I am delighted to say that I have been proven to be ignorant and behind the times. Yay!
My last article on programme notes – being oh-so-long-ago as it was – ended up sparking a bit of a discussion on Twitter which has revealed – thanks to the very knowledgeable @frindley – that approaches along the lines of those I outlined are already in use all over the place. It seems that the UK (or at least the concert-going parts of it that I frequent) is rather behind the times even by selling programmes and that many organisations are now giving away programmes and putting all sorts of notes online too. Apparently orchestras all over the place are embracing programme notes as a way of educating their audiences and helping them enjoy the music more, and that the sort of daunting analytical programme note which sparked the whole debate is becoming a very rare beast.
Well, hallelujah, I say. I couldn’t be happier to have been proved out of touch. I won’t rabbit on about it because I’m bound to say something foolish, but as a couple of examples, have a look at the online programme notes produced by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (who also give out free hard-copy programmes) – loads of meaty but readable and helpful content, barely any ads (unlike many paid-for programmes I see) – and CityMusic Cleveland which does a nice line in audio snippets to illustrate the text and gives details of the recordings used too (if this link fails – it looks like it might be season-specific but I couldn’t see an archive – try going to their homepage, then choose Program Notes under the Concerts menu item).
As an additional item of interest, relating to my suggestion that online programme notes could be part of a pre-concert programme purchase option, @frindley tells me that in her organisation, while audiences responded well to the idea of pre-purchase (of hard-copy programme books), they didn’t act on it – I guess this isn’t hugely surprising, given buying behaviour on the web (generally cagey) and traditional patterns, but it’s an interesting snippet nevertheless – it’s good to know when something’s been tried and hasn’t worked just as much as when it has worked. And if the trend towards free programmes continues, it ceases to be a relevant option anyway.
So there you have it. I’m out of touch and orchestras the world over are embracing the digital dimension. Wonderful!
Is your local orchestra or other ensemble being innovative with their programme notes in some way? Tell me in the comments!