Getting Music Into the Hands of Young Performers

Last week’s chatter about the challenges young players face in buying contemporary music brought a groundswell of commentary. In my article, I tried to highlight the economic problems that performers and publishers face, which ultimately affect all composers’ attempts to get their music to younger players. However, given the posted comments, most took it as an opportunity to draw battle lines between the self-published and the commercially published music communities, with many even venting distaste and hostility towards the commercial publishing world.

I think that is not the point. Rather, as Jenny Bilfield pointed out in her comment, “The ultimate goal, whether one is commercially published, or self-published, is to get the music into the hands of performers.” Right now, there is no central repository that gives interested clients a portal from which to peruse all American new music, regardless of who publishes it. Furthermore, there still is a Berlin Wall between composers (and their representatives) and the community of non-professional/student players. We do not have a way to communicate with them, and they do not have a way to find us. This is the challenge.

Rather than creating a completely new intrastructure to do this, why not adapt a clearinghouse of information for music that is already in place? Why not tweak the American Music Center’s NewMusicJukeBox? For those of you not aware of this service, any AMC member can post his/her music there with links, sound clips, and score samples for all to peruse. Members can also input keywords to describe their pieces. Inputing phrases such as “educational music,” “music for children,” and “beginning player” would be a great way to attract music educators, student musicians, and amateur players. Also prominently featuring information about the difficulty level of the music in the program notes would be extremely useful. Everyone who already has music on the site should update their pieces’ descriptions to reflect their suitability for younger musicians to play.

Once enough people have done this, all we’ll need to do is figure out a better way to educate the educators about this resource. While the web will be a valuable media outlet, there are still thousands of teachers who are not internet savvy, and parents of school-age kids do not have time to shower, much less have the awareness or time to read website articles. Like it or not, just trusting folks to Google us will not cut it. Many parents who take an active role in their children’s music education read the magazines put out by educational organizations such as the National Music Teachers Association, the Suzuki Association of the Americas, the National Association of Music Educators, etc. In order for this plan to truly succeed, we must use these resources, too.

Most of these journals are hungry for new submissions and would welcome writings by some fresh faces. I personally have seen how doing articles for these journals does make a difference. Sometime back I wrote a Toolbox article for NewMusicBox about how to compose music for young players. With the AMC’s permission, I retooled the article to be aimed at teachers and submitted it to the SAA. They published it, inadvertently causing a lot of interest in my music with the Suzuki community. It even resulted in a small commission. So, think of what could happen if articles appeared in all of the journals at the same time, trumpeting NewMusicJukeBox as the It Girl for new music for young players?

Once the information is available and used by those that matter, a tipping point will occur and issues of costs, availability, and the like, I feel, will move into the background as the playing field is open to all. Hopefully then, the war with the publishers will dissipate as all composers will be on a level playing field, as how one is published need not be a criteria for getting in on the action.

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