AS Eric Morecambe famously and irreverently once told Andre Previn: ‘I’m playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order’.
One of the all-time great gags of British comedy history. One too that resonates with many musicians, amateur, semi-professional and professional alike.
But unlike Morecambe’s classic one-liner, it’s no laughing matter especially if they know what should be played but due to deteriorating vision, can’t distinguish a crotchet from a quaver, or can’t read the dynamics or accidentals.
That’s where company directors Sheryl Doe, Stephen Tighe and their staff at award-winning Allegro Optical Opticians come in.
The fast-growing, boutique optical practice in the centre of Meltham specialises in providing vision correction and unique lenses for orchestral and brass band musicians, helping them become note perfect.
The practice is accessible to the general public from Meltham, Holmfirth and Saddleworth, with NHS and private clients welcome.
“I am a cellist and play string bass,” explained Sheryl. “The music stand is about five feet away.
“When Steve and I got together he bought me a cornet and I learned to play, but all of a sudden the music stand got much closer.
“I thought learning to play a new instrument was going to be difficult, but it was nowhere near as hard as trying to focus on the music, even with my varifocal glasses.
“I quickly realised it wasn’t only me struggling with this problem. Many older musicians have problems trying to read the music and see the conductor in all different types of lenses.
“I didn’t think a lot about it until Steve came to see me as a customer because he was having problems seeing the music while he was conducting.
“He wore varifocals but they didn’t work because the area of the music was too small. That got me thinking there has got to be a better solution.”
Sheryl has a degree in maths and physics so she started to think about how she could design a better lens for musicians without the distracting peripheral distortion found in varifocals.”
There wasn’t one eureka moment but Sheryl’s lens solutions, which are now manufactured under licence in the UK, began to satisfy the musicians and attract more and more customers seeking help.
“When speaking about this so many people say ‘Why don’t you try Dragons’ Den?’” laughed Sheryl who plays third cornet for Diggle B Brass Band and is a member of the Association of British Dispensing Opticians. “But I have seen how they tear people apart.”
Instead of pitching their idea in front of Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and co, Sheryl and Stephen chose to look for premises to establish their business.
Starting with a website and a small office in Leeds, they soon moved to Station Street in Meltham and opened Allegro in March 2017.
Customers now include musicians from the RTE Concert Orchestra, Dublin, Halle Orchestra plus the English National Opera and English National Ballet and more traveling from Europe and Scandinavia.
Family-friendly Allegro provides employment for 14 full and part time staff, including three optometrists and an audiologist.
Jill Barrowclough came in for an eye test and is now responsible for practice support, marketing and merchandising.
Allegro Optical holds eye clinics three times a week, soon to rise to four. The audiologist attends twice a month.
Stephen, formerly a highly successful MD of the local Dobcross Silver Brass Band, Carlton Main and Ever Ready, is now Music Director of Kippax Brass Band and a composer and arranger of some repute.
He also has a wealth of business expertise having worked in financial services for Rothschilds, Schroders, Sedgwick – Noble Lowndes and others.
“It’s an odd mix but it works,” smiled Sheryl, shortlisted for the 2018 Dispensing Optician of the Year and making it through to the final three – all in their first year of trading.
Trombonist Jeremy Lewis from the Uppermill Band became Allegro’s 1000th customer in July 2018 while the business is the first and only British Association for Performing Arts Medicine registered optical practitioner.
For good measure, Sheryl won this year’s National Best New Business, Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
“We offer a lot of services other opticians don’t,” adds Sheryl.
“We not only specialise in helping musicians, we also provide colour analysis and palette consultations, looking at the way clients’ skin tone, eye and hair colour work together.
“We can even help those who have been previously been told that they can’t wear contact lenses and provide multifocal contact lenses to mature performers.
“We also offer hearing care with free hearing tests and visual stress and dyslexia testing for children and adults.”