Little Lies on Paper

Besides vindicating my long-held suspicion that counterpoint is totally overrated, Colin Holter’s observations during last weekend’s Midwest Composers Symposium stirred up another point of mutual recognition: over-bloated resumes. Some young composers lay it on so thick, one begins to doubt the integrity of the entire multi-paged package. For example, when I’m confronted with a lengthy list of commissions naming only the performers without a single funding organization in sight, I know this person’s definition of a commission doesn’t exactly involve payment or contracts—more like, hey dude, can you write me a new piece? In my book, that’s not a commission. And when I see ASCAPLUS awards listed, I feel a little embarrassed for them. Every active ASCAP-affiliated composer out there with occasional performances of their work should be receiving annual checks—you just have to fill out the online application—it feels more like a subsidy program than an award. Okay, wait. I’m starting to feel a little guilty here. Before I dig myself any deeper, I should admit to a couple of shady things on my own CV.

ASCAP

Okay, I’m a hypocrite. I have ASCAP listed as a generality under my list of awards, and yes, I’m referring here to my PLUS awards. However, I refuse to be tacky, so I list it only once. I’ve seen composers list the award multiple times indicating the year it was received. Pffft. And speaking of tacky, thank you ASCAP for removing the $ from PLU$ (of course the single P now makes the ASCAPLUS very Scandinavian).

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Honorary Fellowship

Yes, it sounds very grand, almost awe-inspiring, but anyone bestowed with this distinction knows it’s just resume filler. Truth is, sometime after you complete a stint at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program an official letter on expensive stationary arrives in your mailbox, stating that the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation funded your residency and that you should put the above phrase as an award on your resume. So I did. However, the way I formatted my CV, residencies are divided from grants and awards, so is it fair of me to list my Djerassi residency and the “honorary fellowship” separately? Well, I did it anyway. Personally, I feel a tiny bit guilty about the redundancy, but who’s going to know?

Most of my CV is spot-on accurate, so I don’t feel too bad about it. But to that end, my listing of awards and commissions is rather sparse. What can I say? Nobody’s knocking down my door just dying to throw commissions and awards at me. However, I refuse to put any energy into nursing an inferiority complex. It’s just paper. I happen to be one of those composers who’s not good on paper. Big deal. I’ve never had a single performer contact me for a copy of my CV. Musicians—those amazing people who interpret, perform, and record your music—usually don’t give a damn about your resume. All they want is an engaging piece of music. And in the end, it’s your music that’s going to open doors, not your big, fat, embellished resume.

4 thoughts on “Little Lies on Paper

  1. Chris Becker

    “And when I see ASCAPLUS awards listed, I feel a little embarrassed for them. Every active ASCAP-affiliated composer out there with occasional performances of their work should be receiving annual checks—you just have to fill out the online application—it feels more like a subsidy program than an award.”

    The Plus awards are a great way of recognizing composers who work in non-traditional venues to present their music which may or may not be easily identifiable in terms of genre (or even medium – i.e. is it music? sound? sculpture? etc). I applied and received this award when I first arrived in NYC when my main source for performances were sound installations in gallerys and museums.

    And actually, in my experience, composers and musicians can be too humble when crafting a resume, bio or CV. It’s almost like some of us are trained not to toot our own horns. I’ve revised friends’ bios for programs and grant applications in order to bring attention to the cool things they’ve done. It’s not about hype, necessarily. It’s more about perspective. What isn’t such a big deal to one composer/musician might be incredibly intriguing to another who does not share the same experience.

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  2. ottodafaye

    Composer bios. Yup, fascinating reading. I always read them all, if only to remind myself that, once again, I am the only composer on the program who hasn’t gotten a Guggenheim.

    How do you get them now anyway? Do you still have to take a summer course with Mario?

    Reply
  3. mjleach

    “when I’m confronted with a lengthy list of commissions naming only the performers without a single funding organization in sight, I know this person’s definition of a commission doesn’t exactly involve payment or contracts”

    Randy, I think you’re being too nit-picking. Some of the best commissions (and results) come from performers with no institutional backing. Not only that, but if you’ve written a piece for someone as a favor, the least you can get out of it is a line in your bio. Where would you draw the line? Maybe a good place to start would be to not include those bogus competitions funded by composer entry fees? I can understand your aim here, in that there’s a devaluation of achievements by listing questionable ones.

    That said, I had a sobering experience at a concert of students at the Manhattan School of Music, when I realized that a lot of the composers on it had received Guggenheims. It was then that I realized that they were basically graduation presents, and that I was delusional in thinking I’d ever get one.

    Reply

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