Composition

adams danielDaniel Adams, Texas Southern University
CMS Board Member for Composition

As I began my first year as CMS Board Member for Composition, my initial task was appointment the following composers to the Advisory Council on Composition: Kyong Mee Choi (Roosevelt University), John L. Cornelius, II (Prairie View A&M University), Amy Dunker Reiner Kramer (McGill University), and Stephen Yip (Houston Community College). I have encouraged them to share their ideas about how we can better serve our composer constituency.

 CMS Composer Concerts were presented in various venues at the 2015 National Conference (Indianapolis), International Conference (Stockholm and Helsinki), and at all regional conferences. The 2015 National Conference Program Committee issued two calls for new music. The first invited composers to submit electro acoustic works, while the second call invited composers to submit acoustic scores for which they would provide their own performers. Responses to these calls resulted in the programming of two concerts of music by CMS composers.

 Thomas Wells  (The Ohio State University) served as Concert Manager for both events. Seven compositions, six with fixed media and live performers, and one for fixed media alone were included on “Performances of New Music I: Electro Acoustic Scores” which took place on Thursday, November 5, at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.  “Performances of New Music II: Acoustic Scores” took place on Friday, November 6, in the Basile Theater at the Indiana Historical Society. Eight pieces for solo instruments and small ensembles were featured on this program. However, there was no dedicated ensemble available for the 2015 conference as had been the practice in past years.

 Mark Dal Porto (Eastern New Mexico University) is serving as Composition Chair for the 2016 conference, which will be held in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the last week of October. The Program Committee requested submissions of chamber music to be performed by Montage Music Society with a core ensemble of violin, viola, cello, clarinet, with piano and other instruments as needed. Faculty and students from the Department of Contemporary Music at Santa Fe University are also scheduled to participate in the conference. Their available instruments include viola, cello, bass, flute clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone, and percussion. Composers also had the option to submit pieces to perform their own themselves or provide their own performers.   

Several years ago, the CMS Board of Directors, at the recommendation of my predecessor, attempted to establish a liaison between CMS and the Society of Composers, Inc (SCI). Formerly known as the American Society of University Composers, SCI is the largest organization in the United States devoted to the activities of composers, most (but not all) of whom are affiliated with institutions of higher education. During my tenure as Board Member for Composition, I plan to follow up on the still-nascent status of the proposed liaison. To facilitate this process, I posted a request on the SCI members’ blog inviting composers who hold membership in both CMS and SCI to provide feedback on their experiences as CMS-affiliated composers and to suggest ways in which CMS can enhance the professional and artistic stature of its composer members. I also addressed this topic with the membership of the Society of Composers during the SCI National Conference, held at the University of Florida (Gainesville) in November of 2015.

Overall, CMS composer members are of the opinion that composition should be proportionally represented at national and regional concerts on a par with performance, music theory, musicology, and other disciplines. Some composer members are of the opinion that, in general, there isn’t much visibility or cachet in having a performance at a CMS National, much less a regional conference. Perhaps if there was funding for important ensembles and soloists to play the music of CMS member composers at these conferences there would be a change in this perception. Additionally it was suggested that more non-composer conference attendees should attend the composers’ concerts. 

Several members recommended that the acceptance rate for composers at national CMS conferences should be comparable to that of other presenters, and suggested adding more composer concerts as a possible solution. To further expand the pool of available performers, a committee person could be appointed to contact nearby colleges and universities to encourage their performance faculty to participate. A targeted call for student ensembles along with faculty soloists was also mentioned as a possibility to expand available performance resources. A collegiate new-music ensemble, for example, could compete for a slot to perform student and faculty compositions on the national conference program. This could be a significant opportunity for student performers, and student composers could be invited to write new pieces especially for the selected ensemble. 

One member suggested the possibility of a collaborative activity between composers and music theorists. Several of the compositions selected for the composer concert would be analyzed in a parallel presentation before the concert. A concert of one-minute miniatures like the one held at the 2008 National Conference was suggested, as well as a concert of miniature operas. For performances requiring playback or other technological resources, a commercial company that rents or sells audio equipment could be contracted to provide equipment at a low cost so that composers will not have to rely on their own equipment or the often limited resources of host institutions. All conferences should be able, at a minimum, to provide four to eight channel playback, an audio board, and appropriate microphones. 

Several changes to the score submission and review process were suggested. One member remarked that every composition review committee should include at least one or two non-composers, preferably performers who routinely play new music. Unlike submissions of papers, posters, and lecture/recitals, the quality of a composition only ensures that the work will survive the first phase of the selection process. The final decision to program a work inevitably defaults to the players or ensemble directors. At that phase of the selection process, the quality of the work is often secondary to the practicality of mounting the performance, as the individual biases and tastes of the players/ensemble directors, and scheduling issues, take precedence over the quality of the piece. To address this issue, a procedure through which composers receive more feedback than simply a rejection or acceptance when submitting works was suggested. Even accepted submissions can benefit from feedback in the form of constructive criticism. A similar option would provide the selection committee with a method for recognizing the quality of a composition submission independently from the ability of the host to schedule a performance. The submission process would remain the same, but the composition selection panel would cite pieces for recognition regardless of whether or not the host is able to program them. The recognition could come in the form of an award, certificate, or letter. This would create two equal categories of peer review and recognition.

In conclusion, I would like to assure my composer colleagues that I will do everything within the scope of my position advocate on their behalf. In closing, I would like to express my appreciation to all of my composer colleagues who have shared their ideas, observations, and suggestions. I also would like to express my gratitude to the CMS performer members who devote their time and energy to the preparation and performance of works by CMS composers. Finally, I also thank my CMS colleagues in all disciplines for their attendance at our composer concerts and their continued support our composer members.