"Poof" / Composers' Corner Volume XXVIII

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with Brett Abigaña

I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but I know that a lot of composers around the world heard the same sound: an ominous poof as all of the commissions, guest conducting appearances, concerts, and travel plans so carefully cultivated suddenly vanished with the unwelcome appearance of COVID-19.


So now what? I have to admit, I’ve been struggling with this very question for months, and I have found it difficult to find a way forward. Fortunately, the connections and resources I’ve maintained over the years, and the wonderful friends I’ve made along the way have all helped to make this situation a little more tenable, and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. But that got me thinking: what if I were a young composer without the benefit of 20-plus years in the musical world?

Perhaps the most important thing for any composer to do in this situation is to keep writing, and to keep engaging in the art. Even if you don’t have your normal list of commissions, don’t lose hope, and don’t let the creative juices stop! Write SOMETHING as often as you can, even if it’s only a few measures of something you never intend to expand upon. Maybe take this opportunity to brush up on your species counterpoint or harmony skills (if you need reference/source material, I’d suggest Gradus ad Parnassum by Joseph Fux or Counterpoint by Knud Jeppesen for species counterpoint, and 380 Basses Et Chant Donnés by Henri Challan for harmony, all of which can be found online). Maybe try your hand at a ridiculous instrumentation, just for fun (steam calliope, musical saw, tenor recorder and triangle obligato, anyone?). Maybe take the advice offered by my teacher Sam Adler and, “Write a fugue, my boy!” The point is, if you can stay connected to music, it will stay connected to you, and I find that to be a very comforting thought.

But of course compositional exercises and challenges can only take you so far, especially if you’ve gotten used to working on commission. If that’s the case, there are some resources that might help. For starters, I’d suggest checking out the Creative Repertoire Initiative. Their website has some wonderful resources to help composers and educators deal with some of the restrictions and difficulties of trying to write and teach music in today’s socially distanced world, and they have a large and active Facebook group where composers can discuss their own work and how it might be useful in the current situation.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider signing up for PODIUM - New Music Hub, which is a FREE forum hosted by World Projects where you can post ideas for new pieces you’d like to write and reach out to conductors, educators, and musicians around the world for new collaborations.

Finally, don’t be shy about reaching out to musicians and teachers in your area to find out what they need and if by chance you can help supply those needs. At this time in the summer, there’s a good deal of uncertainty around things like concerts and commissioning budgets, but it can’t hurt to remind these folks that you’re still here and still operational. And speaking of reaching out, if I can be personally helpful, please feel free to reach out via the email address below, even if just to commiserate with a friendly ear.

We live in interesting times, to say the least, and we’re all trying to adapt to a new model of musical collaboration. Eventually, life will return to normal, or a new version of it, and we’ll all get back to making music. Until then, keep the faith, and remember we're all in this together.

Brett Abigaña
Director of New Music
[email protected]

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