How is a Program Note written? What is its value? — Lost Memories




One of my students has composed a piece of computer music. Her creative idea sounds interesting. The inspiration comes from a psychoanalytical process — the repressed memory and its evocation. However, she finds difficult to write an impressive program note to catch the eyes of the highbrow concertgoers, though her music sounds not bad. Since she and I understand the artistic value of a program for a musical artwork, after catching the meaning of the ideas from a few lines of her writing, I rework on the program note again for her as an sample, aiming to help her to understand how to write an outstanding program note.


The Essay:


Firstly, I copy a few original sentences from her writing for reference. Readers can acquire an overall idea of her computer music.


Her program note is as follows:


Sometimes people ‘choose’ to forget or distort their bad memories, the distorted memories might even turn to fact and lying to themselves. Those memories, however, would have been recalled unexpectedly by some of the object, people and places.

‘Lost memories’ is the frozen anxiety moment of the recalling of the memories, which is fragmented and blurred.

“Lost memories” divided into 8 sections, which represented by 8 boxes on the graphic scores. Each box of patterns describes the musical texture, timbre and the flow of the section.


Delicate piano in high register and the edited piercing piano surrounded by crispy, glassy sounds.

Through musical representation, the used of music box is symbolizing the appearance of memories in the first section and getting blur in the last section.

The sample of heartbeat not only as the rhythm beat in section 7, but also mixed in the near layer in order to create the nervously feeling.

Beside the vertical texture, there are some uses of mixing designs to create the depth layers in this work.

The technique of Musique concreete is used in ‘Recalling lost memories’. Ambient sound on the street are recorded and mixed in the ‘far’ layer.

It is implicating the lost moment when somebody standing in the middle of the crowded street, but feel the inexistent of the world.


Her program note finished




My reworking of the program note is as follows:


Lost Memories


Memory is somewhat selective in nature. We, at times, would like to choose to forget our unpleasant memories. These repressed memories lay seemingly idle in the dark side of our unconsciousness, waiting silently for, and looking forward to a very moment to awake. Be it a special object, a nostalgic milieu, a familiar place, or a strange person, the shards of the “lost” memories, however tiny, will be recalled in such a particular instance in my hypnotic psychological journey of Lost Memories.


My work, Lost Memories, starts off its musical journey of eight various textural and timbral sections in the almost motionless pace. The unpleasant memories, albeit in a vague fragment, are frozen in the dark side. After a short static moment, the natural delicate piano, together with the edited piercing piano, which is embraced by the crispy and glassy droplet of sounds, hovers along the high register. The piano becomes the first visitor to unlock the door of the frozen space, preparing for a moment of agitated anxiety, a moment of sudden recollection. Then, the sound of music box, representing the appearance of the “lost”, yet unpleasant, memories stealthily steps in.


The very nervous moment in section 7 is created by the heartbeat sound sample, serving not only as the steady rhythmic pulsation, but also as the massive sonic stratum by integrating with the adjacent layers. Apart from its complex appearance, however, a sonic depth is created between each sound layer in the stratum by means of the mixing technique, in order to produce a feeling of “distance” to the audience.


As the “lost” memories are usually conjured up involuntarily in a particular circumstance of a particular moment, Lost Memories employs the technique of Musique Concréte, which was invented by Pierre Schaeffer in 1948. I place a live-recorded sampling of an ambient sound of the street in the far off sonic layer moving behind the main sound mass, in order to create a sense of out-of-the-world of an alienated mind lost in the crowded street.


***Program note finished***






Instead of editing, I rework on the program note as a sample for reference. Since a program note (text portion) is an inseparable part, rather than an auxiliary reference, of a musical artwork. As such, the program note needs to be written as artistic as it can since a composition is an art work.

Of course, the above sample is NOT the only way to write a program note of a musical work. However, readers can still discover some valuable points worthy of considering:


1. To introduce the musical idea in the first paragraph.(We inform the audience about the professional/psychoanalytical views of the selective memory and unconsciousness). Afterward, we connect the psychoanalytical idea with the musical artwork itself in the last sentence.

2. To analyze part of the music in the second (the beginning) and the third (the climax) paragraphs.(We write the sound analysis, which is usually absent in many current program notes. Indeed audience are not interested in reading the score analysis and formal description from the program note.)

3. To inform the audience/readers what special techniques that the composer has employed for this work.

4. Lastly, the composer can learn thinking of and writing in “poetic metaphor”, which are very important creative skills not only for program note writing, but also for music composing.






David Leung (theorydavid)

2014-04-07 (published)


AMusTCL 有關電影音樂的考試題目示範作答


這不是 model answer。但有感考生不懂怎樣用文字去分析音樂,所以,文字功夫較差的,這條題目就答不好。我也不得不以 Croaching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 為例,寫出以下參巧文章。


Key words: Value. Techniques. Artistic attributes. High arts. Elite arts. Creative and innovative. Originality. High technicality. Expressivity. Program music. Programmatic meaning. Story telling. Narrative. Mood and atmosphere. Emotions and feelings. Imagined world.

Music is the heart of a film. A film without music is just like a man without a heart, only a body. From this sense, if the film only contains story-line carried out by characters’ dialogues, though it works, it hardly touches audience’s heart. Indeed, music is essential to trigger audience’s feelings and emotions, creating the overall atmosphere ready for them to immerse into an alien world of imagination.

Try to imagine the popular film in the 70s, “Jaws”. If this film has not used the driving two-note percussive motive to anticipate the approach of the huge white shark, or the film “Star Wars” without the now-famous noble trumpet fanfare theme to represent the princess’s lofty and majestic disposition, would the audience be so exciting and shocking? The top-selling of film soundtracks in the commercial market always evidences the important role of music in a film.

Instead of the top-selling billboard that reflects the commercial value of the music in a film, its artistic value can be largely lies on the attribute of expressivity. Film music likens to the program music of western music in the 19th century. Program music can be story-telling, attempting to describe a scene, a person, a subject, creating a related mood and atmosphere through sonic images. Similarly, Film music also can easily steps in an audience’s soul so as to express what neither pictures nor words can, creating a new meaning to the audience. Furthermore, music adds extra-dimension to a given scene, not only emphasis but also giving more body and depth to the story, to the characters, to the dialogues, and to the actions. The analysis of the use of music in the film of “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon” is as follows:

        In most action films, such as martial art film or Kung Fu film, the music always parallels and underscores actions. For example, in the scenario of Catching the thief’, the plot is about the night fight between Jen and Shu Lien. Jen, because of her arrogance and self-esteemed, she steals the precious antique sword which belongs to Li Mu Bai, the famous swordman of Wudong. Shu Lien attempts to catch her. The fighting occurs after Shu Lien’s chasing her for a period of time. Here, Tan Dun skillfully employs percussive sonority to create an exciting atmosphere of this fighting scene. A pair of Chinese drum can easily conjure audience up an imagination of the battlefield with the violent fight, since drum is always used in the real battlefield, so as to give signal to and to raise the valor of soldiers. Hollywood film music composers are without exception to exploit this handy, yet ready-made timbre, in many of the film music making.

 In the scene of ‘Catching Thief’, the two Chinese drums are used to enhance the both characters’ chasing on the roof. Shu Lien tries her best to catch Jen to get back the Li’s sword. By employing the devices of repeated rhythmic pattern (ostinato) and accelerando to speed up the tempo, the climax of this chasing scene is gradually built up. Furthermore, the pair of Chinese drums creates a contrapuntal texture so as to increase the intensity of the actions of two fighters. Hit points are multiplied because of the vivid percussive sonority. The pace of the fighting is thus intensified. Audience can easily catch up with the lively action and the violence of the fighting by the hit points of the heavy beating drums made.

However, is the violent mood the only purpose that Tan Dun wanted to create in this scene? Not really. Times Magazine once said that this ‘flying-running’ fighting was a fantastic exemplar of a Ballet dance, somewhat a Chinese style. Undoubtedly, Tan Dun successfully imbues the fighting music with the noble, yet graceful, elements that the dance music should have possessed.

In the climax of the fighting scene, the volume is also gradually increased, locking the audience in a hysterical abyss, seemingly to be the one who is also participating to the fight on the screen, as it were, experiencing the glory of win and the loss of failure. To be sure, without music, nothing can be experienced indeed.

        The  scenario about the first appearance of another main character ‘Dark Cloud’ is also worth of considering. In this scene, the somewhat exotic music is played by yun, a Chinese native instrument, supported by the strings accompaniment at the background. This is a typical example of how music can locate a geographical location in a film.  The plot is about the leader of the gang of robbers, Lo, whose nickname is called ‘Black Cloud’, came to rob Jen’s troupe in the journey to Xian Jiang, an area of minority ethnic group. After Lo has taken Jen’s comb, Jen chases Lo to get back her comb. It is the arrogance and self-centered personality of Jen that forced her to do so. When Jen is riding on the horse, and chasing behind Lo’s, the lively Xian Jian dancing music enters.  Then, when Jen fought with Lo in order to get back her comb, the fast tempo Xian Jiang dancing tune played by yun reenters again. It not only intensifies the pace of their fighting, but also creates an aura of Xian Jian territory, as well as, utters to audience of a romantic love story replete with exotic feeling. This dancing tune is made up from the Arabic scale which contains a distinctive feature, augmented second interval. The dance rhythm, together with the Arabic musical style melody, now called Xian Jiang Dance Style, links audience to this minority terrain. Afterward, while Jen stayed in the house of Lo for rest, the low-tone, quasi-murmuring cello stealthily steps in. The cello thematic melody easily reminds audience of the song ‘Love Before Time’, which elicits the endless sorrow of love. True, the romantic love, however distant, between Lo and Li is dommed to  be a tragedy since they belong to different social status and backgrounds.  The use of thematic melody here not only enhances the coherence of the story-line, but also tells the audience that this ‘unequal’ love between Lo and Jen, which is emphasized by the conflicts aroused from Jen’s personal arrogance, as well as her deep longing for liberty, against with a generation of strict moral standard, is doomed to be a tragedy, even in the very beginning as they firstly met.

        One of a remarkable example that uses music playing against scene or images can be found in the scene about Li fighting Jen in the bamboo bush. In this scene, swordman master Li is eager to convert Jen’s wild temperament by his skillful martial art, and he is ready to accept Jen as his disciple of Wudong. They were fighting, flying on the bamboo trees. The theme song melody played by the murmuring cello permeates the whole scene. Accompanying the occassional endless sorrow recalled from the evocative melodic fragments is the reed-like artificial gesture, recurring irregularly in a strict repeated note pattern. This glissando reed-like gesture, as well as the slow tempo of the moving ostinato strings, enhances the ‘flying-fighting’ of Li and Jen on the tree top moving under the support of the slow motion shot. The overall effect is that the violent fighting between them has been transformed into an elegant ballet with two figures dancing to and fro between the bamboo trees, however, dispersing drop by drop of the melancholy. The brutal excitement, thus, is softened because of the music, which is so sparse, tender with a little restless and agitated. With the support of music, everything in this particular scene, no matter it is the visual images or the aural perception, is romanticised, so unattainable, so distant, and so uncertain that deeply interlocks audience’s heart. The murmuring thematic cello of ‘Love Before Time’ seems to tell audience that whether it is the teaching lessons given by Li to Jen in order to persuade her becoming of his disciple, or the unwilling regrets of Jen in her unsatisfied life,  the future of Jen is destined to be dark and gloom without bright sunshine. When Jen jumps into the river, the music increases the volume, again, intensifying the fighting actions and the restless agitated emotions of Jen. Her wildness and arrogance have not yet been surmounted. She continues to step to the road of no return.  

From the above analysis, it is clear that music written for film is not merely an accompaniment, just bringing a nice melody for the audience. On the contrary, music sounded behind each moving images requires composers’ endless imaginations, bringing immeasurable value to the film. This value inextricably links to music’s own expressive power. New meaning of the scene is often raised through the creative uses of music. Therefore, film music, as a form of high art, definitely requires a real genius to be handled with ingenuous craftsmanship and unlimited creativity.

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-02-24 (published)

The Music I Love To Hate — 我會討厭的音樂

前言: 這個題目很奇怪。這是我一直想寫的一個題目。但為了typing 方便,我還是選擇了寫英文。雖然我知道,讀者大都喜歡看中文。這個題目,其實是有點似小學生作文的題目 : 我的志願 。不過,我卻選擇了反面的寫作方向,就是選了我喜歡會去討厭的音樂 (按照英文直譯過來的意思)。是不是所有音樂都是藝術作品呢? 本人認為不是。有些音樂作品,在我的劃分裡,不算是藝術作品。究其原因,也離不開從其意義和功能去作參巧而定下來的。是不是這類音樂不算是藝術作品,還是請讀者自行作決定好了。


Topic: The Music I Love to Hate       


A proverb says, “one man’ s meat is another man’s poison’. It is very true that the taste of man is different from one another. This can happen in food, in fashion or even in music. However, if you like one piece of music, you may have some reasons for it. You may be attracted by its charming melody, its exciting rhythm, or some other non-musical reasons, such as, the underlying ideas of that piece of music. The music that you hate, likewise, may also have some reasons for it. To me, there is one kind of music that I really love to hate. This kind of music is the music that is written for political propaganda.
We all agree that an artwork usually possess certain ideas and thoughts concealed within. Sometimes, this is called motivation or the inspiration of the artist. Similarly in music, a composer often wants to express something, perhaps his ideas, personal affection, or even only his favorite musical sound through his music. His duty is to transform all these abstract ideas and feelings accurately into concrete musical sound in a logical and understandable way through the creative and artistic process. No matter what underlying idea that the music contains, this piece of music has its artistic value. But, it is greatly unsufferable if the music is only written for the purpose of promoting politics.
In my opinion, politics are dirty, hypocritical, greed and selfish. If an artwork connects with political purpose, unavoidably, it becomes spoiled. We should remember that the preciousness of art is valued by its genuineness, goodness and beauty. This is a common standard to evaluate an artwork. I regard music as an art. I can accept that the purpose of writing music is for making money. This is very common in the commercial world. I think, to some extend, the composers are concerned how to make their music more popular, and at least, they are doing something that is genuine to him, or to the audience. But the political music is totally different. They are only selling the so-called ‘perfect image’ of the government. The motivation behind is duplicitous. It is not strange to find that a politician boosts his plan to do everything for the people before the election but never moves one finger after officially elected. I cannot find any genuineness and goodness in this kind of music. The selfish purpose of the music makes its text, melody, and sound absolutely disgusting. I prefer the music written for advertisements to this kind of music though they seem to have the same motivation – promoting an object or idea. It is because the music of advertisements, at least, possesses some beauty. The product that the music promotes may be nice and lovely. But the product of the political music promoted is only nasty and unpleasing.
Owing to the above reasons, I consider the political music is not an art. It has no artistic and aesthetic value. The dirty underlying political ideas make the music nauseating. Undoubtedly, the political music, therefore, is the kind of music that I really love to hate.
David Leung (theorydavid)
2011-09-03 (published)


前言: 上一次題及的八十後和六十後聆聽歌曲口味的不同的問題,現在又有新發展。我和新郎哥對展示出來的結果,都不禁相對笑笑。當然,我們是很高興和欣賞各方好友的大力支持,他們無論想唱甚麼歌曲,都是為新郎哥助興。既是幫忙,攪攪氣氛,我們也很專重他們的選擇。不過,話得說回頭,人對音樂的感應,歌曲風格的認同,還是那一句,不同年紀閱歷,不同時代,不同民族的文化價值和美學的標準,都是不同的。所以,對音樂藝術的審美標準和理解,都不會是永恆不變的。


經過一番商討,新郎哥老友 email 給各方好友之後,我還已為沒有異議。可是,先是一輪silence ,最後的結果是: 一番你推我讓之後,各八十後老友就推了一個不大懂中文的老友出來 (他原本是印尼華僑,根本不知道誰是劉家昌,也不知國語歌梅花海鷗,更遑論月亮代表我的心),致 email 新郎哥說,他們還是想向難度挑戰,所以最好還是唱 Time to Say Goodbye。查實,最當初的時候,我是 propose 唱這首歌作為壓軸歌曲。可是老友們一聽到 Time to Say Goodbye Sarah Brightman 唱第一段時就牙痛咁聲。因為他們說這很像急口令。因此他們想唱一首比較容易的。但他們 propose 的歌曲,又不大適合作壓軸歌曲。最後,新郎哥就說出自已的至愛 — 老餅歌曲–劉家昌的 晚安。這就是我上一篇文章所述的前因。

事情確是峰迴路轉。後來,這班八,九十後老友聽過此曲後,就分分說很老套,難頂。所以,就轉呔唱 Time to Say Goodbye 了。他們現在是不怕急口令的前段。真奇怪。

然而,他們所說的急口令,也不是甚麼真的像棟篤笑的急口令。只是他們不夠音樂知識,不知道 Time to Say Goodbye 的原作者是 Italian 。也不知 Italian 最令人欣羨的音樂就是 Opera。意大利歌劇在音樂史上的地位是無可爭辯的。甚麼是 Italian Opera呢? 就算今天那些知道有 Broadway Musical ,有 Phantom of opera 的八十後年青人已被稱為有音樂修養的了,我看也是答不上來。查實意大利歌劇最dramatic 的部份不是 Aria (嘆調),而是 Recitativo (宣調)。意大 利歌劇強調音樂,所以沒有對白。所有推進劇情的部份,需要用 recitativo 來半講半唱出來。這就是 Italian Opera 的精粹了。用意大利文來唱 Recitativo,可說是一絕。根本,Recitativo 的寫作就是為意大利語言度身定做的,我們用德文,或是法文,根本唱不到這種 recitativo 的效果。

Time to Say Goodbye 這首歌曲的第一段就是摹彷輕快的 意大利 recitativo 的風格而寫成的。我們的老友是中國人,不懂說意大利話,所以 feel 不到這個 “急口令” ,也覺得難學難唱。而且,原文是意大利歌曲,英文版本只是歌曲太成功了,為了迎合世界各地歌迷的口味,只好張就點用英語唱出來。用英語唱這首歌,我看是低了一點層次境界,稍欠風韻。

不過,為何香港的八十後又 feel 不到劉家昌的中國式曲調? 這也拜九十九年的 British Colonization 所賜。因為殖民地的西方式的管治和西化教育,也有很大程度 marginalize (不是erase) 一切跟中國本土有關的文化,社會和政治。我們香港人的文化特性,說真的,也真與大陸人,台灣人很不同,可說是 something-in-between 。既然正統灌輸的文化不能幫助我們找得我們自身的文化身份,我們還是多得流行文化的輸入。幸好,在六十年代,台灣的流行曲文化,經自由開放的英式殖民地政策傳送過來,又因我們 share the same language system,要禁也禁不來,結果,我們就 recreate,reshape 了不少所謂的中華民族的音樂風格。在那個年代,如果你聽用粵語所寫的流行曲,是低下低俗的,難登大雅之堂。而所謂的台灣流行曲,如青山的,姚蘇蓉的,就是正宗香港的中國人歌曲。垣白說,劉家昌這首晚安,並不是他最好年作品之一,開頭的兩句,就很像黃自先生在我們中國的音樂現代化時期,即二,三十年代所寫的最早期中國風格的藝術歌曲風格,如玫瑰三願等的旋律。我想,我們八十後的也不知道黃自老師的 “花非花” ,或是玫瑰三願 歌曲是甚樣。可能他就只知道林子祥的 “每一個晚上”。


我看,老友所欣賞的舊歌和 “中國”風格的旋律,還是在歷史記憶中去找尋吧。就是這種特有的歷史記憶和社群印記,構成了我們這一代六十後的 Collective Memory,集體回憶,從而 reshape and reconstruct 我們的不中不西的中華民族音樂風格。


David Leung (theorydavid)

2011-06-19 (published)


前言: 老友新郎哥中年結婚,一班弟兄姊妹和死黨準備為他在婚禮當日獻唱助慶。由於大家都有不同喜愛的歌曲,歌手們就最後就 concluding 歌曲有不同的提議。當然,我們希望所選的歌曲不能太難學,又要有意思,因為是最後一首表演的歌的緣故,最好與 goodbye 有關。可是,選來選去,也未有甚麼結論。新郎哥是中年成熟的人,歌曲口味,也比較接近本人這個五,六十後的老坑,大大 不同那些八十後和九十後的年青人。例 如,我們都喜歡 月亮代表我的心,這一類經典,以旋律為主的歌曲。所以,在表達了不同意見之後,新郎哥就提議 晚安 這首歌,並說雖然八十後的賓客雖會覺老套,但是,這首歌是曲詞俱佳,也很適合當晚的場合。我並不曾聽過這首歌,但既是新郎哥的提議,大家都沒有甚麼異議。我就請新郎哥 send 個 karaoke video 來聽聽。可是,第一次聽到這首歌曲的旋律時,就引發我寫了以下的文章 ……….

晚安 的 youtube demo:



我急急下載了 晚安 這首歌曲後,就隨意打開 software 去 play,自已就走開了,沒有再看 monitor 和晝面的 credit 介紹。可是,我一聽到歌曲調子時,就 sense 到其曲調有一種令人感到縈繞不捨的深情和不吐不快的澎湃,很像七,八十年代鬼才劉家昌的創作。不是我自誇,七,八十年代在香港流行的國,粵語流行曲,我是有略有研究的。最後,我急急翻到前面,看看誰是作曲作詞者,正如我所料,這是劉家昌的作品。如個你不能意會我所說的 “令人感到縈繞不捨的深情和不吐不快的澎湃”,可以試試聽聽 海鷗梅花,或是 在雨中 等歌曲,就可以 sense 我所說的是甚麼。晚安這首歌,就能營造激動中有深情,但同時流露出淡淡思情,難捨難離,帶有中國民間小曲的含畜蘊婉和流行曲的外展張力。

曲調之所以能喚起人的感情反應,不單是屬個人的 (personal),還會是屬集體性的 (collective)。可是,這所謂的集體回憶,集體感情,也有時代的細分。比方說,我們這群六十後,就會特別感受到八十年代年歌曲,即現在被稱為老歌的風格和氣味。但八十後的年青人,就會對現今的流行歌有共鳴,舊歌嗎? 就難一點有感情反應。在這裡,我不得不指出我個人的意見,現今的流行歌著重節奏和 beating,以刺激聽者的 sensation 為主,但七, 八十年代的歌曲則著重旋律優美和雋永,以激動心靈和感情為主。能寫出流的優美旋律,而又有中國音樂的風味和格調,在當年,除了劉家昌外,就只有顧家輝,陳伯強,林子祥 (只有三幾首歌)等能做到。我看就連歌神阿 Sam 所寫的歌也不能。

劉家昌所寫的歌總有留給歌手發揮,充滿高潮張力的段落,這就拜他曾寫了不少電影音樂有關。我還記得,當年有一齣戲名叫 黃埔軍魂,由l甄珍和柯俊雄主演,其中的配樂和其劇情的推進,年青時的我就看得眼濕濕了。晚安 這首歌中的 Refrain 段落,聽者就 unexpectedly 聽到旋律突然從低音區轉到高音區盤旋,當我們還已為調子會走回主段旋律作再現時,(即以 A B A’ 常用歌曲結構處理),卻只聽到主音在高潮停穩著,然後才不捨地慢慢悄然退去。原來整首歌曲的結構就只是 A B 的二段體。




David Leung (theorydavid)

2011-06-09 (published)

Music and Arts: Articles and Poems
I and the village Chagall

Learn Contemporary Music?

The Lute Player — Franc Hal
This is Young Mozart!

Presentation of young Mozart to Pompadour 1763 Vicente de Paredes

Life Long Learning is a Pleasure -- Contact Leung Sir

Lady sit At the Virginal — Vermeer
SC 2012 Concerts (1800 attendants)

Pierre Auguste Renoir

Sunrise - Monet

The Swing - JeanHonore Fragonard

Jastrow Duck Fliegende

The Music -- Klimt (Modernism in Vienna)
The Music - Klimt (Modernism in Vienna)

Distorted image - Korean Artist



David - Teniers and the Cabinet of Archduke Leopold William
Jastrow Duck Fliegende

Two-women Waltzing - Toulouse-lautrec

Composition - Kandinsky


Violin Sonata in D major - midi composition modelling

Elizabeth At The Piano - Eakins

The Love letter - Vermeer

Armand Guillaumin - Young Girl at PianoYoung Young Girl at Piano - Armand Guillaumin