Planning and programming new music

It’s Spring and time to plan for the next art season (and beyond!). Have you considered some new music for your repertoire?

I both hate and love this part of my job. On the one hand, I hate bugging hard-working musicians to play my music when learning a new piece of music is time consuming; it’s easy for me to ask, but much harder for the performer who has to put the effort out there only to find an unreceptive audience or worse a piece that is dull and uninspiring. We all work HARD as professional musicians, but it’s a shame when the music itself – rather than the day-to-day grind – reminds us that it’s “work”.

But I love connecting with performers, conductors, and music programmers of all kinds. I love making that connection and seeing an old piece of mine click with someone new or a new piece click with an old friend and colleague. I love when interesting projects that I never dreamed arise out of a simple request to someone that “we should work on something together”.

I love hearing from a singer at Earlham College that he didn’t care for my piece Trade Winds at first read-through but grew to love it as the chorus learned not only their parts but how they fit into the piece as a whole. By the end of the process, it was his favorite piece of the year.

I love hearing from a dynamic music impresario in Texas. He loves the rough recordings of the song cycle I have been working on with tenor Kerry Jennings and feels driven to stage them with lighting and choreography for their premiere, taking time from his own incredibly busy schedule to try to find national and community grants to help make it happen, all because he loves the music.

I love hearing from a percussion professor that he enjoyed exploring my pieces Liebeschlag and Alchemy so much that he wants to commission something from me for himself to showcase on his spring recital.

So is it really “work”? While the risk of performing new music is that you will waste time on a dud, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have heard a performance of a piece of mine that fell short, that truly counted as “time wasted”. As a composer, I am dedicated – obsessed, really – to finding connections between people, between audiences and egghead doctoral composers, between church choirs and electronic music, between percussion and strings, between cold calculation and human emotion. There are common threads between us, no matter our differences. That is why I’ve had avant-garde musicians love my church choir music and very conservative musicians commission new music from me. With living and active connections, new music is never about effort alone but rather about effort well spent, and that is the best kind of work for which musicians of all backgrounds strive.

All projects, all pieces come from reaching out, from asking performers, conductors, and programmers of all kinds if they are interested in working on something together. So, as you plan your music for the 2011-2012 and beyond, consider something new. Some of my music is popular and spreading like wildfire, some unfairly languishes in “premiered-only” purgatory, and much more is still waiting to be commissioned. Which would you like to program?

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