Upcoming Recital Program

Lots of exciting things happening this fall as we begin a new semester and academic year. Instead of my usual “Semester Preview,” this time I’ll post separately about individual events as they happen. First up is my annual faculty recital on Monday, September 9, followed by a mini recital tour with performances and master classes at the University of Arkansas (Dr. Timothy Thompson) and Mississippi State University (Dr. Matthew Haislip).  I’ll be joined by a great collaborative pianist, Justin Havard, for a fun and engaging program. It includes a bit of old, but mostly new, music for horn and piano. If you are in the vicinity of any of these performances we would love to see you there!

Here are my program notes.

As a musician, I look to recordings and live performances for inspiration. My first experiences with all of the works on this program were through recordings and/or performances by great artists. It is also worth noting that with the exception of Jan Koetsier’s Romanza, these pieces were all composed by horn players.

Nocturno, Op. 73, Bernhard Eduard Müller (1842-after 1920)

Bernhard Eduard Müller served as second horn in the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig from 1876-1920, and is most well-known today for his two-volume Studies for Horn, Op. 64. Biographical information is scant, though several of his compositions for horn and piano survive. The best of these were recorded by John Ericson of Arizona State University on his album Rescued! (Summit Records). The Nocturno, Op. 73 is a compact but well-crafted piece in a thoroughly Romantic style. The range and technical difficulties are modest, making it accessible to younger players.

Sonata for Horn and Piano, Gina Gillie (b. 1981)

Gina Gillie is an Associate Professor of Music at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches applied horn, aural skills, and composition. She performs with two faculty ensembles at PLU, the Camas Wind Quintet and the Lyric Brass Quintet, and is active as an orchestral and freelance performer in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to her distinguished teaching and performing career, she is an accomplished composer, and has received numerous commissions for solo and chamber works. Her music is published by RM Williams, Brass Arts Unlimited, and Veritas Musica. The Sonata for Horn and Piano was commissioned in 2017 by Steven Cohen, and is featured along with several other new works on his album Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers (Siegfried’s Call). Gillie balances tradition and innovation throughout this significant three-movement sonata, simultaneously paying respect to the great horn works of the 19th and 20th centuries, while displaying her own unique voice. The first movement, with its contrasting themes and sonata-form construction, masterfully assimilates the German Romantic style. An ascending sixth motive figures prominently, and is transformed in various ways in the following movements. Gounod provides the inspiration for the second movement, a Mélodie in the French style. Gillie is especially gifted at writing beautiful melodies, and crafts long-breathed phrases worthy of the French master. The ascending sixth motive from the first movement is transformed again for the rollicking finale, a Rondo in Afro-Cuban style. This challenging but idiomatic work is great fun!

Romanza, Op. 59/2, Jan Koetsier (1911-2006)

Though relatively little known in the United States – except among brass players – Dutch-born composer, conductor, and professor Jan Koetsier is well-regarded throughout Europe, and especially in Munich, Germany, where he served as professor of conducting at the Hochschule für Musik for many years. As a composer he devoted much of his efforts to brass and wind instruments, and seemed especially interested in developing the repertoire for unusual or under-utilized combinations of instruments. As the title suggests, the Romanza, Op. 59, No. 2 (1972) showcases the lyrical qualities of the horn. In this brief yet effective work, a contrasting scherzo-like central section is framed by a beautiful melody in the outer sections. The Romanza has been recorded numerous times, and an especially beautiful interpretation can be found on the album Deep Remembering by Gail Williams (Summit Records).

Reflections for Horn and Piano, Paul Basler (b. 1963)

Paul Basler, Professor of Music at the University of Florida, is one of the most well-known contemporary composers for the horn. His works have been recorded and performed around the world to critical acclaim. Reflections for Horn and Piano was composed in 2006, and is dedicated to Manuel de Jesús Germán. In the composer’s words, Reflections is “an intensely emotional (and personal) composition and can be considered the ‘sequel’ to Basler’s Canciones for horn and piano and Lacrymosa for two horns and piano.” The five movements each have descriptive titles indicative of style and emotional content, which span a wide range. Basler explores the full range of human emotion, including joy, sorrow, anger, and, ultimately, acceptance. It is one of Basler’s most popular works, and was recently recorded by Patrick Smith for the album Reflections: Horn Music of Paul Basler (Siegfried’s Call). Another particularly inspiring performance of this work was given by Gina Gillie and Richard Seiler in October, 2015 at the University of Louisiana Monroe.

Program Notes

Most music students will at one time or another need to write their own program notes, but this useful skill often goes overlooked in an undergraduate curriculum.  The ability to write and speak engagingly about performance and repertoire is important in every musical career I can imagine.  As with anything, practice and preparation are crucial.  You don’t want your opening band or choir concert during a first year teaching job to be your inaugural experience with written (or spoken) program notes.  Take every opportunity you can during your college years to refine your abilities – draft program notes for studio class performances, chamber music concerts, and of course recitals.  Even if your studio teachers don’t require program notes for recitals, take it upon yourself to create them.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.  Here are a few tips for writing program notes, as well as some resources to get you started.

Read! The best way to become a better writer is to read a lot (and write a lot).  Read anything and everything you can about music – journal articles, recording reviews, CD liner notes, blogs, program notes from other recitals, etc.  Keep mental notes of the writers you enjoy the most, and try to figure out what it is about their style that you like.  Don’t worry about consciously imitating, or trying to avoid imitating, their style.  Just let your brain absorb all of this information.

Find your voice. This will take some time, but eventually you won’t feel like you’re copying the language your teachers and textbooks use.  You have to start somewhere, so if you like the rhythms and patterns of another author or authors, try incorporating small parts of them (without plagiarizing!) into your own writing.  Your growing reading experience (see above) will tell you when things work or don’t work on the page, and you can adjust or tweak things as necessary.

Know your audience. Program notes for an informal summer recital at a church should be different than the notes for a degree recital.  Are you writing for an audience composed mainly of musicians, non musicians, or a mix?  Will lots of music appreciation students be attending your concert/recital?  These are all questions to take into account before and during the writing process.  If your studio teacher or music school has specific requirements for content or format, make sure you follow those.  Ask your professors for help whenever necessary – they won’t write your notes for you, but they can give you helpful advice and let you know if what you’ve written makes sense to them.

Stick to the basics. I think program notes should have some essential information – the composer’s dates and nationality (unless widely known), a few general comments about the composer’s overall style, and how the work being performed fits, or doesn’t fit, with those trends.  It’s also nice to include when and where the piece was originally performed, especially if it makes for a good story.  Consult a thematic catalog if necessary to find this information.  If the work is programmatic, include some background on those extra-musical associations, and any other information you think your target audience will find interesting.

Avoid jargon. Unless writing specifically for an audience of trained musicians, avoid overusing technical terms related to form, phrasing, harmony, etc.  It’s best to try to put descriptions in your own terms, unless you wish to include a brief but pertinent quote from an eminent scholar or performer.

Make it personal. The audience not only wants to know something about the pieces you’re performing, but they also want to know a little bit about you.  Lots of information on composers and dates can easily be found on the internet today, so your program notes should go beyond that in some way.  Briefly explain what it is about the piece that inspires and provokes you, and why you think it belongs, or has remained, in the repertoire.  This works for both new pieces and warhorses.  If there are specific passages that you feel the audience should pay particular attention to, point those out, or even demonstrate them, making sure that you plan/practice any excerpt demonstrations in advance.

Edit/revise as often as necessary. Practice your delivery often if giving spoken notes, then record yourself and listen back to it.  You can use the recording to adjust pacing and content as needed.  Prepare written notes well in advance of the performance so that you have plenty of time to edit and revise, taking into account input from studio teachers and any other professors who are willing to read over your program.  Save electronic and hard copies of your program notes – you’ll want to refer to them again when you program those pieces in the future.

Selected Resources


W.W. Norton Essentials of Music: Excellent all-around site.

Classical Score: Timelines of music history.

Dolmetsch Online: Music history and theory resources.

University of Washington Music Library: Several free resources and handy research guides.

Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary: Hear pronunciations for musical terms.

Program Notes Wiki: Online collection of program notes for multiple genres.

Iowa Public Radio Pronouncing Music Dictionary

In Print

Theodore Baker, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians edited by Nicolas Slonimsky: Excellent biographical information, including many lesser known composers and musicians.

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Available in print and online – a standard resource for all types of music research.

William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style: Full of excellent tips for improving your writing.  The original 1918 edition is also available online.

Stephen King, On Writing: Not music-related, and definitely not PG rated, but nevertheless an excellent book on writing from one of today’s masters.

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