How College Prepared Me to be a Professional Composer
I am a professional composer. That’s what I do for a living. I have published works; my music is performed around the world, and has even been featured on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” Several people have asked me about the requirements I had to meet for music composition in college that prepared me for my career. Literally the week after I graduated I received the first phone call asking to publish my works. Before college I had a great sense of melody, harmony, orchestration, and rhythm but my music lacked maturity. So here are the requirements my music professor set for his composition students to prepare them for a life in music.
Requirements for each semester:
- Complete 4 compositions.
- Have 2 public performances from 2 different works.
- Keep a contemporary listening log with a minimum of 10 compositions not previously heard.
- 30 minute private lesson once a week with the professor.
- Attend composition seminar for an hour every Friday which gives you the chance to work with other student composers and talk with professional composers.
- For your senior year, you must organize a complete hour long senior recital featuring a selection of your compositions.
Works to compose in this order from freshman year to senior year:
- Compose a hymn for SATB with proper voice leading and chord progressions.
- Compose a solo piano work and be able to explain how your work has a beginning, middle, and end.
- Compose a work using one of the church modes (Instrumentation that I chose: TTBB and Strings.)
- Compose a work for solo instrument using set-theory (Flugelhorn.)
- Compose a song for solo voice and accompaniment. Make sure the words are from a poem that is public domain (Soprano, Piano, and Cello. Words that I used were William Blake’s “The Garden of Love.”)
- Compose a song for solo voice and small ensemble. Make sure the words are from a poem that is public domain (Tenor, Celesta, Vibraphone, Marimba 1, Marimba 2, and cello. Words that I used were Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask.”)
- Compose a work using a twelve-tone technique (3 trumpets.)
- Compose a work for a small ensemble of percussionists using a duration series of rhythmic patterns (3 percussionists and a duration series of 4, 1, 2, and 3.)
- Compose a work for small ensemble using set-theory (Violin, Clarinet, Bassoon, Tuba, Congas, and Claves.)
- Compose a work for large percussion ensemble.
- Compose a groove piece for large percussion ensemble.
- Compose a work using an original contemporary technique (Violin and Cello using fully diminished 7ths as my original technique that I came up with.)
- Compose a work for full band.
- Composer or arrange a work for marching band.
- Compose a work which the harmony modulates every measure (Harpsichord.)
- Compose a work with your own synthetic scale (Piano.)
- Compose a work for full orchestra.
- Compose a work for large brass ensemble.
- Compose a work for programmed music that tells a story (Strings, Piano, and Gong.)
- Compose a work for choir using a foreign language (SSAATB using Spanish.)
- Compose a work for electronic music.
- Compose an exotic work (String Quartet using Celtic style.)
- Compose a work for found objects.
- Compose the score for a movie scene that is public domain.
- Compose a large scaled work longer than 30 minutes (Requiem for Orchestra, Organ, Piano, and SATB.)
If anyone has any questions I will be more than happy to answer. I know many people are now against formal training in music composition, but college gave me many opportunities to hear my music performed live, form professional relationships with musicians, organize concerts working with musicians and studio producers, meet professional composers and publishers, and a chance for my music to grow and mature.