Dear Student Composers: Composers' Corner Volume XVI

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October, 2017

with Brett Abigaña

Dear Student Composers:
When I was in eighth grade, I got an idea during 1st period science, and wrote it down. Much to Mr. Zeigler’s dismay, it had nothing to do with pond biology. No, it actually turned into a tiny little string quartet, and it was the first piece I had composed. I've never forgotten the feeling of elation; in fact, I search for it with every piece I write. But I also remember thinking, “Now what?” Growing up in a small town in Northern California, I didn't have access to a composition teacher, didn't have the resources to expand on my knowledge of contemporary repertoire, and didn't have any idea of what needed to be done to rectify the situation. What I did have was a group of interested and creative teachers who supported my interests and did whatever they could to push me in my compositional pursuits. Sound familiar? Fortunately, there are many more resources and paths available to young composers now than there were back then, and you may have some options available to you that you may not have thought of.

Should I get a composition teacher? If so, how?
* Google composers in your area and explore their music. While you don’t have to write like them in order to study with them, it helps to at least know and appreciate their music!
* Contact a local university composition department. In my experience, many composers (even established ones!) are quite willing to take on the right private student, if they have time.

Ok, but I don't live near a university with a composition department!
* Several composers I know are willing to give advice via email, if only on a one-time basis, and there's nothing wrong with asking!
* One of the most important things you can do as a young composer is to study contemporary repertoire. A quick google search for “Contemporary Classical Composers” yielded several lists. Get on their websites or on YouTube and do some listening!
* Dive into the world of theory! Check out a harmony or counterpoint text book from a library or get it online, and go through it, step by step. Can you write a 4-voice fugue in the 18th Century style? If not, you should learn how! Brush up on your post-tonal theory, then try your hand at writing a short serial work.

How can I get my music played?
* Talk to local musicians to try and put together a reading of a new piece. Remember to ask before recording them!
* Even if you don't have anything ready for performance, you may be able to arrange something for your school band. Ask your music teacher!
* If your director is open to the idea of an original piece for your school ensemble, ask a lot of questions: after all, your conductor knows that ensemble better than you ever will, and you'll find that to be the case throughout your compositional career.

What if the above resources aren't available to me for whatever reason?
* There are any number of competitions, calls for scores, readings, and organizations worth checking out. For starters, World Projects has a composition contest every year! The winner gets a premiere in either Walt Disney Hall or Carnegie Hall, along with a trip to the festival in question, and publication. The deadline is December 1st if you want to submit something!
* You should also check out ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), the American Composers Forum, WASBE (World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles), NAfME (The National Association for Music Education), and other resources of that kind. You may be able to join some of these organizations or at least take advantage of their resource publications.

This is all great, but I'm a music teacher with a young composer. How can I support them?
There are a number of things you can do. In my experience, having Mr. Alfree, Mr. Holck, and Mr. A in my corner meant a lot to me, because I knew I could draw upon their knowledge whenever I needed it, and they never ceased to push me to new compositional heights. You can do the same for your young composer!
* To the extent that you can support your young composer by offering an ensemble for whom he or she can compose or arrange something, you should! If you like it, program it on a concert!
* Allowing your composer to draw upon your wealth of knowledge in the areas of theory, orchestration, form, aesthetic, and even pedagogy will be invaluable for them.
* You should share this edition of Composers’ Corner with them, and encourage them to reach out to me (as you should feel free to do as well!) at for compositional advice, further resources, and general help.
World Projects:
The Composers’ Forum:
The National Association for Music Education:
The Composer’s Site:
New Music USA:
The Society of Composers, Inc.:
Young Composers Music Forum:
International Music Score Library Project:
The Juilliard Manuscript Collection:
The Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS):
The Kousevitzky Music Foundation:
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