To: The blogosphere
From: Thomasina, who edits program books
Re: When you write about concert program notes
Don’t take the most arcane, technical descriptive phrase you can find, quote it out of context, and suggest this style represents the entire genre. I know, it’s amusing to make fun of this way of writing about music. (Shakespeare…announces his subject at once in the infinitive, anyone?) Just remember, it’s increasingly atypical. That’s why we can laugh at it.
While we’re on this point, if you’re going to make up the most arcane, technical descriptive phrase you can muster, admit to this. Don’t imply that you actually read it somewhere. (Although usually truth is more embarrassing than fiction.)
Be clear about your context and points of reference. Avoid extrapolating unfairly.
Which means, don’t tell your readers that all program notes suck and that they’re the source of classical music’s ills. This doesn’t help the cause, when many in this field are working their butts off for stylistic and technological change.
Some program notes, both new and old, can be poorly written, stuffy or unhelpful — you’re welcome to call us on it — but don’t suggest this is necessarily the status quo throughout the concert-presenting world today.
Better still, set yourself a challenge: for every weak or unhelpful example you give, find and cite an example that’s admirable, or which is heading in the right direction. Believe me, those examples are there to be found.
Along the same lines, before proposing your brilliant new idea, take a poke around the internet and check there aren’t concert presenters doing this already, perhaps for years. You’ll make a more positive contribution to the discussion by saying “The XSO’s scratch-and-sniff program notes are really great and I wish more people would try it” than by suggesting no one has ever thought of it before.
In case you’re thinking Thomasina is a tad humourless, she laughed her head off at this.
And thanks to David Carkeet, whose meme she nicked.