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Program Notes for Non-Musicians

A word of advice today for non-musicians reading program notes in concert programs: If the program notes are heavy on technical analysis and are loaded with terms like modulation, inversion, augmentation, diatonic intervals, chromatic progression, modified sonata form, what have you… ignore them.

First of all, it’s the annotator’s fault that the notes are uninteresting and annoying, not yours. If you’re not a mathematician, why on earth should you be expected to find a page full of equations interesting or comprehensible? But more importantly, when you ignore such program notes, you’re not missing anything. It’s the composer’s job to understand and manipulate the technical materials of music—the composer’s job to write music that’s effective when we hear it, not when we read about it. And if the piece we’re hearing is incomprehensible and ineffective without an accompanying technical analysis, all it means is that the composer hasn’t done his or her job very well.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.