Dr. J. Michael
Allsen has been writing program notes for
orchestral, choral, chamber and festival programs for
over 35 years—as of January 2020, he has written notes
on over 2100 individual pieces by over 600 composers.Allsen is
an Emeritus Professor of Music at the University
of Wisconsin—Whitewater, where he taught courses in
Music History, World Music, and Interdisciplinary Arts
prior to is retirement in 2018. He holds a Ph.D in
Musicology (1992) from the University of
Wisconsin-Madison.Allsen’s scholarly writing has been published in Plainsong and
Medieval Music, the Journal of the
American Musicological Society, the Journal of
Musicology, and elsewhere, and he has contributed
to reference works that include The New Grove
Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Die Musik in
Geschichte und Gegenwart, and others.A professional
trombonist, Allsen has been associated with the Madison
Symphony Orchestra—one of America's leading regional
orchestras—since 1983, and was the orchestra's bass
trombonist from 1990-2018.He has been the Madison Symphony’s program
annotator since 1984, and over the last 25 years he has
been commissioned to write concert program notes and
liner notes for many other orchestras, festivals,
ensembles and artists around the United States.References are
available on request. You can view
samples of his program notes here.
commissioned program notes (2022):
standard charge is $200 per full concert program/liner note,
payable by check on delivery.The cost for providing notes for individual works within
a larger concert program is negotiable.I will typically discount
notes substantially if I do an entire season’s worth of notes
for an ensemble or festival.
typically deliver program notes as a Microsoft Word (.docx)
file, in an email attachment.
Program Pages: I will also include separate “program
page” information at the end of a set of program notes, listing
titles and movements, with composer names and work/movement
titles regularized with the usage in the program notes.
Translations: Where appropriate, I will generally include
non-English texts and side-by-side idiomatic English
translations for choral and vocal works at no additional charge.Programs that involve
a great deal of translation may incur an additional charge, to
be negotiated, but this is seldom an issue with standard choral,
operatic, and sacred repertoire.
commissioning ensemble or individual may use the notes as they
see fit during the season of the program: in press releases, on
websites, etc.Notes that appear
online must appear with the statement “NOTE: These
program notes are published here for [name of ensemble], its
patrons, and other interested readers. Any other use is
forbidden without specific permission from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org).”Notes must be removed from
the organization’s website following the season for which they
were written. I reserve all other rights, including
reprinting in subsequent seasons.
Length:My notes for a typical
orchestra concert (e.g., an overture, a concerto, and a
symphony) or choral program will usually run 1800-2500 words
(not including texts and translations), but I will edit notes to
fit the commissioning ensemble's needs.The client's
expectations regarding length and other formatting issues should
be clear at the outset.
have developed a a few standard formats for notes over the
In the past few years, I have used a fairly "busy" format,
including a brief introductory section and bullet points, for
the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a few other clients.
Feedback from patrons has been very positive, though I'll note
that this takes up a lot of space in the printed program
books, and is not really practical for programs with more than
four-five pieces. Sample
A brief “vital statistics” paragraph listing details of
composition and premiere for each work, followed by a more
substantial note on the work's history and music.Sample
For concerts with more than four-five pieces, or where space
is an issue, I usually adopt a more concentrated format. Sample or Sample
If you have a particular "house style" that you would like
me to follow, please send a sample program.
Customization: Whenever possible, I see a set of notes
as a single essay, rather than a set of distinct parts, drawing
comparisons between the works included, and if appropriate,
discussing the works' coherence to a single theme or concept.The commissioning
ensemble or individual should feel free to suggest concepts or
connections as well.
I am not engaged with other commitments I can usually produce
a set of notes on relatively standard repertoire within a week
I look forward to hearing from you, and, I
hope, working with you.