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Solutions for reading glasses

I have recently taken to wearing reading glasses during rehearsals and performances because I am no longer able to read the score, and could no longer continue my state of denial regarding my increasing age! :) However, the reading glasses are quite a pain. When I wear them and look up at the choir, I see a blur in front of me, and sense a loss of communication with the singers. If instead I position them lower on my nose, so that I can look over them, then I find myself uncomfortably turning my head downward so that I could see over the top rim of the glasses. The result is a stiffening of my conducting motion and my general posture.
I was wondering if anyone else has found a way to effectively deal with the need to wear reading glasses while conducting.
Darius Polikaitis 
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on September 28, 2012 1:31pm
Darius:  A good optician or optometrist can make custom lenses for you, but you have to talk about your needs and make sure they're understood.  Bifocal lenses normally have distance reading correction on top, for driving, and close reading correction on the bottom, for reading, but for reading music on a stand you really need a midrange correction so that something between 24" and 36" is sharp for reading your scores and distance for seeing the choir.  I think I remember my father having exactly such glasses made for him, for exactly that reason (although he did more orchestra and band conducting than choral).
You can even take in your stool and music stand to demonstrate EXACTLY what your needs are!
Most trifocals don't actually have a correction for the midrange, just whatever happens to fall there.  I've tried them all, going from contacts to contacts plus reading glasses to bifocals to trifocals to so-called "no-line" continuous focals (useless for me because the correction is liimited to about a milimeter-wide strip down the middle) to having three separate pairs of glasses including one for computer/music stand.  Simpler is better!!!
All the best,
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 28, 2012 7:13pm
Ah, I'm a few years out of this particular transition, and I remember this exact conundrum.  I remember feeling that just the fact of wearing glasses made me wonder if my eyes were visible to the choir, as I think I'm giving information to them through eye contact as well as them giving me information.  I make sure I have rimless glasses when I'm conducting so my eyes are most visible.
 I had great vision until age brought on farsightedness, the most common effect of aging on vision, I think.
I use mass-produced reading glasses from the store, and the strength I need still allows me to see the choir okay.  Are you sure your glasses aren't too strong?  
on September 28, 2012 9:38pm
What about bi-focal reading glasses?  They are clear glass (no correction) on the top and a reading magnifier on the bottom of the lens.  As an accompanist who has to wear reading glasses with my contact lenses, I'm seriously considering giving these a try, so that I wouldn't have to look at the conductor over the top of my readers.  I do have bi-focal sunglasses that are designed exactly the same way, and I find them to be no hassle at all.  Your optometrist can tell you what magnification you need for that distance, and you may find that you need one strength for music reading and another for close reading, as I do.
Here's a great source for good quality readers at a decent price: and their clear bi-focals are here --
on September 29, 2012 4:33am
I have had the same problem. Until I spring for special glasses (been blessed to never need presc. glasses), this has worked ok for me: In rehearsal I wear rimless, larger reading glasses that are 1 or 2 strength less than what I need for book reading (eg. I need 1.5, but use 1.00 for conducting). I found mine at Target. Foster Grant makes nice ones u can find at Walgreens. For performance, I take the extra time to memorize the score, as I have a higher value of eye contact with the musicians.. If I have time, I will photocopy the score if I really still need it, esp. if I am playing a hymn.
on September 29, 2012 5:56am
I use bi-focal reading glasses as described above by Nancy - they work great.  They are clear on top and have a prescription in the bottom of the lens, however, I use a slightly weaker prescription on the bottom than for my regular reading glasses because of the distance of the score ( as Nancy suggested above.)  I can easily look up through the upper part and then look down at the score.
It has forever ended the problem of trying to peer over the top of glasses or seeing a blurry chorus in front of me.
on September 29, 2012 6:06am
A few years ago I wrote an article on this subject for the NJ ACDA newsletter that was also published in several other state newsletters. You can view it here
The best thing for me was bifocal contact lenses. They are fantastic, if you can wear them. You can focus anywhere, back and forth, with no time lag and no small field of clarity. Unfortunately because of a health issue I've been advised not to wear contact lenses. I make due with progressive glasses now. The ultimate solution: put as much of the score in your head that you can. I also rely more on my assistant director and singers to be my eyes in the score when they know there are details that need my attention that I might have missed. By the time the performance comes, my head is as out of the score as it would have been without the bother of having to wear bifocals. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 29, 2012 7:46am
I now own four pair of glasses. (!)  One is dedicated to computer use, One is my "normal" daily bifocal set that "walk around" with me, one is for close-up reading, in the traditional sense, and one is a pair of half-lenses set for about 39" (my arms are fairly long).  The half lenses were a gift to me by the church choir whith whom I was working, at the time of my 50th birthday.  The last pair is now knoen as the "conducting" pair and live on my nose in rehearsal and performance.
I see lots of good advice above!  Hope my experience ads a little focus (ahem...) to your options.
on September 29, 2012 8:14am
I recently began wearing contact lenses that allow me to see up close and far away. The center of the lense is for distance and the outside edges are for up close. When we look at something in our mid range and closer, our eyes cross slightly. As our eyes cross, we look through the edge of the contact lense. When I look up at the choir, our eyes look forward and through the center of the lense.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 29, 2012 3:12pm
Just one word of caution on bifocals or trifocals - "progressives" (mentioned in the ACDAMi article) have improved as of late, I believe.  The other thing, is if you use bifocals or trifocals, your brain gets 'trained' to see that sharp demarcation, and you may not be able to move to progressives in the future, even if you want to (so my optometrist told me).  I use progressives (I'm a singer, not conductor) and have found that after some period of getting used to them, the narrow swath of magnification wasn't an issue for seeing the music.
on September 29, 2012 7:00pm
Ron:  What you point out is that the results are different from everyone, and one size (or solution) does NOT fit all.  I went from trifocals to progressives and back to trifocals with no special adjustment problems.  Don't forget that optometrists may be very well trained--my original contacts were fitted by students at the Indiana University Optemetry Clinic--but they still have the equivalent of a Masters Degree and they are NOT physicians.
My problems with progressives may not be something tht would bother anyone else.  i play a number of different musical instruments, some of which require a particular neck angle for reading music, and moving from viola to tuba, for example, was almost impossible without losing that little narrow strip of correction.  They're also somewhat unsafe for driving, of course, since they don't cover the sides of your lenses, but even my optician has no problem with that.
All the best,
on October 1, 2012 2:24pm
Thanks to all for the wonderful suggestions!
To my slight embarrassment :), I had not considered using reading glasses whose magnification is lower than that which I need to actually read. That seems to be doing the trick (although this week's rehearsal's will be the ultimate test). Using a lower level of magnification, I find that I am able to see the choir quite well, and also see the music well (in fact, slightly better than with the higher magnification level, since the music is farther away from my eyes than a book would be). I realize that this may change as I age so I will be sure to file all of the suggestions here for future reference. But for now, the lower magnification level seems to be sufficient.
Thanks again!
on October 2, 2012 5:52am
A number of years ago I had Lasik surgery in both eyes (I wept with joy the first morning I could read the clock without getting out of bed).  As presbyopia set in (I'm 54 now) - a condition that can't be corrected w/ Lasik surgery - my eyes have settled into monovision: one eye sees distance well; the other is good for reading.  Some people choose monovision through surgery or corrective lenses to address the issues posed herewith.  It's working for me in as much as I can see to read the score for conducting or playing, and I can see the choir members' faces clearly.  I'm generally pleased with this solution in rehearsal and performance settings, but for driving, entertainment (especially movies), and outdoor activities, I wear one contact to correct for distance.  Early in the morning (now), I use of glasses that are basically perscription 'readers' gauged for a distance of 24" which work great at the computer and for reading at the piano.
David York
Portland, Oregon
on October 23, 2012 7:47am
Yay Darius glad the lower-magnification idea works. Monovision seems helpful too, though one of my conductors uses that (contact lens style) and still complains occasionally that a score is difficult to see clearly; and not everyone's brain can "handle it"--some folks get headaches or can't adjust. Definitely worth a try though. As is BRIGHT LIGHT. If a singer offers you a stand light, or suggests setting up more lamps at rehearsal, accept happily! It could help us singers too (some of us are also vain and/or in denial...)
I haven't found conductor-glasses any impediment to communication at all. The conductor's expressions, intents, and direct eye contact come through just fine. Sometimes their glasses (especially rimless ones) even add "sparkle"--can't describe it, but it actually helps point up their facial expression and direction. Whereas frequent clerical errors and peculiar mistakes due to not being able to parse scores clearly--THAT can be distracting. And worse, it gives us overfunctioning types too many excuses to speak up: "wait, isn't that a flatted G?" or "What's the vowel sound on that?" (you know, those "questions" where we're just trying to correct you without being too obvious!) 
Large print scores? A full score might get unwieldy I guess. e-Readers with zooming-in? The Electronic Music Stand will find a great market when it finally arrives!
I'm glad you posted this. I too am filing away for future reference. (The clock is ticking....)
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