Self-Published Composers Explain What They Do and Why Amy Rubin



Amy Rubin
photo courtesy of Musicians Accord

Self-publishing has permitted me to circulate my music to a wide variety of performers throughout the United States and Europe. I send perusal scores as quickly as possible to ensembles and soloists who express general interest in my work, and in addition I answer “calls for scores” listed in professional journals. Now that my CD Hallelujah Games has been released on Mode Recordings, more people are hearing specific pieces of mine such as “Hallelujah Games” and are programming them.

The performance history of my piece “Hallelujah Games” is a good example of what I’ve been able to do as a self-published composer. “Hallelujah Games,” which was commissioned by Musicians Accord in 1995 and is a direct outgrowth of my study of West African drumming with Dr. William Anku in Ghana, is a game of improvisational choices and rhythmic challenges transformed from the culture of West African drumming to the culture of Western music chamber music ensemble playing. It has been performed throughout the United States and Eastern Europe by such diverse groups as Musicians Accord, New Ear!, Synchronicity, and has been workshopped by the Colorado String Quartet and percussionists from the New World Symphony, in arrangements for two pianos, piano and marimba, marimba quartet, and piano and guitar.

“Hallelujah Games” has no formal score, but exists as a collection of “cells” ranging in length from one to twelve measures long. Each player constructs his or her own part by selecting from about 25 cell choices which can either be played canonically, or simultaneously. Each player chooses which patterns to play, which to omit, how many times to repeat patterns, register, dynamics, articulation and where to join with or counter the other player. Thus, given all the choicemaking, every performance of the piece, by each ensemble configuration necessitates a different score created by the players at hand. I have found it useful to include suggested versions of the piece’s realization in score and recorded format when sending the score out to prospective performers. The concept of the piece requires that no definitive realization exists, meaning, also, that there is no score. Instead, as a composer, I present performers with some specific potentials of combining materials together as well as the infinity of possible choices that may come about with each ensemble’s own realization.

The issue, therefore, is what constitutes a score? As each performance is created as a result of the specific performers’ musical aesthetic, formal sense, pacing and instrumentation, the score is different for each ensemble and for each performance of the work, and ultimately becomes a concrete way to allow players the opportunity to achieve spontaneity and freedom while “owning” the material in their own way. The problem this poses is what do I, as the composer, make available to interested performers, given that no definitive score exists? I have provided players with versions created by other musicians who have performed the work, recordings of these performances, and alternative choices for realization. Should I send out a “score” which consists of individual cells, each on a separate sheet, which the players then can decide to use or not, as they create their own version of the piece? Or, should I send out versions realized by other performers to guide the new performers? Should I provide sequenced versions in audio formats for performers to sample? Do I create my own definitive version of the piece and then urge new performers to take it apart and create their own? Would a score consisting of a random collection of cells, in the manner of playing cards, work, so that each ensemble could arrange the cards in its own unique way?

Self-publishing, thus far, has allowed me to make all the above possible, but it does not provide a definitive set of materials to create the definitive version of the piece.