Upheavals in Grantland

Ed. Note: Since this piece offers direct commentary on New Music USA, the organization which brings you NewMusicBox, we thought it was important to clearly reiterate that connection and note that articles and commentary posted on NewMusicBox reflect the viewpoint of their individual authors. Their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply official endorsement by New Music USA.

As much as I’d like to follow up on some of the comments from last week’s cheeseburger article, there are more momentous events afoot. I’m quite sure there will be time to revisit terms such as “pandering” and “entertainment” as they relate to new music in the future. For now, I would like to point you to a related, engaging, and quite epic Facebook thread started by composer and hornist Matt Marks after he made the simple statement “Composers: ‘I’m pretty sure all these paying concert-goers came here to hear me express myself, not to be entertained.'”

This week, however, I’d like to consider a different issue altogether. Recently there have been several major shifts in “umbrella” organizations that oversee grant opportunities for composers, performers, and presenters, both here in the United States and in the United Kingdom. In November of 2011, New Music USA was formed by the merger of the American Music Center and Meet The Composer, a reorganization effort that maintained both the grant opportunities and the promotional support offered to composers, performers, and presenters through media outlets such as NewMusicBox. In addition, the American Composers Forum absorbed the American Music Center’s membership and now solely administers the various membership benefits that had previously been offered by both, e g. maintaining opportunity updates and coordinating professional development workshops. The moves seemed positive, with a reduction in redundancy between the three organizations and a push toward improving the labyrinthine network of commissioning and funding opportunities across the country.

A similar move had occurred in 2008 in the U.K. with the merging of four organizations—the Society for the Promotion of New Music, the British Music Information Centre, Contemporary Music Network, and Sonic Arts Network—into a new umbrella organization called Sound and Music (or SAM) in order to focus their efforts and streamline the support process for composers in that country. In March of 2012, however, there was more than a little controversy around how SAM was using the £1.2 million given to them by Arts Council England; this controversy was stoked by an open letter with more than 250 signatories (including most of the major British composers) which pointed to many of the problems within the system at the time.

Over the past two weeks there have been two major announcements that look to significantly change the funding landscape for new music both here and in the U.K.

On April 30, Sound and Music announced an enormous reboot to how they support and promote new music. Several new programs (with descriptions from the SAM website) include:

Higher Education Program—a development program for exceptionally talented composers in higher education.
Portfolio—a recently launched development program for 14 emerging composers per year to create new work with and for some of the U.K.’s leading ensembles and presenters of new music.
Composer-Curator Program—a national program of light touch support for composers who program and curate new music events and festivals.
Museum Partner Program—a program engaging museums and heritage organizations in working with composers in new ways.
Audience Development Program—a program of action research into how new music can transform its approach to building and sustaining audiences, with pilot activity with partners in Birmingham, Bristol, London, and the Northeast of England.

SAM will also be continuing and improving several other programs, including an “Adopt a Composer” program, an “Embedded” residency program, and a “Summer School” program for pre-college composers, among many other worthwhile projects. Early reactions seem to hew to Tom Service’s positive comments on the changes:

Time, then, for peace to break out, and for everyone to get behind the new-model SAM, as everyone involved tonight will be hoping. Now surely, is the best chance for SAM to become what it always should have been, the go-to organisation to support composers in whatever field they’re working—and if that doesn’t happen now or in the near future, it arguably never will.

Just one week after SAM made their changes known, New Music USA made a similarly groundbreaking announcement on May 6. Beginning this fall, what were previously five separate funding opportunities—Creative Connections, Commissioning Music USA, the Composer Assistance Program, CAP Recording, and Live Music For Dance—will all be conflated into a one-stop-granting experience for applicants, with a deadline in the fall and a deadline in the spring. Once winners are announced, the strength of New Music USA’s media-rich web presence will be used to promote the projects.

This “One Grant Program to Rule Them All” approach is way past due. I served on a Creative Connections selection panel a few years ago, and I can attest to the myriad projects that such awards can support, but as an applicant I can also attest to the confusion surrounding which grant works best with which project and the frustration of keeping track of the many deadlines. I hope that by condensing the five awards into one process, not only will applicants have an easier time of it, but that this will encourage more applicants around the country to apply and that the awards are distributed accordingly to as wide a swath of creators and performers as possible.

Both announcements seem to bode well for the future of new music funding both here in the U.S. and in the U.K. I would hope that New Music USA is keeping their eye on those many projects and programs that Sound and Music has created, as quite a few of them have no analogues here in the States. From a personal standpoint, as my career grows and artists and ensembles commission my music, I am hopeful that these changes in grantland will assist me and my colleagues in our music-making for many years to come.

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