Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

As a few of y'all know, I submit music to competitions and calls for scores a lot; at least 10 times a year. I mainly submit works that I have already written and often have already been performed or is ready to be performed. I look for competitions and call for scores that fits what I have already written. However, there are competitions and call for scores that are very specific and very niche. Some call for music for unusual; like trombone and piccolo, three percussionist and a tuba, or alto flute and guitar. Many of these calls come from new music ensembles that are just starting out or performers looking to fill their next season with new works but have limited and unusual available performing forces. And unless you are working with these instruments regularly one will most likely not have music written already for these calls for scores.

It isn't just limited to small ensembles, however. There are often calls for scores or competitions that have very specific instrumentation, like orchestras that have a infinite number of wind instruments or specific percussion available. I have seen competitions that require composers to submit works that follow a very specific theme or (if it calls for vocal music) use a very specific text. There are also competitions that have very specific timelines for when a piece should have been written--some requiring a work to have been written prior two years of the competition deadline.

So this brings me to the conundrum that is the topic of this thread; should one write music specifically for these calls for scores or competitions?

Is the stress of producing music to fit the criteria of a competition, that you might not win, knowing that it might never be performed by anyone else? Or should one stick with competitions that fit music that you already have written or have usefulness outside of said competition?

What are your thoughts on this topic and have you come upon this situation yourself?

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I imagine most composers who submit stuff to competitions come across this situation fairly regularly.

I will occasionally write something "for" a competition--sometimes, the deadline or the competition's criteria on theme/text/instrumentation can provide motivation and inspiration to get off my rear and compose something--but only if the piece is likely to be performed or published even if it doesn't win.

If I see a competition for, say, pieces for SATB choir relating to the theme of space exploration, I might try to write something new for it because even if my piece isn't selected, it will have motivated me to write a new piece that has fairly broad appeal and a good chance of getting picked up for performance further down the line. Same goes for competitions for instrumental groups, as long as the instrumentation is fairly standard and the theme is something that I can relate to musically.

Obviously, the downside to competitions for more standard instrumentations is that they're likely to get a higher number of quality submissions (meaning longer odds of winning), but I personally still find this preferable to, say, writing a piece for theremin, contrabassoon, and countertenor (yes, I'm exaggerating here, but we've all seen those competitions for bizarre instrumentations) that has about a 1% chance of ever being played again even if it does win.

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