One of my lifelong commitments as a performer, educator, and composer is to find ways to bring composers, performers and audiences together to create excitement about new music. The reason for doing this is illustrate that music is dynamic art form that is ever evolving, rather than a purely historic one.
There are many reasons why performers are reluctant to commission composers. Among them are an abundance of standard repertoire, fear of alienating audiences, uncertainty of the resulting composition will be like, and cost. The first reason should not be a deterrent, as all performers should feel a responsibility of adding to the repertoire for their performance area. Carefully researching the composer of choice and finding one that would suit performer and audience tastes can overcome the next two reasons. Using the idea of a Performance Commissioning Consortium that is described below, can solve the problem of cost.
Performance Commissioning Consortium
A Performance Commissioning Consortium is a win-win way for a group of people to have a composer compose a new composition for little or no cost. It works like this:
Idea for the composition
• The consortium gets started by one person wanting a composer to compose a piece for a specified instrumentation and level. This person, who is called the initiator, then promotes the idea among his/her colleagues and tries to get others to join the consortium.
• While the initiator may have a specific instrumentation in mind, the composer may be able to create alternative parts (ex. flute and bassoon duet that could be played by oboe and euphonium) to enable a wider participation in the consortium. The initiator should check with the composer regarding the possibilities.
• It may be possible for the composer to simplify parts of the composition in order to give more flexibility regarding the level. The initiator should check with the composer regarding the possibilities.
Number of participants and cost
• The composer and initiator should set a participation fee and a minimum number of participants (ex. 10 participants at $50 each). Each participant should make a commitment to perform the composition at least once during the year following the receipt of score and parts. Sending the score and parts as PDF files will enable the commission cost to be lower than printing and mailing hard copies. The participation fee would be due within 30 days of receipt of the music.
• Each participant will be listed on the composition as part of the consortium and will have local premiere rights. After one year, the composition can be made available for purchase by the general public. The copyright will remain with the composer.
• The composer should be willing to refund a portion of the participation fee up to the entire fee to each participant for each program submitted showing a performance by the participant of the composition at a performance society (ASCAP, BMI) licensed venue (usually college campuses, performance halls, Association of Concert Bands members, etc.). The composer could then benefit financially through performance royalties to compensate for the refunding of all or part of the commission fee.
• The composer and initiator should establish clear deadlines for commitment to and completion of the composition.
Promotion of the Commissioning Consortium
• The initiator can use news groups, forums, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin), and word of mouth to recruit participants. In exchange for this, the initiator should be allowed to participate for free.
• The composer and initiator may choose to use kickstarter as a means of obtaining participants.
• The participants may wish to invite the composer to the premieres and have the composer share ideas about the creative process with the audience, schools, and the community. A New Music USA Project Grant may be a way of funding the composer residency.
I have initiated this type of commission at my website http://cooppress.net along with my other programs such as a Commission Assistance Grant, a Recording Grant, a Fundraising Program, and a Performing Partner Program. All it takes to bring performers, composers and audiences together is a desire and a willingness to work together. It is hoped that the ideas that I have initiated will become more widespread and that all performers will endeavor to work with composers to perpetuate new music.