Twelve emerging composers just got a career break—the American Composers Forum has announced the 2002 Composers Commissioning Program (CCP) awards. Open to New York City and Minnesota composers as well as those working with Minnesota ensembles and presenters (a guideline of the funder, the Jerome Foundation), a total of 12 projects were granted support of anywhere from $5,500 to $8,000 from a pool of $90,000.
The recipient composers, appreciative of the support, stress the importance of awards that support artists at pivotal points in their careers. They point out that in many cases the awards will allow them to explore new genres and techniques—work that they would not have otherwise been able financially to take on. Minnesotan Marc Anderson will write a work for the Bells of the Lakes Handbell Choir, a proposition he candidly admits represents step musically. “I have never written for a group anything like this or in this way. I come from the world music/jazz/pop world—lots of improvisation, very little emphasis on written material. I have used the recording studio as my main writing tool. So this is a huge departure for me.”
Juilliard-trained violist Lev Zhurbin says he is grateful for the support of an organization like the ACF this early in his composing career, especially since his project will involve composition, improvisation as well as sound-design/sampling, and will bring together several cultures and performers from different parts of the world. “I will need to go on location in Spain and France to record audio material, and then have it pressed on vinyl, as one of my performers is a turntablist. It is great to have a budget to do things properly.”
Christopher Jentsch, a New York-based jazzman, also stresses the pragmatic elements to financial support like this, especially in the face of deadline pressure. “But seriously,” he adds, “before the grant announcement I had begun to sense myself going in a bit of a circle—not artistically, but career-wise. Now it looks like this award will be the centerpiece of a project that may be supported by as many as three additional grants, including a possible follow-up performance at a ‘high-profile’ industry convention, interest in a possible studio recording, and a release by a boutique label as opposed to issuing it myself.”
This kind of exponential growth potential demonstrates the consequences these awards have for a composer on the verge. “In these cases where there is such a confluence of support,” Jentsch adds, “the events become more interesting to record labels, to the wider jazz community, the education community, and to the media (including the reviewers at those popular ‘jazz glossies’).”
These awards may allow the composers and their work to bask in the glow of public attention for only a short time or lead to new opportunities, but each composer has a unique understanding of their place in modern American society what the award will allow them to offer that public. James Syler, a composer based in San Antonio, Texas, and writing for the Artaria String Quartet, is pragmatic. “The fact that music is everywhere today has greatly reduced its meaning to people, hence the role and importance of a composer is also greatly reduced. I don’t want to kid myself into thinking that I’m having any grand function in society. I write for a small audience and that’s OK.”
More of an idealist, Anderson sees his role as that of a communicator. “I think my role is to be a genuine human being, stay true to my values and try to be a positive voice in the community. I think art/music is an opportunity to become intimate with each and every moment and that effort is reflected in the work and that energy has an influence.”
Jentsch, wary of sounding pretentious, explains: “The dissemination of mass-culture is less organic and more regulated than it has ever been before. This could change, but maybe my ‘role in American society’ so far is as an important luxury for the continued development of that society. Not myself in particular, but for all of the many composers and music makers operating unnoticed by the media and under the radar of wider popular recognition.”