I was going through the monthly “Opportunity Update” that’s put out by the American Music Center this morning, and I thought I would post a little bit about my frustrations with this system of competitions/call for scores/new music festival/composers conferences that is available to composers of new classical music.  Ever since I turned 30, I have seen my eligibility for these things dwindle more and more, year after year.  Below are bullet points that represent one opportunity (and the “type” of opportunity it was) I was not eligible for, and the reason.  I’ll comment after each one:

  • Type: New Music Festival call for scores – reason I was ineligible: Provide your own performers

OK – so you’re putting on a festival of new music.  You’re at a fairly decent music school with lots of faculty and student performers.  All you need is the music to fill the concerts, and the composers to come fill the seats.  Not only do these composers have to invest the money to travel to your location, pay for lodging/food/etc, pay for the materials – i.e. producing scores and parts, etc – you want them to bring their own performers with them???  So now they have to ask the performers to pay travel and lodging for the honor of playing at your festival??  wtf..

  • Type: Call for scores – reason I was ineligible: New York area composers only

This annoys me.  I understand wanting to promote composers and music centered in your area, but it seems like I see this way too often.  You may say I’m just pissed because I don’t live in NY and therefore can’t submit.  Yeah, pretty much.

I have actually been directly affected by this kind of thing.  Some years ago, I won a competition to be on a reading session of a prestigious choir.  I was told that my travel and lodging expenses would be provided, in addition to a daily per diem to cover food.  When it got close to the date, I was informed that only the composers from NY (and where the readings would be held) would receive travel funds and the per diem.  Myself, and one other participant who was from Arizona had to cover those costs – the other participants (who were all from NYC or the unnamed place where it was held) did receive those funds.  Again – wtf…

  • Type: Call for scores – reason I was ineligible: Super specific “theme” (quoted below)

    “The theme of the concerts is “Avian Creatures,” and the piece must embrace this theme. Some suggestions include: Birds, Bats, UFOs, Rockets, Balloons, Airplanes, Fairies, Satellites, Flying Squirrels, Skydivers, etc.”

LOL – Skydivers are avian creatures??  This is just one example of calls like this I have seen over the years.  Are there really people out there that are composing special “bird” pieces just for this competition?  Should I start a string quartet about flying squirrels?  How about just looking for music that’s GOOD, regardless of whether it’s about flying things.

  • Type: muliple calls – reason I was ineligible:  I’m old…

So, as I mentioned earlier, probably the biggest reason I am often not eligible for these things is my age, which is currently 36.  This brings up a whole other issue for me, and one I’ve often thought of writing about, which is – composers in this day and age are starting later and later in life.  I think the old model of people composing their first piece at 9 and going into music school with symphonies under their belts at 18 years old is becoming less and less common.  Many composers that I know, myself included, discovered music through pop and rock bands, and didn’t discover classical music until later in life.  I didn’t start music school until I was 23 years old, and by the time I had any music worth submitting, I was already ineligible for many of the big student competitions like the BMI prize, which has a cut off of 26.  I did manage to win an ASCAP/Morton Gould, but I did so at 29, and was forever ineligible the following year.  I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be competitions for young composers, but I see far too many that SHOULD be open to everyone – not just people under 30.

  • Call for Scores/Competition – reason I wasn’t eligible: Only open to women composers

This one fell under the affirmative action category of competitions.  This is, of course, a sensitive issue, and I’ve seen all kinds of these calls – calls for women – african americans – jewish americans – mormons – etc.  While I am for the equal treatment of everyone, I am not a big fan of affirmative action.  I am sure there are still racist/sexist bigots out there, but I think for the most part, people today are being given a pretty fair shot at things – especially in the arts.  I’m just for equal opportunity – that’s pretty much it.

  • Type: Choral composition competition – reason I wasn’t eligible: Super specific text requirement

This is another example like the “avian creatures” one, except this deals with specific texts to be sung – in this case by a choir.  The call read “..text must reflect one of the 3 Abrahamic faiths, and the relationships between them.”  Now, I can see the need for a religious organization to want text dealing with thier religion, but it was the caveat “and the relationships between them” that got me.  Is this a question on a religious studies exam?  They not only want a religious text, but one that deals with the relationships between Christianity, Islam and Judaism?  Do I have to use a #2 pencil to write the piece?

  • Type:  all types – reason I was ineligible:  I refuse to pay someone else for the opportunity to have my music judged

This brings me to the second section of the opportunity update – opportunities with entry fees.  All of the above listed opportunities, although having carried many very specific requirements, at least did not require money as well.  About 40% of the opportunities currently listed in the update did require entry/application fees.  I just believe this is straight up wrong.  If you’re going to provide opportunities for emerging composers, don’t require those same composers to fund it.  One call was $60 – $60!!  You seriously expect me to pay you $60 for the small chance that you’ll choose my piece to recieve a (probably bad) performance??  PLUS, I have to pay to travel there, and stay there, and eat there, and pay to produce the scores and materials to apply, and mail those in a large padded envelope – again I say WTF…

I actually totalled all of the fees from all of the calls that required them.  If I entered every single call that required a fee that is currently listed in the update, it would total $495 – and that’s not including all of the other fees like travel and lodging and food and material costs.  And these are (for the most part) supposed to be for young (often student) composers.

Anyway – I know this is somewhat of a rant, but I’ve seen one too many of these things now, and I thought it would make an entertaining blog (to composers at least).