Rob Ford

Rob Ford

Readers who have been in the school band or had kids in the band may recognize the following chatter as part of the musical exercise known as “sight reading.” 

“Okay, everybody open up your envelopes and take out the charts! First, notice that it’s a march and it’s written by Sousa, so watch out for key changes and tempo changes. Trumpets, you’ve got the melody up until the coda, make sure you have some solid separation on the 1/8th notes. It’s marked Maestoso … think big white horses, big flags. Everybody ready, now let’s sing it before we play it.”

Your band director may use other terms, but I bet I just sent chills through your embouchure.

My daughter-in-law is a band director, so as a former “band geek” and band parent, I am still fascinated to eavesdrop on her conversations with students.

Spring in the instrumental music world is also band festival time. A band festival consists of a concert and sight reading components. Bands play three prepared songs in the concert section. It’s a selection of songs that generally include a march, an overture and a “required piece.” Bands practice and perfect the music throughout the school year to prepare to play for three judges, or “adjudicators.” (Band people get excited by big words like these; see “embouchure”). 

This presentation, to the casual concert goer, is very much like what you would see if you attended a regular band concert. Presumably, it is very polished and very nice. The higher the level of band competition, I’m sure that the adjudicators’ expectations are probably that much higher.

In the “sight reading” portion, only one adjudicator is present. Each band plays a single song, maybe a march or an overture, but is only given five minutes to prepare to play. Imagine the phrases in my second paragraph being shouted during these seven minutes.

Sight reading is where it’s at. Perform, direct, come together under pressure with little time to prepare and execute.

It kind of reminds me of life, just a little.

I get little proper direction each day on my way out the door since I rise and get ready for work alone. I may have bad roads or minor traffic to work through, but that’s the easy part. 

The rest of the day is a continuous time of coming together, quickly preparing and executing of things with variable levels of pressure.

I’ll expect key changes, as I fumble to unlock the door without taking off my gloves. I’ll watch out for the changes in tempo, as I waltz down to the post office and I’ll expect each day to reach some sort of metaphorical crescendo somewhere along the way. I may even get the chance to slip home for a 30-minute nap, (my personal “forte”).

We are all sight reading our ways as we go.

Congratulations, by the way, to any and all high school and middle school bands that received top marks from the adjudicators during this high stakes season of festivals, especially those that scored well in sight reading.

It seems like you are just playing a song, but you are really gathering skills you will use for the rest of your life.

Rob Ford was born and raised in northern Michigan. He lives in Elk Rapids where he owns and operates Riverside Title. Email him at

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