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A Day in the Life... S01 E24

Program Notes vs. Performance Notes - What is the difference? Is there a difference?


In my opinion, program notes are meant for the audience to better understand the meaning behind a composition. These notes typically do not get too music-specific in terminology, as they are intended to be read and appreciated by a general audience. But what about the musicians performing the work? Is there information that is more detailed and, dare I say, scholarly information that an ensemble could benefit from knowing?


This was a conversation my composition teacher and I had at my lesson earlier this week. From the perspective of the composer, it is a scholar's obligation/job to dive deeper into a composition and understand the "why" beyond the notes. From the view of the conductor/teacher, anything I can do to help an ensemble interpret the music with a deeper meaning and understanding, will likely lead to a more musical performance and experience for both performers and audience alike.


Recently, I have prepared "performance notes" for two ensembles that I am working with. One was for the fifth movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 6. The melody is constantly passed around the ensemble - by providing a guide to orchestra with who has the melody, we can work on balance and blending faster. The other guide, which is what prompted the conversation in my lesson, is for my "Symphony No. 1: A Long Island Portrait." There are a lot of "hidden" meanings that were not mentioned in the program notes, but after meeting with a director who is graciously programming the symphony for his Wind Ensemble, we both agreed that the ensemble would benefit from knowing the "why" behind a lot of these composition techniques I used. It also allows them to understand the story behind each movement, as it unfolds- section by section.


This led to the next point of the conversation - should I include these performance notes in the score? Ultimately, I decided to include them separate from the program notes. As a conductor and educator, anything I can do to help an ensemble fully understand the composer's intentions makes for a masterful performance.

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