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Tips, guidelines, and resources for writing recital and jury program notes

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Program Notes: Part 1

“Program notes should briefly recount the circumstances of composition and first performance of the work, its scoring, and, if useful, its publication...Try to suggest to audience members two or three particular things to listen for, in an attempt to engage their ears” (Kern, 2008, 81-82).  Holoman, D. Kern, Writing about Music: A Style Sheet. CA: University of California Press, 2008.

Part 1: Piece identification
  • Complete title with appropriate keys, numbers, opus numbers, and catalog numbers
  • Date of composition (if known)
  • Composer's full name, birth- death dates
  • Movements or song titles to be performed
  • Your name and instrument
  • Your accompanist's name and instrument, if needed 

Program Notes, Parts 2-4

Part 2: Biographical and historical information

  • When/where did the composer live?
  • What events in his/her life may have influenced the composition?
  • What was happening in surrounding environment (significant historical events) that may have impacted him/her?
  • Is this a well-known or little-known piece by the composer?  Why?/Why not?

Part 3: Musical analysis and interpretation

  • What are key musical elements of the piece? This may include elements such as form, rhythm, melody, harmony and accompaniment.
  • What do you hope to express to the audience through your interpretation? What should the audience listen for?

 Part 4: Translation of any foreign language text 

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