Whither our Anthology?

When I was planning the overall direction I wanted to take this book last spring, the idea of only having interviews with composers seemed a little dry to me. Of course, the interviews would be the most important aspect of the project, but it occurred to me that this book might be opening up opportunities to do more than just learn about the composers from their own words. While some models of enhancement didn’t make it very far (Graphic novel? Pop-up book?), the concept of a score anthology with a compilation CD seemed quite promising.

A theory/musicologist colleague of mine told me several years ago that as far as contemporary music was concerned, it would probably rest with composers themselves to at least start the discussion since very few theorists or musicologists were adequately aware of the current literature or even the composers themselves. This had stuck with me ever since and when this project got started, it seemed only right to make a good attempt to not only bring the words and thoughts of today’s composers to light, but also their music. The idea of having an anthology of scores (with short discussions about each included pieces with its composer, naturally) soon evolved from a pipe dream to an integral part of the project.

Obviously acquiring print rights for fifty scores would be a massive hurdle for any author—that is, if all fifty composers were with major publishers. The advantage of interviewing fifty composers all born in or after 1960 is that a great many of the composers are self-published, so getting permission to include a score has not been nearly as difficult as I had originally imagined. So far I haven’t had anyone who self-publishes his or her works take issue with the request for scores and they have all been excited about having their pieces included in such a compendium.

At the outset I contacted someone at one of the major publishers who I’d been acquainted with from my days of producing a radio show down in Oklahoma and asked him directly what I could do to navigate the permissions process. His very helpful suggestions included narrowing my requests to either shorter chamber works (scores only) or single movements from longer/larger works. With this information I have had good luck so far in finding appropriate scores and examples, even though the project is still in its early stages.

To go along with such an anthology, it is my hope to put together a compilation CD—or in this case, a CD box set. Recordings would correspond to the scores, so if a single movement were included in the anthology, only that movement would be included on the CD. With the wide-ranging styles and genres that the composers bring to the table, the intent is to create an aural snapshot of new music in the last ten years or so, and therefore keep with the patchwork concept that runs through the entire project (book/anthology/cd).

Before asking a couple of questions I had about this part of the project, I did want to let y’all know that I will be answering at least some of the questions that have been posed so far in the comments in future columns—there are myriad angles to cover on this project and I’m attempting to be patient and address the issues in small slices rather than big chunks. As far as the anthology/CD is concerned, I’d love some feedback on these questions:

  • I’m debating whether or not to look at each of these components as separate entities (first cousins) or integral portions of a whole; this may affect how each is packaged, sold, and marketed. For instance, I could consider them as one and have them available only through a single source (the publisher) or consider them related but available through several different sources (iTunes, etc.). Perhaps I’m thinking too hard on this, but what pros and cons do you see with either of these models?
  • Since we’re still in the early stages of the project, we still have some flexibility with the anthology/CD, so are there aspects of either or both that you’d really like to see happen?

6 thoughts on “Whither our Anthology?

  1. pgblu

    * I’m debating whether or not to look at each of these components as separate entities (first cousins) or integral portions of a whole; this may affect how each is packaged, sold, and marketed. For instance, I could consider them as one and have them available only through a single source (the publisher) or consider them related but available through several different sources (iTunes, etc.). Perhaps I’m thinking too hard on this, but what pros and cons do you see with either of these models?

    The sound files should be available free of charge. That would be the best thing. Or did you want advice on maximizing profit? For that, you’ll have to ask the publishing and marketing communities, not the composition community. ;-)

    * Since we’re still in the early stages of the project, we still have some flexibility with the anthology/CD, so are there aspects of either or both that you’d really like to see happen?

    It depends on the composers. Whom did you interview and which pieces were chosen to represent them? Some composers are not meaningfully represented by scores at all. Did anyone of that ilk get interviewed? What about composers whose scores are in an unusual format? Or composers whose scores simply don’t look very interesting?

    I am very skeptical about the ‘value added’ by including scores and CDs. Conversely, I disagree that interviews, when conducted well, are at all dry. Interviews are fascinating when the interviewer and interviewee have mutual interests, and even more so when they have diverging views about those interests. Lastly, if an interview does turn out dry, it does not, as a rule, gain moisture from having a score tacked on to it.

    I’ve said it before, but I’m really looking (patiently) forward to finding out more about your methodology.

    Reply
  2. BraedenA

    Brilliant
    The more I’m reading about this book, the more excited I get. It sounds to me like what you’re working on has the potential to be very useful for anyone who is working to develop a collegiate music history course over truly new music. This is something desperately needed: when it comes to music history classes, most students are still stuck with the discussion of Contemporary Music that is contained within true “20th Century” music courses, spending 3 weeks learning about the Second Viennese School and not really getting much of anything written in or after 1980. It used to be that “20th Century Music” was synonymous with “Contemporary Music,” but every day that gap widens, and students need to be exposed to what is truly the newest music out there. To that academic end, the inclusion of an anthology of scores and accompanying recordings would make this book EXTREMELY useful.

    Reply
  3. colin holter

    Regarding dryness of interviews: Last summer, my friends at the U of MN and I conducted a whole bunch of interviews at newmusicscrapbook.com; although they were rambling, unstructured affairs with no particular parallelism among them, I don’t think they turned out to be “dry.” (This is not to say that they represent an example worth following—you’re probably shooting for something a smidge more formal!)

    Reply
  4. Rob Deemer

    Heh…gotta watch my language like a hawk ’round here. My point was that when I was first planning the project, I wasn’t sure how the interviews were going to turn out, and that led me to decide to risk expanding the project into something (hopefully) even more useful. Since then, I can safely say that I haven’t had a dry interview yet – each one has been engaging, informative and extremely enjoyable.

    Phillip, I appreciate your patience – as I might have mentioned before, I’m relatively new at this weekly column format and want to make sure I don’t run out of things to say too quickly. However, I can fill you in on a few things: 1) I’d love to just offer sound files, but since I’ll be negotiating with multiple labels, I doubt it’ll be that easy – and as far as the whole “maximizing profit” concept, that’s not why I’m doing this. Both the scores & CD are there for those of us who want to know more about the music to do so. 2) I selected the composers with an emphasis on variety – age, location, and genre were three of the more important issues, with keeping an eye on making sure it wasn’t too heavy on the white male persuasion. After that, it was pretty instinctive…say what you will, but that’s my story.

    Reply
  5. pgblu

    as far as the whole “maximizing profit” concept, that’s not why I’m doing this.

    Hence my ” ;-) ” in that post.

    Reply

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