The Future of New Music

Last week I brought up the idea that the increasing strength and durability of chamber ensembles was a very promising sign for today’s new music world; as more ensembles become advocates for composers (because of the symbiotic relationship they both have with each other), more composers are heeding that advocacy and focusing their attention towards these more intimate groups. I had mentioned that another idea had also been “nudging” me over the past few weeks that seemed appropriate to discuss—and luckily I’m still in an enthusiastic mood, so here goes double-or-nuthin’…

Second cool idea: Things are looking up for the future of new music these days, too…

Back in February I wrote a post about discovering composition and how the composers I’m interviewing first found themselves writing music. This has been at the forefront of my existence for the past couple of weeks because of two different groups that I work with that put me in contact on a very close basis with composers who are just now discovering their own creative impulses—the Composition/Improvisation Program of the New York State School Music Association (New York’s MENC unit) and Interlochen Summer Arts Camp. I’ve been working with NYSSMA for four years now and just started teaching at Interlochen this summer, but both have been eye-opening as to the possibilities and opportunities that an increasingly large number of young composers are taking advantage of.

Last week I helped my colleagues sift through 140(!) submissions for NYSSMA’s Young Composer’s Concert that will occur at the Winter Conference in Rochester this December. These submissions were sent in from all over the state of New York by composers who ranged in age from a girl in 2nd grade to several 11th graders; instrumentation ranged from solo piano to full orchestra and styles were all over the map. While the initial goal of our meeting was to pick the works that would be featured on the concert, all the works were separated out to be sent to educators and composers to evaluate. Those evaluations are always sent back to the students so every applicant receives professional advice and suggestions about their work no matter whether they’re picked or not. I have seen first-hand the importance of these evaluations, as students will come up to me months after they’ve received their evaluations with more questions about their new works! We’ve had several composers in the program go on to win ASCAP and BMI young composer awards and continue their careers in composition, but just as many have pursued careers outside of music but with a much greater awareness of both music and creativity.

I had known about Interlochen since my own high school days, but had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started teaching composition here at the Summer Arts Camp this week. As one who had assumed that the majority of composers don’t really start serious study until they attend college, it’s been very exciting to see the 19 students here with an intense hunger for composing and new music. They all seem to be vacillating between the anticipation of getting to write for the large and chamber student ensembles and the scary realization that they’ve never written for a particular group of instruments. These students—all in high school from around the country—are not only open to new ideas but seem genuinely interested in new music not only for themselves, but to get their performer friends interested in it as well.

As we as a community discuss what can be done to help contemporary concert music flourish, I can enthusiastically say from my dorm room in Northern Michigan that things are looking up here in the world of pre-academia. I’d love to hear about other programs or experiences you have dealt with relating to young composers—the comment section is open for business!

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