find them also very handy when working as a 'pit' musician. The 'line' that
separates the lower and upper portion of the glasses is situated just slightly
higher than half way up the glass. So in order for me to look out at a
distance, I need to tilt my head slightly downward but not as much as if I had
the glasses positioned lower on my nose. It took a bit of getting used to...but
not too bad. I wouldn't have it any other way now. It took Lens Crafters 3
tries before they placed the reading portion of the prescription in the right
place. They just didn't want to put them that high on the lens so I finally
brought in a music stand and music right into their store and showed them
what I had to deal with. Then they finally understood what it is that I
wanted. I forgot what name they called the lenses but I think they called
them executive'...referring to the placement of the reading portion being
situated so high on the lens or perhaps for the focal point. I have a standard
pair of bi-focals for non-music use (driving, reading, etc). If I ever forget
them, and have to use my 'music' glasses to drive, walk, etc. I have to be
careful especially when walking up/down stairs, driving, etc. The 'reading'
portion can be disorienting. I tried progressive bi-focals as well but it wasn't
possible for them do get the correct focus point when looking up. In other
words...the 'progressiveness' gave me to many focus points. I know some
people like the progressive lenses because they have no 'line' but I could care
less if anyone sees that I'm wearing bi-focals. After all I'm the one who has to
see what I'm doing rather than worry about what I look like to others! Ed
I don't use contacts, but I have glasses that are for distance at
the top and middle distance (for conducting, playing the piano and working
at the computer) at the bottom. They weren't easy to find - they are
progressive lenses, high index, with the top set at distance and the
middle and bottom set for middle-distance. I love them, and can see really
well for conducting. Ieva Wool


Check with your doctor about the possibility of different correction for
left and right eyes. My contacts are essentially bifocals done sideways.
My left eye is primarily for reading, my right eye is primarily for
distance. This has worked very well for me for several years now. when I
take my lenses out and wear my glasses, they are standard up and down
bifocals. It is really no problem to "shift gears" -- ## Dean Ekberg

Judy L. Greenhill, NCTM
Immediate Past President, New Hampshire Music Teachers Association
Director, Nashua Choral Ensemble
Co-Director, Childrens and Youth Choirs at Londonderry United Methodist Church