A Glaring Omission

I’ve been shut out again. I have a great project to write for a great youth ensemble, whose playing rivals many professional organizations I know of. However, because the players are amateurs, we are not eligible to apply for a commissioning fund that is available for composers nationwide.

It seems this is not an oddity, but the norm. After speaking with numerous colleagues involved in development and administration of numerous organizations well versed in this area, nobody could think of a single grant that specifically provides commission funds to composers wishing to work with amateur or youth groups. Even those grants and awards that do allow you to apply for a non-professional ensemble to commission tend to weigh heavily their preferences towards the commissioning professional groups.

Yes, there are general funds that one can apply for: Meet The Composer has a program to help cover costs to have a composer participate in the premiere of a work. But, that fund specifically states the money cannot be used towards commissions. Similarly, the American Composers Forum has begun to nationalize its subito grants, but then again that is designed to be a quick boost of a bit of money to help a composer’s career, not to commission specifically.

So, what does this say about us? Are funders ignoring a vital and fertile ground for promoting both the short and long term survival and growth of our art intentionally? Or, are composers, from overall lack of interest, not actively seeking support for composing opportunities with our emerging artists? Are we just giving lip service in expounding the importance of writing music for young players? Most of us are not in this racket for the money, but we still need and deserve some sort of paycheck. It takes just as much time and effort, if not more, to compose a successful piece for a youth orchestra as it does to write one for a professional one.

Someone needs to step up to the plate. Why can’t one of the foundations or organizations out there come up with a grant program specifically designed for funding works geared towards young players and amateurs? If there is all this money seemingly being funneled into educational outreach, why can’t some of it be directed towards this overlooked area?

Then again, how are organizations to know that there is need and opportunity in this arena if both composers and non-professional ensembles do not speak up? What are we going to do about it?

4 thoughts on “A Glaring Omission

  1. altometer

    You beat me to the punch on mentioning The Commission Project (TCP). Founded and operated on principals that emphasize having living composers (i.e. living, creative artists) be a part of educational landscape of young musicians.

    TCP is based in Rochester, NY, but has been gradually expanding its reach.

    NB: I’m one of many composers affiliated with and supported by (at one time or another) TCP.

    Their website and downloadable newsletters are worth checking out: The Commission Project’s website

    Reply
  2. John Kennedy

    community involvement
    Santa Fe New Music has a Youth Ensemble and last year, a high school senior made it his community project to raise funds for a commission for the ensemble from a well-known composer. His appeal letter, which he sent to his circle as well as SFNM’s regular funders, was very successful and many donors commented, hard to resist. He was able to raise the funds as a community commission from individual donors.

    It is often difficult to convnce performing organizations and youth groups to take on the added financial burden of commission funds when general operating money is a never-ending struggle. But, a fundraising effort led by the kids in the group, can create a sense of investment and community attention for the piece.

    When I was fortunate enough to receive the first commission from the Sarasota Youth Opera, which is like the Met of children’s opera, they sold the story of a new piece very hard, and raised more than twice as much as what they spent on the entire project. In any case, a couple of examples of how involving the community can involve a new kind of work, but can in the end be a very positive alternative to the frustrations of the grantmaking scene.

    Reply

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