An Intro To Composition Competitions

An Intro To Composition Competitions

Stefan Cassomenos
Melbourne, Australia

An Intro To Composition Competitions

Question:

Hi Stefan. In regards to composition, are there any competitions or ways to get music 'out there' that would be very beneficial for a university student?

Answer:

Hi there, and thanks for your question. The simple answer is yes – there are dozens of composition prizes available worldwide. There are also many different ways of getting one’s music out there. I can try to answer your question in some detail, but only in reference to my own particular set of experiences.

I had some lucky success as a kid and in my early teens with national composition competitions for young composers. I was almost always entering with music which I had already composed, and which I’d usually already performed a few times, and which I had often had the opportunity to rethink and refine.

Then, in my late teens, I became aware of the sheer number of competitions there were around the world, and I used to spend hours in front of the computer, looking them all up and systematically listing the requirements, with very grand plans of entering as many of them as I could.

My plan involved writing brand new music for each competition. I tried this method for two or three years, but it would always take me far too long to compose. I think I only ever managed to enter two or three, without any success. I realised that I wasn’t getting any faster at writing music (even with all of that prize money as an incentive!!) and more importantly, the music I was writing wasn’t getting any better either.

Then in my early twenties, I made a major discovery – I realised that I would much rather be a better composer than a more famous/rich composer. I realised that the only way I’d become a better composer was to improve my craft, so that I could give my musical and expressive ideas the very best compositional treatment. I realised that the only way to improve my craft was to practice writing music well – meaning properly – and that for me, this took a great deal of time. I also realised that I wanted to write music primarily for my own enjoyment (and also maybe a bit for the enjoyment of others… but mostly just me.) Since that discovery, I try to make sure that I only write music if the following prerequisites apply:

– there are original ideas of mine which I like and which I think are worth being heard

– there is something I strongly want to express with those ideas

– it is either certain or extremely likely that the music will be performed

– there will be an opportunity for me to compose and notate in adequate time

If these criteria aren’t satisfied, I’m afraid I don’t end up writing very good music, or enjoying the experience, and it ends up being an enormous waste of my time.

At the moment, it takes me around 18 to 24 months for my compositional ideas to form (including writing a draft short score and deciding on an instrumentation) – and then another 12 to 18 months to arrange or confirm the performance opportunity, as well as finalising the composition and notating the music.

Composing is a constant part of my life. Every week, I devote a little bit of time to my sketches. But my compositional ideas tend not to crystallise unless I have specific dates and performers in mind. I usually write music for my friends and colleagues. I don’t feel particularly motivated by the idea of getting my music 'out there’ – I haven’t actively promoted my music on Soundcloud or YouTube or any of the other wonderful resources that are now available for young composers. Maybe I should. But I guess I have limited time, and I'd rather spend the time writing music than promoting it.

If you want to get your music ‘out there’, then you have to first ask yourself, ‘out where?’ – because the internet is obviously somewhere your music can be heard, and if that is of interest to you, then I imagine the best way would be to direct people to hear your music Soundcloud, YouTube, even Facebook – and so on (or to just hope that they’ll stumble across it there.)

If you want to hear your music on the concert stage, then I think the best starting point is for performers to take an interest in performing your music – ideally, they should like it enough to want to program it in their concerts. So maybe think about fostering your relationships with performers, including those who are already your friends, and those who you’re yet to meet. It certainly helps if you’re a performer yourself, but if you’re not, you can always meet performers at their concerts – if you enjoyed their playing, then go up to them after the concert, let them know you liked their playing, and introduce yourself.

If you like the way somebody plays, and you can imagine them playing your music, then either tell them that you’d like to write some music for them, or just go ahead and write a piece for them and email it to them. They may not reply immediately – it may take them months or years before they find the time to learn your music, get to know it, understand it, and eventually to choose to program it in concert.

I have a huge pile of music, a bit like a wish list, which consists of music which I would like to learn, but don’t have time at the moment. Some of it has been given to me by composers, and some of it I have purchased. Occasionally, when I have a bit of spare time, I take something else from that pile, play through it again, and often I’ll decide to program something from that pile in a concert I have coming up, if I feel it would suit the occasion, and if have time to learn it properly.

It can also be helpful to direct your focus to ensembles with a particular interest in contemporary music, like my group PLEXUS. We are always looking for new music to premiere, and you can contact us through our website –www.plexuscollective.com – we receive lots of new music, and we’re very keen to support young composers in particular.

Good luck!