For the most part, program notes bug me. I do, however, enjoy fondling paper in the concert hall to find out the title of a particular work and maybe read a little bit about the composer. The downside: most composer bios are dreadfully formulaic and totally irrelevant to whatever artistic motivations the composer has. Shouldn’t composer bios give us an inkling about the artist more telling than a summation of higher degrees, a rundown of esteemed composition teachers, and a list of awards and grants? Think about all the folks in the concert hall who aren’t entrenched in the new music scene. For them, all this pedigree babble is pretty much useless.
It’s no secret that most composers pen their own bios, but maybe this should stop. Perhaps composers should hire professional writers to do the job instead. Imagine if a bio actually captured the personality and artistic concerns of a composer—something like a profile piece in the features section. Thanks to a new freelance writing gig, I was recently sent some exceptional examples in the bio-cum-profile format. Check this one out. And this.
Granted, these texts are about visual artists, but the same strategies can easily be adapted for music creators, and I’ve been asked by Creative Capitol to try and do just that. I just hope that I can shed all the trappings of typical composer-bio writing and really get to the crux of the composer—the person and the work. I’m looking forward to the day when concert programs are actually an interesting read, but until that time comes, I beg of you all: come out from behind your trophy cases.