An Interview with WIPA Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Helen H. Cha-Pyo
This past Friday evening, Wharton’s black box theatre was nearly filled to the brim with students for the “How to Improve Your Sight-Reading Skills” Workshop led by WIPA Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Helen H. Cha-Pyo. Over 70 students attended the event, lending credence to the notion that sight reading is an often elusive skill that many instructors find difficult to teach and students struggle to grasp, much less master.
The workshop began with a half-hour presentation by Cha-Pyo, starting with an introduction to audiation.
Q: Okay, full disclosure. I went to music school and have never heard the term audiation. Is it akin to ear training?
A: In a way…audiation is to music what thought is to language. Researcher, teacher, and author Edwin Gordon coined the term to describe the ability to hear and comprehend in one’s mind sounds that are not physically present. We all experience this when we find ourselves thinking, “I can’t get that song out of my head.” Basically, sight-reading skills are audiation skills.
Q: For those who might have missed the workshop, what topics did you touch on regarding audiation?
A: My presentation covered five elements of musicianship encompassing audiation: rhythmic elements, and internalizing rhythm; tonal elements, and hearing tonal relationships; notation, including reading with fluency; creativity, and the idea of constantly developing as an artist; and executive elements, or building technique. For those who would like to read more, I recommend exploring the Gordon Institute for Music Learning website.
Q: If you could encapsulate the concept in one sentence, what would it be?
A: If you can sing it, you can play it.
Q: Meaning—even if you are not a singer, you need to be able to sing the music you are attempting to play?
A: Yes! We have our external instrument, but audiation skills are our internal instrument.
Q: Why do you think students have such a hard time sight reading?
A: We have a hard time sight-reading music because we are not yet fluent in the language of music. We can become more fluent in the language of music through immersion–just as you would learn a new language, you must read, speak, and listen in the language as much as you can every day. The goal is to become fluent enough in the language to not only read and understand what is on the page, but to go one step further and be able to converse in the language of music. This is what improvisation is. That is the ultimate goal!
Read on for 6 Tips To Improve Your Sight-Reading Skills:
- Make an initial SCAN of the entire piece. Gather as much information as possible.
- Take note of the tempo marking, meter, key signature, fast notes, rhythm, and the final note.
- Focus on counting before you begin sight reading and while you are playing.
- Look ahead! It’s essential to stay at least one measure ahead to be aware of what is coming next.
- Prioritize the following: maintain the pulse, rhythm (tied notes, dotted-notes, syncopation, changing divisions, and rests), and pitch (tonality—are there any modulations, scales, or arpeggios, accidentals, and high and low notes).
- Practice EVERY DAY. Use your phone to record and play back to catch mistakes. Work on your general musicianship skills by practicing audiation, and develop your “database” of common rhythmic and melodic patterns by listening to music as often as possible and intentionally looking for these patterns in any music you encounter.
And that’s a wrap! If you missed the October 11 workshop, here are two helpful online tutorials:
SIGHT READING MASTERY: https://sightreadingmastery-blog.dream.press/
SIGHT READING FACTORY: https://www.sightreadingfactory.com/
Helen H. Cha-Pyo is in her second season as the Artistic Director of the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts and Principal Conductor of the New Jersey Youth Symphony. She has also served as the Visiting Associate Professor of Orchestral Studies and Conductor of Montclair State University Symphony Orchestra at John J. Cali School of Music (2018-19).
For sixteen years as Music Director and Conductor of the Empire State Youth Orchestra (ESYO), Cha-Pyo inspired hundreds of young musicians to perform at the highest levels, resulting in ESYO being recognized as one of the nation’s premier music organizations for youth. Cha-Pyo’s creative programming has resulted in three prestigious ASCAP awards and a $100,000 grant to partially fund a music festival that commissioned nine works, one for each ESYO ensemble. She has conducted in outstanding concert halls including Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Zankel Hall, EMPAC, Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall, and Carnegie Hall. She led ESYO on three international tours: to Europe in 2008, China and South Korea in 2012, and Portugal in 2016. Cha-Pyo’s vision was instrumental in the founding of ESYO CHIME in 2015, a music education program dedicated to serving underprivileged youth in Schenectady and Troy (NY). ESYO has established the Helen Cha-Pyo Golden Baton Award and Scholarship for students who embody her passionate commitment to music as a means to uplift and enrich the community.
From 1996 to 2002, Cha-Pyo served as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Riverside Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and Associate Director of Music at The Riverside Church in New York City. She has released three recordings with the Riverside Choir (JAV Recordings). A committed music educator, she pioneered the Riverside Music Educational Program which served thousands of New York City public school children in Districts 4, 5, and 6.
Born in Seoul, Cha-Pyo immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 12. She studied piano and organ in the pre-college program at The Juilliard School. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance from Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Music degree in conducting and organ performance from the Eastman School of Music. She served as assistant conductor to Eastman Philharmonia and the Britt Festival Orchestra (OR). She won conducting fellowships at Aspen Festival and Yale School of Music. Her conducting mentors include David Effron, Peter Bay, Murry Sidlin, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Benjamin Zander, and Kurt Masur. She is a frequent guest conductor and clinician for All-State and Regional Festival Orchestras throughout the country and is a conductor at the Kinhaven School (VT) in the summer.