New Glasses Are Music to Concert Organist’s Ears – and Eyes!

New Glasses Are Music to Concert Organist’s Ears – and Eyes! image

Professor David Baker  concert organist and Fellow of the Royal College of Organists

Presbyopia is an age related condition which affects our ability to focus at closer working distances. It is caused by loss of elasticity of the eye’s crystalline lens and usually occurs in middle and old age. It is a condition which in today’s modern world causes problems for many office workers, but it has been an ongoing problems for musicians throughout history. Many musicians struggle to focus on the music on their stand, and the conductor and as a result many retire from playing in public.

Professor David Baker is an accomplished concert organist and Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. He graduated from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1973 with a First Class Honours degree in Music. He took an MMus degree from King’s College, London in 1974. He has remained active as musician and musicologist, with the first edition of his book The Organ (Shire Publications, 1991) selling over 10,000 copies. A second edition was published in 2003 and a second revised edition in 2010.

He has undertaken recital tours to Germany, Italy and Scandinavia and, when organist of Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk, performed the entire organ works of J S Bach in 26 recitals. He is a regular writer and reviewer of organ and choral music and recordings, and was Deputy Editor and then Editor (until December, 2008) of The Organ magazine.

A long time contact lens wearer, David came to see me in October 2015 complaining of problems with focusing on musical scores at different distances. As a concert organist David plays a different instrument at each venue and the position of his music can vary widely.

David was using a pair of over readers (reading glasses for use over contact lenses) to see the musical score and they were no longer effective. David explained that during a performance the conductor could be anywhere between six and ten meters from him and often off to one side, he could sometimes see the conductors over the reading glasses but then had problems re-focusing on the music. On occasion he even had to watch the conductor using CCTV, again the over readers made this very problematic. Following an eye examination David was found to have a fairly stable distance prescription, but an increase in the reading addition was beginning to cause problems due to the reduction in depth of visual field.

David explained that he really didn’t want to wear varifocal spectacle lenses full time and he was very happy with the contact lenses that he currently wore. Despite being a multifocal contact lens they were unable to provide the clarity needed for a performance.

Following some discussion with the patient, and having some understanding of performing publicly in an ensemble myself, I was able to come up with a solution by adapting a vocational lens to suit David’s needs. Using the Rodenstock Impression Ergo 1.6 lens mounted into a full metal gents spectacle frame, I modified both the distance and near prescriptions to take into account that his music stand was often between 85 -100 cm away. Doing so increased the depth of field and allowed a working distance of between 0.5 metre to over 12 metres.

David collected his new spectacles in November 2015 and was immediately delighted with them. We set up a music stand in practice to replicate the average distance for the scores he uses and he was able to read it clearly. He was also able to see clearly through the window to the far side of the road, a distance of nearly 15 metres. He was able to focus easily when moving his gaze from near to far and vice versa, overcoming the problems he had previously encountered. Professor Baker said “I have been delighted with my new glasses. Being able to see the conductor and the music properly has made such a difference to my life as a professional musician. I heartily recommend this solution to fellow performers.”

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