People often talk about “wearing different hats,” by which they mean assuming distinctly different roles with different priorities and types of awareness. Of course, this concept of varied roles could very well be explained without reference to hats, but hats are inherently funny and there’s something about the idea of their metaphorical donning that remains appropriate to the varied roles that many—especially composers—inhabit even as pursuing a seemingly unified trajectory.
I’ve recently taken over directorship of a music ensemble in the Washington, D.C. area, and it’s remarkable how many relics of the composing world appear totally transformed when donning the “hat” of artistic director. So far, one of the most interesting things about this new role has been the way it tends to shed light on certain composer habits.
In the interest of sharing my findings, below are a few of the observations I’ve made since donning the director hat that I hope will prove interesting or helpful to those currently wearing the composer hat:
1. If a composer website has any purpose, it ought to be to list titles, instrumentation, and durations of available pieces. So often ensemble directors will be interested in a piece that fills a particular programming hole or fits a strange, rare instrumentation, and not everyone will take the time to email a request if the information isn’t easily at hand—an unfortunate fact of human nature and limited time, with the moral being that you want to make it as easy as possible for interested parties to note the main defining details and requirements for performing a given work, without having to enter into an email conversation to do so. And since new music concerts often have thematic programs, including program notes or even one-sentence synopses certainly couldn’t hurt.
2. Listing the dates of composition is another important detail that seems pretty insignificant, but it’s worth keeping in mind that many programmers of new music are looking to program something new-ish, or even get in as a consortium partner on works-in-progress. Always list the dates your compositions were composed, and always list works-in-progress with as much information as possible. I’m not alone in searching for new and developing pieces, and you want to minimize the chances that a work or project of interest is passed up.
3. News flash: people actually go to your website! I have a few times contacted composers who seemed like potential fits for my ensemble’s projects, only to find they were oblivious that half their site was down, or they hadn’t updated it in a year because “no one goes on my site.” If you’re going to go to the trouble to maintain a website, you should plan for the desired outcome and realize that someone who programs new music may very well stumble upon it—especially because many of us in the new music world are so excited by discovering cool works by fantastic unfamous people. Remember: a website that hasn’t been updated in over a year makes an unfortunate impression, and no one will be able to notice your newest pieces if they’re not listed on the site.
This is some real meat-and-potatoes advice, not particularly lofty or inspirational yet hugely important in terms of maximizing the music that composers have worked so hard at creating. My final piece of advice would be: wear as many hats as you can! Each time I explore another nook of the music world, I find myself not only enriched and refreshed but also armed with new experiences that shed light on all the others. Whether it’s as a freelance composer, blogger, teacher, curator, administrator, or any one of the many roles a devotee of new music might inhabit, assuming a distinct and different point of view can be one of the most illuminating experiences it’s possible to have.