I went to Jeffrey Siegel’s classical piano concert at RIC last Wednesday, October 23 — the first time I’ve been to a classical concert in a few years. It was part of a series he calls Keyboard Conversations™ (yes, the program always used a trademark symbol; the merchandising may follow) where he talks about each piece before playing it in full, going briefly into interesting bits of context and history, and demonstrating important musical phrases to prime everyone’s ears.

At the beginning, with Fur Elise, which everyone has heard as a recital staple, and Rage over a Lost Penny, which he called Beethoven’s party piece, I thought he might be choosing the songs based more on what he had good stories about than what were Beethoven's best works. But that fear dissolved with the next two pieces.

(Even in classical music concerts, some people still talk as if it were a movie. In his speech before the Moonlight Sonata, which he said was known for breaking the rules, Siegel added that “Beethoven’s audience would have expected a first movement that was happy and lively. First movements are traditionally happy and lively. Without further ado, the beginning of the first movement.” Then during the pause as he prepared to play, a woman behind me notified her husband, loudly and slowly, that “It’s not going to be happy and lively!”)

His aim was to be completely understandable to music novices while still imparting knowledge to musicians, and he was very successful at it. I realized that this ability had parallels with good interface design for computers. He was very careful to avoid musical jargon completely, while remaining interesting to those who knew which words he was avoiding.

An interface design should be understandable to new users without getting in the way of the experts or old hands who already know what’s going on. Same techniques.

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