Is there such thing as “grant music”? Patrick Grant



Patrick Grant
Photo by Valerie Filipovna

The process of filling out grant applications has always been a bit troublesome for me. Not the actual work of doing it, but the having to get inside the mindset of the granting organization in order to figure out what it is that they’re looking for. I feel like I’m explaining to my Grandma what it is that I do for a living and she just shakes her head. A lot of the categories have gotten broader over the years but these organizations always seem like they’re last to the party as far as what’s going on now. The hardest part is the aesthetic shoehorning that one has to do with their work to get it to fit into the scope of the application. After a while, unless of course one finds it to be a perfect fit, it often gets abandoned because there is no wiggle room for alteration.

As a result, I have chosen to only pursue grants that I feel I am eligible for without having to compromise my artistic vision or change the way I like to work. I would love to get a commission to write an orchestral work, but I feel that life is too short to write one just to submit it for a grant application. Now, not having a complete Western classical training, I never had to write one. And besides, being born in 1960s Detroit, it just isn’t my culture. Had I gone for a graduate degree, I’m sure that I would have had to at some point. So the question is: When classical or “new music” is still being defined by European models in America, where does that leave those who create differently?

One sees an opportunity like “woodwind quintet in Nevada is having a composition competition for new scores. The winning score will receive $500 and a prominent place on our 2006-07 season. Instrumentation should be for four flutes and a bassoon.” Now that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve seen some just as wacky calls out there for ensembles that I just know your average composer hasn’t written for. So, is a composer going to actually write a piece, totally on spec, and send it in or even possibly arrange an existing one for the purpose of the opportunity?

I have always preferred the modus operandi of the composer/performers from the latter third of the 20th century who kept busy with their own ensembles and, realizing early on their certain “outsider-ness,” chose a more entrepreneurial route in getting their music out. This can only be done in big cities, and that’s why I came here 19 years ago.

For all the funding of the arts that Philip Morris does, I wish it operated on an older model like that of the Raleigh cigarette stamps given out with the packs and cartons sold by the Brown and Williamson tobacco company years ago in less politically correct times. Back then, one could save up stamps and eventually have enough to redeem for a fishing pole, sewing machine, or some other nifty item from a gift catalog. It would be great if Philip Morris did a similar thing where after accumulating enough stamps you could go, “Hey! I’ve got enough for a string quartet commission! A few hundred more and I got me a symphony!”

There are a lot of great grant organizations out there and even more that only go to maintain the status quo. In a certain sense, it is what they are funding that determines what kind of music will get performed. Everyone who doesn’t fit the mold be damned. Even more irksome is the question: Is it ethical when grant organizations award a grant to a current board member? It seems that many organizations don’t have a problem with this.

I cannot count how many times people have asked me if having the last name of “Grant” has helped me in any way in finding the necessary funding for my musical activities. The simple answer is “No.” However, I have to admit that I have sometimes secretly hoped, as I sealed the envelope and handed it to the teller at the Post Office to secure the just-under-the-wire postmark, that it does hit the grantors on a sort of sub-conscious level, a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion as it were, that might tip the situation in my favor.