Wikipedia:A warning to concert organizers

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This is a warning to concert organizers: Don't use Wikipedia as the only source for concert programme notes.[1] Whether or not you give Wikipedia credit (see Wikipedia:Citing Wikipedia for information on how to do that), there are many problems with copying directly from Wikipedia for this purpose.


Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. It just wasn't meant as a source for ready-made programme notes. Instead of a lead section which gradually introduces the reader to the piece of music and its historical context using conversational language, the Wikipedia article will usually have the facts stated plainly. As well, Wikipedia won't have information about your choir's or orchestra's history with the particular piece of music in question. But more importantly, Wikipedia is likely to be missing important facts you should want in your programme notes.

An article may stagnate after being written, thus containing only the information the original author considered relevant. Information may also be unreliable. Of all the articles in Wikipedia, the ones subject to the highest standards are typically those in the sciences and health fields. A Wikipedia editor adding an unreferenced contribution to a science or health article will see her contribution quickly deleted. In the arts and music articles, however, many contributions made without sources are permitted to remain online. Indeed, some music articles have no sources whatsoever (e.g., see guitar technician). Most Wikipedia editors try to get the facts right, but there is no guarantee they won't make a mistake, especially when no source is cited. Moreover, some hoaxers have put deliberately false information into articles.

Another problem is that the article may become the subject of an edit war, in which the content usually suffers. The "winners" determine what is trivia (any information added by the "losing" side) and what sources are considered unreliable (any sources used by the losers). The facts ideal for your programme notes might be buried in the edit history.

Example of issues[edit]

If a concert organizer is planning to hold a concert featuring Beethoven's iconic Symphony No. 5, and she "cuts and pastes" the lead from this article into the programme, there will be several problems. First, the lead for this article does not give any historical or biographical information about Beethoven as a composer. Second, the lead provides very little information about the broader historical context in which the piece was written, either in terms of the Romantic music era or the sociopolitical context of the 19th century. Third, the lead does not provide many suggestions for how the listener should listen to the music or what stylistic elements to listen for, such as the use of an unusual orchestration technique or a famous instrumental solo.

Suggested approaches[edit]

If you want good programme notes, you can invest the time to do your own research, using Wikipedia as a starting point and using a number of Wikipedia articles to find the information you need (e.g., for the Beethoven symphony described above, you could read the Wikipedia articles on Symphony No. 5, Beethoven, the Romantic music era and the Nineteenth century) and using other sources such as music history textbooks or music appreciation guides. Alternatively, you could hire a musicologist or composition professor to write your programme notes. A Ph.D student in musicology or composition would probably do a good job, too.

Many Google searches have a Wikipedia article as their top result, so if you announce what pieces are going to be in your concert, members of your audience will likely look up the music in Wikipedia prior to attending the concert. When you get the draft of the programme notes, you could look up the pieces in Wikipedia and tailor the programme to address questions an audience who has read the Wikipedia article might have.

  1. ^ It has happened thrice in the past year: I've gone to a classical music concert, and the programme notes are copied straight out of Wikipedia. Only for one of the concerts was Wikipedia acknowledged. It has also happened with classical CDs: a digitally remastered recording of Franz Konwitschny conducting Britten, Khrennikov and Orff contains a brief biography of Konwitschny which was copied straight out of Wikipedia.