Point of View
Creating Your Own Opportunitiesby Al Benner
By now, most of the state, regional, and national composer organizations have concluded their annual conferences. Composers now know whether or not they have were selected to have a performance at these conferences. This yearly round of organizational conferences is for many composers the only place where scores may be submitted for performance opportunities. In the last issue of the WAC Newsletter (February 1998), I wrote about ways to increase your odds of getting a performance. I would now like to suggest possible ways to create your own performance opportunities instead of waiting for some arbitrary committee or person who may or may not have political strings at some conference to choose you.
First off, let me give credit where credit is due. The concepts, if not the exact plan, for most of the following ideas were first discussed with me by Dinos Constantinides, who more than anybody else I know has been highly successful in creating performing opportunities for himself, and who has created performance opportunities for many composers.
If you are employed at an academic institution, you have advantages that those outside academia do not. Chances are there is a place at your institution where a proposed concert can take place generally without charge. The academic institution holds licenses with the major performing royalty groups so you don't have to worry about receiving a bill from them. Also at the institution there are players with whom you have probably become friends and are looking for performance opportunities. These are advantages not available to those outside the academic walls.
In every city where I have lived, I have found some churches that are quite happy to provide their sanctuaries for concerts. Of course, if you are a member of a church, that would be the first place to start. Other possibilities are local middle or high schools; or various museums and even retirement communities. All you are looking for is some type of meeting place that could handle a small crowd. Many of these places will provide this space without charge or at a minimal cost.
The place you select may or may not already have a general performance royalty license. If it does not, then you need to either find a local organization that holds these licenses to sponsor you, or inquiry directly to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC for a one-concert license. Depending upon the cost, you may have to limit the participating composers to a single royalty group to avoid having to get multiple licenses. If you are the only composer, then speak to your group of which you are a member about what it would entail for you to give a concert. If you are a member of a national or state composer's organization like NACUSA, SCI or here in Wisconsin, WAC, then there is a good possibility that these organizations may umbrella you in this situation. But before you automatically assume this, please check with the appropriate person in that organization.
The only other major obstacle is getting performers. Here it is helpful if you play. Hopefully you have not been existing in a vacuum and have friends that are performers. Sometimes your abilities or theirs limit the type of pieces you are able to present, but in any case, the first priority is to put on a good concert and that means good performances. If you need to look for outside performers, then the place where you have secured a hall may provide you with some answers. It is a great advantage, not only in helping to draw a crowd, but also in your dealings with that place, to try to find a way to include their existing musicians. If it is a church, then there are singers and an accompanist; if it is a high school, then get some of the high school students involved. Many of these musicians are looking for performance opportunities and usually if there is a charge, it is very minimal.
All of the above deals with putting on a local concert of your own music or even getting a few fellow composers involved. I would suggest the possibility, if you have the players, of including on the concert works that are already "known" and have an audience appeal. This means playing something of Copland or Ives or whomever, so that in your advertisement, the public recognizes a few names. It also means that the concert does not have to be all contemporary music. The main purpose is to get your music heard and that can only happen if people actually attend the concert.
If you know composers in other cities, another possibility exists. Of course, this would have to be feasible travel-wise, but if there are three or four of you, then each person would provide a concert location in his or her city. You each would be responsible for a set amount of music (I recommend 15 or 20 minutes worth) and responsible for your own performers. Particular details and expenses would have to be discussed beforehand. With a little bit of imagination, however, you now have performing opportunities in three or four different cities.
One final suggestion, get involved with the local, state, regional or national composer organizations. Your chances for performances always seem to increase the more active you are within an organization. Sometimes this means going to conferences even if you don't have a piece being played. The main purpose is to meet people. And if you can help out somebody, then help them out. You will be surprised that by creating opportunities for others, you create opportunities for yourself.
I am sure if one puts a bit of creative thinking together, other possibilities exist. The point being, that if you wait for someone else to give you a performance opportunity, you will generally always be waiting.
WAC Newsletter, June 1998
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