I'm in a university chamber music group and our director is ambitious, consistently giving us many pieces that are above our level to play with insufficient time to learn them well before performance.

When it's clear that we are not ready to perform, even if we've been practicing the piece for months, she will label it a "reading" on the concert program and have us perform anyway.

I confronted her about it, saying that I felt that was dishonest to the audience. She said that there is a musical tradition of "readings," and she's not calling them "sight readings" so it doesn't actually imply that we are seeing the piece for the first time.

To what extent is that true? What exactly is "a reading"?

  • Never come across the term, but why does she do it, knowing that it could all fall apart? Pressurising you to practise more? – Tim Jul 26 '16 at 15:58
  • When this happens, do the audiences ever show any sign of being bothered, or even noticing something is wrong? – Andy Jul 26 '16 at 16:03
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    Giving the audience a chance to hear an under-rehearsed version of an unfamiliar piece (or giving both the composer and the audience a chance to hear a work in progress) is one thing. Asking the audience to listen to a half-baked performance of well-known music, for whatever reason, is something else. I wouldn't expect audience members to pay for the second experience more than once - but if you have a captive audience of other students and the concerts are free, that changes the ground rules. – user19146 Jul 26 '16 at 17:52
  • alephzero, Concerts are all free... this is actually a class at a university with very little focus on music. Audiences are very patient -- mostly our friends & family, who don't generally go to this sort of performance. @Tim Yes, I think she feels that we have to be pushed if we are to improve. – foobarbecue Jul 26 '16 at 20:00
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    Coming from stackoverflow, I wrote a factual question about terminology and was expecting literal answers. Seems this site is friendlier -- I got not only an answer, but also some great advice & support! Thanks. – foobarbecue Aug 9 '16 at 16:15

I've been involved in classical music for 25 years and taught for over 10 years, and have never heard the term "reading" used like that.Sounds like your music director just made it up on the spot to justify having something to show whoever she reports to.

I'm not sure what position you're in, but perhaps report her to a higher up. In the end, probably nothing will happen to her (especially if she had tenure), but if it's not going to get you in too much trouble, at least it will go on her record.

Lastly, just try to make the best of a bad situation by trying to see how much you can push yourself to learn in such a short time. Think of it like a boot camp of sorts, it's horrible, but you'll come out the other side stronger than you came in. If anything else, it'll be a good war story to tell people one day. :) Good luck!

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    Thanks for the info and insight. You're right that she wants something to show... an interesting twist is that I realized I think it's really the videos she's after. The concerts are poorly advertised and barely attended, but she records video and posts the parts where we play best online. Playing under this director has indeed improved my musical abilities enormously, as well as my ability to respond gracefully to stressful situations, and to negotiate. I put my foot down and "strongly suggested" that we cut certain sections of certain pieces so that we could salvage others. – foobarbecue Aug 9 '16 at 16:08

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