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This 16 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >  
  Composition Grievances  Niema at 09:17 on 18 February 2009

OK, two things annoy me about composition competitions:

1. What possible justification do they all have for their age limits, isn't that sort of thing illegal in most areas of life these days? What the hell is better about a composer being 39 than 41, or 34 than 36.

2. How cruel is it to expect composers, who let's face it don't exactly have the easiest time of it anyway, to go write a new piece specially for a competition, it must not have been played before. Take the Aberdeen Music Prize advertised in the jobs section on this site for example, they say they had 400 entries last year. That's 400 composers, most of whom will have written the piece specially for the competition. What the hell is wrong with allowing a piece that's already been performed. Presumably there's quite a chance it'll be a better piece if the composer has managed to get a group to play it.

Why this obsession with 1. youth 2. novelty - there's so little out there that's any good, if I was running a competition I'm sure I'd be trying to cast the net as widely as I could to increase the chances of getting something half-decent. Not to mention for reasons of fairness and decency.

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 16:04 on 18 February 2009

I think the title should be ... Competition Grievances....

Point 1 I agree with completely. It is most unfair, for example to people who have done a BA / MA in music late in life and may be wanting to get their compositions known. Is it supposed to be a real competition or just some kind of sop or handout to younger composers which they are supposed to feel greatful for? The number of composers out there is truely frightening. To some extent we are all in competition with each other. However at the summer schools I am involved in for practical music making the number of pieces which have permanently entered the repertoire is miniscule, so there is a huge demand there if the pieces can get a grip on the 'punter's' imagination. Just like there are many first and last performances after commissions there are many play through and throw aways.

There is the half decency problem.... One of my objections to competitions is that the adjucators and the prize teachers are inevitably chosen from the very people who have made modern Britain what it is to day. I partially compose music to try and change the world.... (big ambition)... even though I know this is impossible. Therefore my ideas are often in total opposition to what the adjudicators are looking for and I am wasting my time.

Maybe one should only enter competitions if either you would like to write that piece anyway or if you need the stimulus of a deadline.

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 07:19 on 19 February 2009

Another problem with competitions is that the organisers expect composers to do a lot for nothing..... Often there is an entry fee, so they can cover a lot of their adjudication and admin costs and the winning composer might be expected to travel to some poxy festival, wasting their time for a couple of days at their own expense. Clearly one can get away with this because there are so many composers competing away for their two minutes in the limelight and everyone knows that.

Where there is a prize of publication I have never heard of the publisher saying 'there were 12 pieces worthy of publication so we are going to publish them all'. Clearly the publisher has needed a bit of encouragement to publish even the winning works so there is no hope of this happening. However having been a publisher I can sympathize with this because publishing is so much more than just getting the piece typeset and printed. Promotion of series of publications at events is neccessary otherwise pieces just sit in the catalogue selling 2 a year if you are lucky and there are no repeat performances to bring fees in. Musicians can be very tight-fisted about buying music, because of course it is expensive compared to the income they might get from it. I have known of adverts in top magazines like the Strad of first rate newly published baroque violin music producing 2 copies sold, not even as much income as the advert cost, so I can see the problems here.

With instruments with a culture of poor sight reading, (I am thinking of the guitar in particular here), selling music is difficult because the customers only need so much printed music a lifetime to learn. Violin family instruments are different as many people are good readers and can consume an enormous amount of music if they want to play a new piece every day or so in the way that people literally consumed music in baroque times.

Anyway that's another of my gripes, (all I seem to do is gripe but I might be dead soon so I will enjoy griping while I can!), but all I can suggest positively to organisers is try a little bit harder to fund raise so that the composers are not exploited and do not discriminate against age. If it were any other criteria it would be illegal.

  Re: Composition Grievances  scott_good at 15:02 on 19 February 2009


Of course, the age "discrimination" is to create a place where up-and-coming composers do not have to compete with more experienced composers. This of course, makes it hard to enter competitions for the older up-and-coming composers.

And, so you know, there are occasionally competitions for women only - another kind of discrimination I guess (btw, how does winning a competition such as this really help the cause of woman composers? it is a discriminatory process, therefor the results are flawed - just a thought). I can see a gripe here and for age, but then, I don't care much about art competitions, as art, for me, is not about winning. Hockey, ok, the point is to put it in the net more than the others - take this premise away and it's leisure skating, so, competition is essential. But for art??

And it is in my opinion, it is a mistake to compose for competitions. I think one should be spending time developing there place in the community, and composing for musicians who will play their music. I know quite a few people who have won lots of competitions when they were young, and now have rather un-substantial careers. I often wonder if the winning of a competition can create a kind of false sense of worth...

But, if there is a competition that does not require one to have to compose a new piece, and you fit into the requirements - sure, why not really. (well, the sense of loss when one is not chosen can be very affecting, and worth considering to remove one's self from competing with their art. this is why I have not entered any competitions in years...once again, i think a false sense of value can result, but this time for the negative) But these people who impose the writing of new pieces for their competitions can kiss my u-know-what.



  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 20:57 on 19 February 2009

Scott's advice is better than mine! Do not do it. Music should not be a competition. (Neither is it an attempt to kill off the future by trying to lay down the 'definitive' performance of a work on a recording, but that is a different problem.) It should be much more of a continuing process, and not an evolutionary process towards the perfect style or piece.

I only entered 3 competitions, won one, but was baffled by why the winning pieces won in the other two, not that my piece was necessarially the best but the winning pieces seemed a bizarre decision. In one case a reviewer of the event, whose review questioned what musical criteria had guided the result, was asked by the organisers if he would kindly not review the event in future..... So it might be better not to risk any discouragement from these arbitary processes. Building up interaction with performers and players who are geographically nearby is going to be much more fruitful as Scott says.

Unfortunately it is probably true that the public like competitions, just like sport. It can misfire spectacularly like the last run of the performing competion where the runner up made a memorable big scene about the injustice of him not winning in front of the TV cameras. The winner shortly afterwards failed to complete his prize concert series and never played in public again so was his unsporting behaviour in one sense 'correct'?

However if you are writing horrendously difficult music without access to anyone who will play it maybe winning a competition is the only way to get players who can do justice to it? Nah! Buy a good computer program with realistic sounds and it will even play Conlon Nancarrow accurately!

  Re: Composition Grievances  Niema at 10:07 on 20 February 2009

Thanks for the responses, yes it's a good point that there is something unreal about competitions. But I suspect I am not alone amongst composers in struggling to find performances for my work, and competitions offer one of the few areas where there is at least a glimmer of hope I suppose.

I can also see the point that younger composers should have competitions that are open to them without competition from more experienced composers, but it feels like many competitions are set up with an unthinking 'under 35s' slapped on for no real reason - it surely shouldn't be the case that the majority of competitions have this kind of age limit - which I think is the case.

  Re: Composition Grievances  Nicolas Tzortzis at 22:31 on 20 February 2009

Competitions are just one way to get your music performed in places where you may not have any access.
no one forces anyone to enter,so I don't understand why the "bitchin'".
Someone has to "win".If it's not "you",that's ok,next time it might be "you".
I feel that writing a piece only for a competition has no point.If a piece you already have or are planning to write fits the requirements,then just send it and forget all about's like the lottery:
If you win,fine,if you don't,well,at least you tried and no one can blame you for that.
I agree with Scott that many composers with many prizes didn't have the carreers one might have thought they would,but if one keeps his feet on the ground after the prizes,then anything is possible.
But that's not the competition's fault,it's just personal and will happen after any kind of "success".
I think that competitions are a great place to be,you always meet interesting people,see places you might never have seen,and if by any chance you make a euro or two,that' always a plus.
bitterness causes bad judgement,I think...

  Re: Composition Grievances  scott_good at 04:43 on 21 February 2009

"why the "bitchin'"."

well, just a little, but here is why i get cranky.

i feel there is a responsibility of performing organizations to support composers, and foster the best in composition. the rule of no previous performance of a work is simply without merit. it ends up causing the composing of many works which will not see the light of day + the winning works will simply not represent the best of what is being done. i just think it is irresponsible to impose this kind of criterion. sure, i don't submit anything and whatever, but still, they could be doing more to support the dissemination of quality work. that is my complaint, and as this is a public forum, i am making it known.

you make a good point about the onus being on the composer to run with success. thanks. and yes, a competition can be a fertile ground for making new acquaintances.

i just worry that competitions are too many eggs for many artist's basket. and i strongly urge composers to think about other ways to get their music out and performed. in particular, building relationships with performers, and composing suitable high quality music for them.

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 10:03 on 21 February 2009

Many of my thoughts about competitions are similar to thoughts about the peer review of academic papers. One gets into all sorts of silly tangles with referees and submissions, (I have been an editor and referee as well as author so I see both sides, and you get both bad behaviour and intractable problems). I have wondered about putting up some money for compositions where every entry would be published as a way of creating new repertoire for recorders and viols but I have quickly thought better of the idea.

Some academic journals have experimented with non-refereed publication of the main journal and it has lead to a mass dumping of unpublishable junk into the literature by people who have all their previously rejected papers waiting to send off. The editor described this experiment as 'an open sewer spilling out onto the academic plane'. So there definaitely needs to be some moderation of any such process if one got into the situation of having to publish 500 un-ajudicated pieces.

Anyway I said I was not going to care anymore and get on with my many projects, one of which is now to write more 'In Nomines' than Christopher Tye. A better kind of competition with a dead composer!

  Re: Composition Grievances  piargno at 06:57 on 24 February 2009

What a timely posting!

I have been thinking a lot about this process, and I have many mixed feelings as of late (perhaps because I just won some competitions).

1) No matter how you swing it, winning a competition as a composer is GOOD for you. It's something to put on a resume, and if you don't want to say that specifically and the competition includes some sort of performance, then one can put "works performed by ..." and list the ensemble. For instance, my friend Liza won some woman composer's competition and had a wind ensemble piece played by some group, conducted by big name X. I'm sure she puts both in her resume (won competition X, works performed by ensemble X, conducted by X ...)

2) If one as a composer has an interest in entering competitions, then one should do the research. I am currently YEARNING to make a list of composition competitions that are OBVIOUSLY corrupt in certain LEGAL ways (UNLIKE the recent thing in Poland that required you to give them your bank account information, and it was one big hoax...), and OBVIOUSLY are geared to certain composers. I made the mistake of applying to a string quartet composition competition KNOWING FULL WELL that the previous winners DID NOT COMPOSE ANYWHERE NEAR to what I compose (and I almost performed in the premiere in one of the composer's works that won, and thought the piece was atrocious and irrelevant - as you can see I'm still kicking myself in the rear for putting effort into sending a score to a competition that I knew for certain I was going to lose).

3) Being a composer, one should welcome ANY chance to have their music performed. And if entering a competition is a way to get even a possibility, then why not? Yes composing for competitions can be detrimental, but as a composer, even if one is not learning and experimenting or growing when he or she composes for a competition, then THAT'S the real loss, not the creation of a piece that may never see the light of day (lord knows how many Dadaist pieces just won't ever be performed because they just can't! and what about works by the greats? there are definitely lost pieces out there by Bach et al ...)

4) When one does win a composition competition, then it is up to the composer to use this win strategically and responsibly. Those who have won tons and ended up with sordid, sad careers are examples of people who most likely focused on the competitions and that defined them as a composer - and that's PATHETIC! The secret is to continue doing what you're doing, and let the compositions be opportunities rather than a career.

That's just my pennies.


PS - Application fees I HIGHLY disagree with, even though understand the necessity for them in many cases. I was talking about this with my roommate yesterday. When I was a junior in college, I probably spent over 300 bucks on applications fees, binding, copying, paper, ink, etc ... JUST for competitions, and I didn't win ANYTHING. Sense told me to purchase a binding machine, which has really saved me tons of money and time (dealing with incompetent Kinkos and Staples employees). But in the end, I make it a general rule to perhaps gage my financial situation, and decide whether or not I will spend money on competitions throughout a particular school year, and I am fervent about my decision. I know that this coming school year, I will not enter anything with a fee, no matter how strong of a feeling I have about it.

In the end, I just want my works performed by as many people as possible, without having to fund them myself, or beg in an obvious way. Competitions are just like very elegant begging, in the end. 95% of us deserve to win - have the talent, craft, imagination, etc ... - but only 5% do because of practicality, money, politics, whim. Sad, but it never hurts to try if in your trying you don't get hurt too much.

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 08:37 on 24 February 2009

I was thinking more about the anti-competition idea and it is not quite as daft as it sounds. Though if you published 500 pieces by different composers you would have a nightmare of administration when it came to paying royalties etc, most of which would be about 45 pence and would cost anything between 5 pounds and 20 pounds to administer. However if the royalties on the first limited edition 500 copies, say, were the submission fee one could publish all the entries and return all rights to the composer after 500 copies of the book had gone.

If each composition was to be for 1 recorder and three viols and the score had to fit on two open pages of A4 or 4 open faces with the possibility of a page turn all the pieces could be published on lulu, (a print on demand publisher), with little overhead and a new repertoire would be created without any messing about with adjudicators and fees etc.

Just an idea????

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 08:48 on 24 February 2009

Piargno's comment about printing reminded me to say yet again, when you use an open page layout make sure the printer absolutely understands which are the left and right hand pages. Some playing editions by top British publishers have been ruined by the carefully worked out page layout going through the press starting on the wrong page, so you have no option but to photocopy every other page!

(My favourite one is the expensive book with perfectly correct contents where the composer's name is misspelt on the spine.)

  Re: Composition Grievances  Hugh Boyle at 09:58 on 06 March 2009

Martin, I think your idea is good and would certainly generate a lot of interest. The only thing which might put people off is that composers don't write a lot for these instruments these days and I think, therefore, some young composers, especially those without access to any notated resources on these instruments might struggle. But this could easily be overcome by writing your own, short, guide to writing for these instruments and the combination. I know there was a piano-double bass ensemble looking for scores last year (can't remember the name) and they provided a one page guide to writing for doublebass which I actually kept a copy of (even though I didn't apply) for reference. Anyway, no one has really commented on your suggestions so I thought I would just say well done for trying to think of ways to broaden the repertoire in that area and providing an opportunity for composers to get their music heard. I would certainly apply for such an opportunity if I had time to write something for it.

What I am actually posting for is some advice on page setup from you (as you seem to have publishing experience) or anyone else who might have an answer. I was wondering did you ever come across any guidelines from publishers re margin widths in scores which are set up for double sided printing. My experience is that composers don’t generally bother about this either leaving it up to the publisher or doing it as and when required rather than at the time of creating the score, thus getting it over and done with. At the moment I set my left and right margins at 1 ¼ inches and ¾ inches on a right sided A4 page and vice versa for left. This always leaves generous margin space after binding but I was wondering if it would be possible to stretch as far as 1 inch and ½ an inch? It looks more a little more ‘packed’ but still presentable. Anyone like to contribute their experiences re this?


P.S. Competitions are generally positive as long as you don't hold them as being the holygrail of composing.

  Re: Composition Grievances  MartinY at 16:43 on 06 March 2009

I will have a more considered reply about margins. I suppose we have all found ourselves in the situation of playing in public where we have to guess about 4 or 5 notes per page cos they are creased into the binding so it is really important.

  Re: Composition Grievances  piargno at 17:51 on 09 March 2009


Make sure you read things VERY CAREFULLY! and I highly suggest this for ANYTHING you do when it comes to composition competitions.

The duo to whom you are referring is the Basso Moderno Duo ( ), and if you do a thorough search on their website, you'll find that they accept unsolicited works. Basically, you can compose a work for them, send it to them, and perhaps they'll play it. They have periodic composition competitions, but here is why:

The bassist of this duo has his strings tuned DIFFERENTLY! Therefore, the guide that you have isn't for composing for a standard double-bass with regular tunings. It is for composing for this weird tuning. Unfortunately, I just looked at the website, and they have changed it. Now, their website does NOT make it clear that this "guide" is just for his bass tuning. So, I just want to tell you that the biggest difference between composing for a standard bass and composing for his tuning is that his range is shorter, and he doesn't read a transposing score. His notes sound at pitch.

Also, they have something on their website that alludes to a residency for composers wishing to visit the United States. You might want to check that out, too!


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