I started writing program notes for CBS in the early 1970s. Apparently the company liked my work, because I wrote notes for more than 60 albums, right up to the beginning of the CD era. (At that point, the company started using international sources more than domestic ones.) I also wrote LP program notes for several other companies, including a few for RCA and my own Parnassus label.

During the CD era, I have done program notes for Arabesque, RCA, Parnassus, and the Japanese label Weitblick. I have also written program notes for the Hudson Valley Philharmonic for more than a decade, and even a single assignment from the Chicago Symphony.

An interesting side note: Arabesque dumped me abruptly after I wrote program notes explaining that Dvorak had originally titled his “American” Quartet the “Nigger” Quartet, a piece of information I found fascinating. I explained that the term was more colloquial than pejorative at the time, and that Dvořák was paying tribute to his influence from Spirituals and other African-American music. The editor censored the entire paragraph and never hired me again. Oh, well.

My areas of expertise are the same mentioned in my description of my reviewing (piano repertoire, historical recordings), except that with more time available for research I have done some writing about vocal music and enjoy the challenge.

Click on a title below to see the Program Note:

6 Responses to “Program Notes”

  1. Ian Allan Says:

    I’d be most grateful for a primary source reference for Dvořák’s use of the N-word in the context of this work.

  2. Leslie Gerber Says:

    I would too. I did this research years ago and frankly I can’t remember where I got the information from. I promise you, though, that I did not make this up. I don’t have enough imagination!

  3. Terrance McKnight Says:

    Leslie, hello. I too find your Dvorak story interesting. I knew that the quartet was called the “Nigger Quartet” but it was my understanding that haters referred to it as such and not the composer himself. Tell me more and thanks

  4. John Wallach Says:

    Your assertion that the use of the word “nigger” in that era was colloquial and not pejorative is misinformed at best, disingenuous at worst. Any intelligent person knows that Blacks resented being called “Niggers” as much as they resented being called “Darkies”. If either word was commonly employed colloquially it’s simply an indication of how little the average White of that era cared about the dignity of Black people.

  5. Leslie Gerber Says:

    I’m not sure how intelligent I am, but I know how intelligent Dvorak was and how deeply he loved and respected the African-American culture he learned about from the composer and singer Harry Burleigh and his own investigations. What Burleigh would have felt about the term “nigger” I have no idea. But I know what Dvorak must have felt about it and that if he had understood it as pejorative he would not have used it. That’s my only important point.

  6. June Wellington Says:

    What’s disingenuous is a writer thinking the word nigger would not be extremely distracting to encounter out of the blue in an otherwise formal/neutral context. I have to say I’d abruptly dump a writer who didn’t instinctively understand that. Dvorak’s own intentions are irrelevant to your contemporary reader’s experience.