Composers' Forum

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How can I say this, gently ... I am so frustrated that there are insufficient avenues for the amateur composer to have their works read/played. And worse, it seems that many believe that only folks under thirty can be called new composers. What is someone, like me, started seriously composing late in life, after dealing a non-musical career? Are we to be penalized because we're "old"?

Nuff said!

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Comment by H. S. Teoh on March 9, 2015 at 3:18pm

I share in your frustration. :-) I might be in an even worse situation as far as composing goes... I have a full-time job, church obligations, and other things that basically leave me with barely enough time just to write the music down, let alone seek out venues for it to be performed! This has cornered me into an island where I don't get feedback for my compositions, and the only thing left for me is to judge my own works (we all know how risky that is!) and hope that I got my orchestral balance right -- which I probably don't, since electronic playback is extremely unreliable when it comes to timbre and instrumental balance (not to mention handicapped, since technology like MIDI was originally made for keyboard-like instruments, and lack standardized support for things like different articulation styles of strings, etc.).

I have considered in the past to make connections by perhaps taking a night course in composition or something along those lines, but the lack of time prevented me. And I also found, as you did, that many such institutions are either geared toward promising young composers who might eventually blossom into career composers -- so I'm basically left out in the cold from the start, or they are along the lines of "learn how to play 5 popular tunes on that dusty old piano of yours in 28 days" which is really not what I'm looking for.

Ironically enough, I do have someone among my acquiantances who is in charge of an amateur youth orchestra... unfortunately, because it's an amateur orchestra, they are loathe to try out new works, preferring rather to stay within the safe confines of well-known works, and even then restricted to popular works that are easily recognized by the audience. So again, the door is shut before I even have a chance. In some way I sympathize with their stance, since an unknown amateur orchestra playing obscure works by unknown composers are unlikely to keep their already-small audience coming back, and would soon disband. But still, it's frustrating.

But at least, this forum may provide much-needed outlet for me. :-P So I hope, anyway.

Comment by Al Johnston on March 9, 2015 at 12:24pm

My solution is to produce and publish my music on Youtube, Al Johnston's Novaclassica.  The page gets a pretty good following, albeit not within academic circles (probably). But I have trouble with "academic music" to begin with. What I find especially refreshing is that there is no pressure to write a certain way, neither to appeal to a common denominator (as with the entertainment industry) nor to satisfy some arcane ivory tower professor.

Of course, I have encountered many difficulties. The tools for producing MIDI mock-ups of my work are both expensive and shabby. I have spent more than half my time not only learning them (er...discovering them), but also actively working to improve them (for instance, Sibelius as scoring editor for Studio One using Kontakt). I'm still not satisfied with my results, but I find that it is better for me to work in an environment of non-competition. (Of course, the trick is to be one's own toughest critic, and to be patient and not over-anxious to send out pieces before they are seasoned. Typically, I sit on a piece for years.)

As for age, it is only within the past few generations that so much emphasis has been put on the young. In prior centuries, an artist was thought to be able to do their best work in middle to late age. Particularly for serious music, youth is a disadvantage in that technical brilliance seldom makes up for lack of experience.

Comment by Janet Spangenberg on February 22, 2015 at 12:09pm

I share the frustration of there not being enough avenues for new composers' music to be performed. Like Bob, that's the way it's always been, certainly within my own lifetime. It's not hopeless though, but it does take persistence, and developing relationships with musicians and music organizations over time. It's time consuming and expensive to enter competitions, but worth it if one is serious about making headway as a composer (whether for amateur or not).

Yes, *so* many competitions are geared to the young, under 30 is typical.

The first contest I entered was geared for college students. I was happy to have that opportunity, and worked all semester in my private composition class on a piece that doubled as the class assignment and contest entry. I finally sent my entry in, and they wanted "proof" I was a student by verifying my birthday. I think I was 48 at the time... I was a bit deflated, but undaunted. I responded that I could prove I was a student, but only as a mature student. They were chagrined, and welcomed my entry. I actually placed, though not the top spot, so it didn't get performed. It was, however, a wonderful affirmation.

There are lists of composition competitions that are worth perusing. The American Composers Forum has a good one. There's a cost to the membership, that allows details to the contest listings, but I think you may be able to access the list itself, then Google the individual listing to find details off the Forum site, and onto the contest holder's site. Doing an Internet search for "Call for Scores" can be fruitful. So can searching for organizations that serve musicians of specific instruments. There's one for string bass players, and another for flutists, organs, etc. These organizations often hold contests for new music written for those specific instruments.

In the meantime, know you're not alone in your frustration! (Though that could make it worse...) :)

Comment by William J. Joel on February 12, 2015 at 2:45pm

Yes, I have contacted an amateur orchestra, via their musical director, and though the response was kind, the message was that my music was too hard for them. Of course, that was only one contact, but something makes me feel that amateur ensembles would tend to gravitate towards "standards" in the repertoire, and avoid anything untried. Or perhaps I'm just being paranoid.

Comment by Michael Lofting on February 12, 2015 at 2:24pm
Hi William
Understand how you feel as I have a number of pieces not performed yet.
One avenue for a classical composer to try is an "amateur" orchestra.
Usually have contact details on their website.
the conductor will be the one deciding what gets played.
Also some of the members may be involved in other chamber groups..
Comment by William J. Joel on February 12, 2015 at 2:10pm

The age thing is something I often run into when the call is for works by NEW composers. What I have found is that "new" = "young", which is what urks me to no end.

Comment by Janet Spangenberg on February 12, 2015 at 1:46pm


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