Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding commissioning new music:
- Commissioning a composer is expensive. How can my school or ensemble afford it?
For an individual, ensemble, or school to directly commission a composer to write them a new work it is expensive. This guide published by Meet the Composer explains the commissioning process and gives estimates for new works based on ensemble and length. Commissioning a new work directly would almost certainly exceed your annual budget for the purchasing scores. In fact, the recommended fee for a choral work under ten minutes long is between $4,000–$14,500.
Forming a consortium with the intent to commission a new work greatly reduces the financial burden of any one individual, ensemble, or school. Rather than paying the full amount of the commission you are only responsible for a fraction of the cost—which allows you to still have money left in your budget for purchasing scores and building your library. An additional benefit of consortium commissions are that the new work gets many performances spread out geographically. In this way schools and ensembles can participate in something much bigger than themselves, add new works to the canon, and aid in the growth and development of the composer’s career.
Lastly, as an article on New Music Box noted almost fourteen years ago:
Commissioning consortia are a particular boon to smaller ensembles, not only because they can share the commissioning fee, but also because the premiere brings them good publicity. “Everybody gets their own premiere and gets to make a big deal out of it, which engenders a lot of pride,” Blum explained. In addition, co-commissioning can help ensembles — large and small — get funding from state arts councils and other agencies.
- If I’m commissioning a work for my school what are the benefits to my students?
The primary benefit to your students is arts engagement and allowing them to be part of the process of creating something new. It also increases student buy-in to the music making process and encourages interest in continuing musical study. Few high schoolers are exposed to new music, and even fewer are exposed to the composers that wrote the music. When performers (it doesn’t matter which age group) get to be a part of the process from idea generation and conception to public performance it strengthens the relationships of all three legs of the music-making effort: composer, performer, and audience. It might, and I hope it does, change the lives of your students.
See, also, my answer below about how this consortium and be integrated into your curriculum.
- What if I, or my students, don’t like the music?
I have included examples of my choral work on this page so you can hear my style of choral writing. It is important for you to have at least a basic understanding of what I can deliver you and why my musical language is like. Two of the pieces are for SATB a capella and one is for SSA with piano. There are even more examples of my music in other styles on my website, www.garretthope.com.
Furthermore, with the get-to-know-you session in the fall and the rehearsal sessions in the spring this problem can be avoided entirely. By being sensitive to both the interests and abilities of each ensemble I hope to craft a piece that is appropriately challenging and yet very accessible for both the student performers and the audience. Clear communication between the consortium and myself will allow me to address concerns about the piece early in the process in order to deliver a score that is musically satisfying for everyone involved.
- I’ve never commissioned music before. What is the process like?
The process, in general, goes like this: Once an individual, school, ensemble, or consortium decides to commission a new musical work an agreement is reached between the commissioning body and the composer. Aspects of the commission that must be agreed upon include ensemble, size, difficulty level, length, time frame for delivery of the score, composer’s fee, and certain rights including premieres, exclusive performance rights, recordings rights, and the right to be credited on the score as the commissioner of the music.
Commissioning music can be a rewarding and exciting experience! People who commission music find the process of having a piece of music written specifically for them to be extremely fulfilling. It is also important to remember that when a new piece of music is commissioned it is going out into the world to increase the body of musical works available and to impact many people. New musical works have to start somewhere and composers work hard to create meaningful music. People who commission music are participating in the age-old process of arts patronage. A great majority of our most beloved musical pieces were commissioned through patronage and subsidizing composers so they could create their art. It is likely that your favorite pieces would not be in existence were it not for patronage and commissions. It’s time to step into history and add to the richness of our musical world by joining this consortium.
- My high school is not located in SE Nebraska. How will you hold get-to-know-you and rehearsal sessions with the students/ensemble?
If your school is located in SE Nebraska I will make every effort to visit your ensemble in person. If your school is not located in SE Nebraska I will gladly use technology, such as Skype, to come into your classroom. This technology allows me to both see and hear your students and they can see and hear me. All that is required is decent internet connection and a computer with a camera and microphone.
Many people use their laptops, or even their tablets, to help composers Skype into classrooms. You can even have the video displayed on a large TV or through a projector with the audio going through a sound system so everyone in the class can both see and hear well. I would be happy to help you set up your resources to aid in the process.
- In what ways will you interact with my students?
First, I would like to hear your ensemble sing or play!
In order to get to know your ensemble I will ask them to tell me about their most favorite pieces and to describe meaningful performance experiences. This will give me both a sense of your ensemble’s personality and ability level.
After the score has been delivered I will work with you and your ensemble in rehearsing the music. Together we will work on bringing the music to life. This will also give you and your ensemble a chance to identify tricky or problematic passages, if there are any. If necessary I will revise the music to make it even stronger.
- How can I incorporate this into my curriculum?
Many music standards call for curriculum to include aspects of creating, performing, and evaluating. The second component of this set of standards is the easiest to achieve for ensembles. The third component can happen through rehearsal-based discussions and research, analytical, and evaluative assignments. The first component, that of creating music, can be the most challenging. Through this commission your students will be participating in all three areas: they will premiere the piece; they will discuss the piece, it’s meaning, and my motivations and decisions through the interactive sessions; and they will participate in the creation of the work by giving me valuable feedback and bringing a new piece to life.
Exposing your students to the compositional process will greatly enrich their musical experience. Even if they are not writing the notes themselves, they will get to participate in the process that is often hidden behind the curtain to see how a piece goes from concept to performance. Rob Deemer, in an article entitled Standards and Creativity makes the following arguments about involving students with the compositional process:
Composing is one of the most daunting concepts for music educators for many reasons, not the least of which is that most of them have never composed before! Composition is rarely included in music education curricula (with the exception of general music, where only the most basic materials are used) and this inexperience makes it likely that not only will those educators’ students never be exposed to composing, but students who discover composing will not get much help or support.
He continues with,
In other creative fields, exposure in education to contemporary examples is commonplace—incorporating contemporary poetry, theatre, dance, visual art, and filmmaking is considered a natural way to connect with younger students. It is only in music that artworks from the past are elevated to the almost total exclusion of those from the present. However, if students are introduced to creating music themselves at an early age and encouraged throughout their formative years to continue exploring music through creating it as well as performing it, their interest, acceptance, and passion for new music will grow naturally. I’ve seen many examples of younger composers who had a limited musical vocabulary suddenly blossom when introduced to repertoire from the last 20 years as well as the last 100 years.
I am eager to bring musical composition into your classrooms through this consortium and I hope you can join me and the other schools in greatly enriching the musical lives of your students.
- How will we schedule your sessions with the students?
I will be in direct contact with you through email in order to arrange times to meet with your ensemble. We will schedule a time that works well for the both of us. The first session, the get-to-know-you session will be in the fall and we will begin scheduling that in September. The second and third sessions will be between deliver of the score on March 1 and your spring concert where the work will be premiered.
- Will you attend the premiere?
I would like nothing more than to attend each premiere by every member of the consortium. Unfortunately, time and resources to do not make this possible. If your school is within a reasonable driving distance of my location in Lincoln, NE I will make every effort to attend.