Banding Together: BCM International
FJO: You work with an orchestra and you’re lucky if you get two or three rehearsals. How many rehearsals do you get for a wind band piece?
Eric: If it’s in the educational world, you’ll get all semester sometimes, so you’ll have 20, 30, 40 rehearsals. The best part is you’ll take it in for the first rehearsal and—if the conductor’s cool with it and most of the time they’re very cool with it—you can spend weeks fixing things. You can be rewriting on the spot. Bring it back in with new parts. Take it back home again. It’s the ultimate orchestration lab.
Jim: That’s the other distinction between orchestra and concert band. In concert band, everybody has their own part. No one shares the same stand. They take their parts home. If it’s really bad, they can woodshed it.
FJO: And they actually rehearse on their own?
Eric: Big time. That’s also part of the culture.
FJO: Respect for the composer. Composer shows up and says, “You should do this.” The conductor is O.K. with that?
Jonathan: It’s one of the great things. In my education, you’re sort of taught that there’s this culture of supplication. “Please play my piece. Please, would you? I love your work. You’re brilliant. Would you please take the time to just look at the score? Just for a moment. I know you have a pile of scores in your office, please maybe, sometime, would you look at it?” That’s gone. It’s there a little bit depending on whom you’re talking about. But really it’s a different culture. There’s a great respect for what composers do, not that there isn’t in the orchestral world, but it’s a little more palpable.
FJO: Let’s go back to the money. You write a 10-minute piece for wind band. And you write a 10-minute piece for orchestra. What pays more?
Eric: If you’re lucky and established, you’ll get $1000 a minute for the commission.
Eric: What, a hundred bucks! For a ten-minute piece, even at Carnegie Hall… And, with an orchestral piece, best case scenario is you’re gonna get 10 or 12 performances a year world-wide unless you really hit it big time, best case scenario, you’re gonna make $15,000 dollars. With band music, let’s say you write a 10 minute work and you continue to own the copyright. And a 10-minute work you sell at $125 a copy. Because you own the copyright and you’re distributing it yourself, after tax and the production of the thing, you’re probably pulling 42 to 43 cents on the dollar. And there’s the very real possibility that you can sell a thousand copies in one year. Then you will spend the next five years guest conducting and lecturing about the piece. And then when it does go on these legitimate CDs, people will buy them and you will receive royalties. And the ASCAP royalties now are starting to survey high school bands and college bands. So the amount of money to be made on a big hit in the world of wind symphony is on another planet.
FJO: I think we need to separate out owning the copyright because you could also own the copyright on your orchestral score, or you could have a relationship with a publisher who works on behalf of your music whether you are writing for orchestra or symphonic winds.
Eric: Unless you’re with Schirmer, who is going to find your orchestral work on your web site? Maybe some cool regional symphony, but…
FJO: So what happens if you’re with a big name publisher and they’re pushing your wind band music? I know that Boosey & Hawkes has a very successful program called Windependence to promote repertoire for wind band. What can they do that you can’t do?
Eric: They claim to have a larger marketing arm and more power in the industry. Our experience and my experience specifically has been that that is not necessarily the case. The first thing they do is take your copyright for now and forever and the second thing they do is give you 10 percent of gross which is so substantially less than you ought to be making and that you would be making if you owned the copyright that it’s ridiculous. You share the publishing royalties and then you’re at the mercy of their advertising department. If you’re not the hot piece that year, it gets buried. More and more I believe, especially for wind music, I don’t think the model anymore is going through a publisher. What we do is we self-publish and distribute through a major distributor, Hal Leonard.
Jonathan: I want to be clear that what we’re doing with self-publishing is not standard. We’re different in that way. For a lot of composers young and older, who are writing for winds—educational or otherwise—publishing is the way to go. There are very powerful publishing houses and that is the expectation. That is the standard. What we’re doing is a little bit of bucking against the system.
FJO: OK, You convinced me that I could get all these performances plus make a nice amount of money to live on. I totally buy in. I’m going to throw away all my string quartets, everything I ever wrote for orchestra. I’m gonna write nothing but wind band music from now on! Why isn’t every composer in the world jumping at the opportunity to write for wind band? Why is this such a secret?
FJO: David Del Tredici wrote a fantastic wind band piece.
Jonathan: Danielpour has one.
Eric: Michael Daugherty‘s been doing it for years.
FJO: And a piece for wind band was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago. Ten of a Kind by David Rakowski… And talk about a wacko piece: it’s atonal, has ten clarinet parts, it goes from 11/16 to 15/16 to 13/16. So composers of all kinds are jumping on this bandwagon.
Eric: A little bit. But still there’s this horrible stigma against this kind of music. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s because it’s educational or because of the lack of history, or simply because the symphony orchestra is…
Jonathan: …the gold standard…
Jim: And isn’t it also a high school cultural thing that kinda stigmatizes the “bandos”…
Jonathan: At the end of the day, you are talking about having performances not by professionals most of the time. I’ve had these amazing performances in Japan that you cannot believe. I’ve never had any performance with stringed instruments like it. They’re phenomenal. So that sort of negates my point I suppose, but most of the time your music is being played at a less than professional level. Always an amazing and inspiring level, but still. People want their pieces played by professionals…
FJO: But in terms of notoriety outside that community and for you as composers… Does the local critic review the wind band concerts? Do you get feature articles about you in advance of concerts?
Eric: Occasionally. I have to say it’s the strangest thing. You could be hyper-successful in the world of winds, or in chorus, and no one else knows you. There are these heroes within the communities.
Jonathan: The first time I went to the Midwest Clinic, I had this realization. Eric walks into the room and they know who he is, he’s this huge superstar and he’s signing autographs and he’s signing CDs and he’s just mobbed. And I realize that if John Corigliano walked into the room, no one would know who he was.
Eric: Or worse, they’d say, it’s Eric’s teacher! [all laugh]
Jonathan: Which to me is insane! John, who has won every award there is. To me, he’s the example of what I want to be when I grow up. And he’s the apex, the acme of what I want to do with my life and none of these people realize except a very small percentage.