In many fields where competition is stiff, one must figure out a way to stand out. This especially true in the arts where there are many talented and creative people expressing themselves at a high level of competence. It is not enough to be good and hope that someone will discover you. The artist must create methods of getting their work known. In this essay, I will discuss three programs that I created that have been instrumental in fostering my career as a composer and at the same time benefit the performers with whom we interface.
Early in my composing career, I was exposed to a win-win idea by tenor saxophonist, James Houlik. Houlik is an excellent musician who performs on an instrument that does not have a large body of literature. In order to expand the literature and to build his reputation as an artist, he contacted several composers and asked them to write a composition specifically for him. In exchange for the composition, he promised to perform the work at least a half dozen times. He contacted me because I had started a co-operative publishing company for composers in 1972 where the music was printed on demand as orders were received. Houlik was impressed with our offerings and my music, and the connection was made. I composed two pieces for Jim and I received copies of the programs and recordings of his performances.
I never forgot my experience with what he referred to as a “performance commission”. When I retired from teaching to devote more time to composing, I began to offer a Commission Grant through my publishing company, Co-op Press, that is modeled after Houlik’s “performance commission”. The Co-op Press Fund was established in 2000 as a means of encouraging performers to experience the excitement of collaborating with a composer to premiere a composition written especially for them and to share that excitement with their audiences by having the composer in residence. This is a competitive program that is available to individuals and performing groups living in the contiguous United States. The applicants can range from elementary level through professional and must demonstrate through the submission of a recording, their level of competency within their grade level. No money changes hands as the program is designed to provide benefits for both the performers and myself. To date, forty-one grants have been awarded.
While there are many highlights resulting from my creation of this grant program, a few stand out as being career changers. At least a dozen of these commissions have resulted in a performance at national and international conferences. Many other musicians, therefore, heard my music and either purchased my compositions and performed them. Some have decided to apply for a commission grant themselves.
As an illustration of what can happen when one thinks outside the box and creates win-win situations, I would like to refer to a commission grant we awarded in 2002 to Shelley Jagow of Wright State University. Jagow applied for and receive a grant for me to compose a composition for alto saxophone and violin in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the Wright Brothers first fight in December of 2003. The resulting composition was called “Celebration of Flight” and consisted of three movements, Inspirations, Experiments, and Triumphs. The premiere performance was scheduled for January 2003 to kick off the centennial year. After receiving an excellent performance and recording, I decided to send the recording to NPR’s Performance Today to see if they would broadcast it. It wasn’t until mid-November that I heard from Performance Today informing me that they would you use the recording during their program on December 17, 2003, the anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic flight. I was honored that my music was selected as the composition used by Performance Today for this occasion and that it was broadcast over the 250 NPR affiliate radio stations.
The success of the Commission Grant Program inspired the establishment of our Recording Grant Program in 2005. The Recording Assistance Grant enables talented performers to produce a professional quality CD in collaboration with my recording label, Emeritus Recordings. Emeritus Recordings designs the cover, tray card and insert, obtains and pays for mechanical licenses, manufactures the CD, and commercially distributes the CD through storefront, web-based, and download retail outlets. The artist must include at least fifteen minutes of my music on the CD. The performers also provide us with the digital recordings of all the compositions included on the CD and contribute $600 towards the cost of producing and marketing the CD. The artist also receives 100 CDs that they can sell at their performances and keep the profits. Emeritus Recordings keep the profits from the digital and physical sales we make through our affiliates. This win-win program has enabled us to award twenty grants and manufacture seventeen CDs thus far.
While the income from sales of our products and airplay on radio stations generate some income that is used to sustain the grant programs, the major benefit comes from knowing that there are people enjoying the CDs, downloads and broadcasts. Reviews of Emeritus Recordings products have been very positive. For example, James Wegg of James Wegg Reviews writes that our “Collage” CD is “a delightful smorgasbord of textures and tones.”
In 2010, I established our Fundraising Program for Musical Organizations and Schools. Once again the thinking was to determine the needs of performers and align them with the needs of my publishing company in order to create a win-win situation. Schools and musical organizations are always in the need of funding and Co-op Press desires to offer quality recording samples of our music in order to provide potential buyers with a realistic rendition of the music they are considering buying. The cost of hiring professional musicians to record all our music is prohibitive, but by making a financial contribution to a school or musical organization to record our music is both financially reasonable and assists the groups in carrying out their mission. About two-dozen works of mine have been recorded through this program and we have contributed around five thousand dollars to musical organizations and schools.
The establishment of a professional recording portfolio for a composer is an essential step in obtaining commissions and grants. The Recording Assistance Program and Fundraising Program have enabled me to apply for and receive grants and commissions otherwise unobtainable without these excellent recordings. It is a lot of work to administer and promote these programs, but at the end of the day, I can sit back and enjoy listening to performances by top-rate artists performing the music that I have composed under these programs. This is an accomplishment that always brings a smile to my face.
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