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To Publish or Not to Publish?

The answer, of course, is to publish! As a composer, you are sitting on a collection of potentially money-making assets and it is in your best interest to make them available to the public. The real question is whether or not you should self-publish or find a company to publish your music instead. To answer this question, it helps to understand what publishing entails so you know what characteristics you might look for in a potential third-party publisher, or what to expect if you are going to do the work yourself. The functions of a publisher are numerous, and to do it well can be expensive and time-consuming. Here are the 5 most important jobs for a publisher, and a self-publishing composer should be comfortable…

Music Without Words – An Exploration of the Voice

One of the biggest struggles I encounter in writing and programming choral music is finding adventurous and innovative work that doesn’t sacrifice accessibility and performability for avocational singers. One realm I’ve found particularly rich to explore is the intrinsic sound of the voice, exploring the color possibilities and techniques available to what might be the most versatile instrument available. This often takes the form of music without words, getting away from the concrete meaning inherent in lyrics, and putting focus on the diversity of sound instead. Many composers, like Meredith Monk and Toby Twining, have spent years working with the voice-as-instrument to critical acclaim. Groups like Roomful of Teeth have garnered as much commercial success as an avant-garde vocal ensemble could hope for with their…

5 Reasons Why Composers Should Conduct (And Conductors Should Compose!)

During my own career in the freelance music world, switching roles between performer, composer, and conductor has opened a diversity of opportunities I wouldn’t have dreamed. In a world that is increasingly emphasizing the importance of specialization, I’ve become an advocate for musicians being as versatile as possible in their creative work. At this year’s national ACDA convention I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with like minded artists including Karen Thomas, David Conte, Eric Banks, and Steven Sametz who have also not been content to put themselves in a single box. The panel was about ‘composers who conduct and conductors who compose’, and we had a fascinating discussion about the benefits and challenges of playing these dual roles and how it has…

Advice To Graduating Students

When I first graduated from college with a shiny new diploma and a solid musical foundation I did what most young artists do: work in a cafe. I had no idea how to take the next step in my career and spent many years trying to figure it out. Eventually I did and established a decent career as a freelance musician. It’s nearing the end of the school year, and for many that means an impending graduation followed by being flung into the ‘real’ world. Maybe that’s you, maybe it’s your students. Either way, here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years that I think will prove helpful for those about to engage in the world of professional vocal music as singers, conductors,...

The Boy Whose Father Was God

Performed five times by Chanticleer, March, 2011 “The individual voices—circling, crisscrossing—were so clear as to be tactile; you practically could trace them with your fingers” -The San Jose Mercury News The Boy Whose Father Was God was probably the most ambitious and most carefully constructed program that I ever produced. The idea was to tell the story of the most revolutionary of all historical figures, Jesus of Nazareth. My intent, however, was not to tell the story from a religious point of view (Jesus as God), but rather from a historical point of view (Jesus as Man). I soon discovered that this was going to be more difficult than I had expected, but I can say with absolute certainty that the hours of research, development...

Programming Concerts With A Me$$age

Many choral directors have something to say to the world, though we don’t often use the concert hall as a pulpit. Audiences don’t much like being preached at, though they do like being moved, and here in lies an opportunity to explore social messages in concerts. The trick to moving an audience without preaching at them lies in presenting your topic with variety and creative placement, allowing the music to comment on itself. Take for instance, the issue of money. Many have trouble with our financial system, but because we all depend on money, and we’d all love a little more to spend, it’s a tricky topic. One of the essential questions I’d like the audience to ask is what role they play in the...

5 Tips for Commissioning New Music on a Small Budget

I can’t stress enough the importance of commissioning for composers. Based on my experience, those who make their living as composers do so by writing music, not selling their existing works, licensing it out for movie scores, etc. I run into many conductors and ensembles who want to support new music, and I tell them the single best way to do so is by commissioning. Buying scores is great, but if you want to support composers, pay them to write something new. I recently sat on a panel for the New York Choral Consortium about the commissioning process. There was a lot of enthusiasm and interest from local choirs, but finances were the dominant barrier. In fact, many of the ensembles with the biggest need...

How to Program a Concert: Planning a Full-Course Meal

One of the most important tasks for choral conductors is selecting repertoire for their choral ensembles. The vast amount of repertoire combined with numerous considerations for selecting a program may seem at times to be an overwhelming task. Conductors need to thoughtfully review all selections under consideration to include a variety of styles, tempi, and key centers in order to increase the aesthetic experience and maintain the interest in every rehearsal and performance. Then, they need to arrange the selections creatively for overall flow, purpose, and direction of the concert. The following guidelines offer approaches to create artful, educational, and enjoyable concert performances that completely engage the audience from the moment the ensemble takes the stage until the final ovation. Repertoire selection: 1. Choose a...

In Defense of New Music Publishing

5 Ways Publishers Help Composers and Conductors I’m sure you’ve read about the evils of publishing companies, record labels, and the music industry at large. I recently came across some posts which made me wonder, is the common perception of publishers that they are opportunists? I was shocked anyone would see what I do as taking advantage of my fellow composers rather than a vital service to the field. Publishing isn’t a lucrative business, it’s a passion project we pursue to advocate for the music we love. I can’t speak for other companies as I have little dealings with them and don’t presume to know how they do business, but I can share the main reasons we are an indispensable part of composers’ professional lives and why…

Thank You! Celebrating one year of amazing new choral music

In 2007 I conducted my first ensemble and quickly learned how frustrating it can be to find great new music for a choir. I was drowning in websites with thousands of scores and struggled to find music I was excited to perform. There was no quality control and no way to discover new work; the whole thing felt too big and overwhelming. I started asking friends: How many arrangements of “This Little Light of Mine” do I need? This the 21st century, how can a score be on a 6-week back order? Why aren’t there decent recordings of these pieces? How am I supposed to find great work from composers who don’t already have big names? One year ago this month we officially launched a...
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