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ACO Jazz Composers Readings: Day 1

What a day. In typical American Composers Orchestra fashion, the faculty and guest speakers packed our day full, from 9 am to 4 pm, filling our toolkit with extremely practical career insights.

After a usually concise and organized introduction by Michael Geller, the morning classes opened with a lecture by Bill Holab, a copyist who drilled the jazz composers to produce professional-looking score and parts. He was right there with us during the engraving process, giving us feedback on the smallest notational details, filling in gaps in our knowledge and really making sure we knew the rules to produce the polished notation you usually see in professional scores and parts.

Takeaways from Bill Holab:

  • Scores and parts are based on book design.

  • Include a date on your cover page to indicate the version of the score! So there is no confusion for performing ensembles.

  • God is in the details. (in enters Stephen Sondheim...)

The second speaker, Scott Winship, from New Music USA made some excellent points about grants and offered us a list of opportunities to look into over time.

Takeaways from Scott Winship:

  • There two forms of support—organizational (grants, external, official, etc.) and individual (the creation of personal opportunities)

  • Invented structures—create your own scene and demonstrate your value

  • When applying for grants, focus on a single project and create work samples that are complete and can summarize the quality of work expected in this project.

The third and fourth sessions were panels moderated by Frank Oteri—each covered publicity, promotion, marketing, and programming. Promoters (Andrew Byrne of Symphony Space and Jedediah Wheeler of Montclair State University) and publicists (Trudy Chen and Christina Jensen) advised us on what and what not to do when pitching our music.

Takeaways from these two panels:

  • Think of your music performance as an EVENT or a SHOW—a concrete project that involves multiple people and collaboration.

  • Your project should come as an original PACKAGE and not just a piece of music—built-in should be a consideration of the performing ensemble, the actors or directors in the case of dramatic productions, etc.—a TEAM.

  • Know whom you are pitching too and tailor your pitch to that person—give something that is relevant to them and can offer them concrete value. Personalize for each person. Show that you know who they are.

  • Be honest, straightforward, and consistent with social media and PR updates

  • Be active on others’ social media pages, and they will be active on yours. Follow them, and you might be on their radar. Be active, but not too active. Remain at a professional distance and offer value.

  • Develop your audience at the same rate you develop your content

  • Don’t unnecessarily box-in or define things

Astrid Baumgardner gave a contrasting talk on networking and creating a “brand.”

Takeaways from Astrid:

  • Think of relationships as gradual—you build friendships. Things don’t come and immediately gratify you. Don’t force a relationship if you don’t have a connection of some kind.

  • Trust, comfort, quality, and consistency

  • Create an honest “elevator pitch”

  • THREE TENNANTS: connect, share, remain relevant. Keep in touch if you have a connection with a person. Be on their radar.

James Kendrick concluded the lecture with a summary of copyright law and commissioning agreements, a practical summary of some of the nuts and bolts of the law that all composers should know at least somewhat about.

It was a pleasure meeting the composers from the Underwood Reading Sessions—a talented, friendly group of artists who were often equally as interested in jazz as all of us (and equally as nervous to adapt to the intimidating orchestral world, which was comforting, in a way). Their reading session was mentored by some familiar composers (Derek Bermel, Stephen Hartke, and Robert Beaser, whom I have all had the pleasure of working with in the past). The selections from their reading sessions were colorful and lush, exemplifying extraordinary skill in both orchestration and concept. George Manahan and the orchestra efficiently and expressively got through seven difficult pieces.

Joel Rust’s work, which started off the night, consisted of compelling smearing effects in the strings, tossing off closely spaced scales. Katherine Balch’s piece was a transparent work creatively using celeste and high pizzicati in the strings. Lembit Beecher’s work tastefully ended with an homage to Chopin. Paul Frucht’s Copland-esque Dawn was a poignant tribute to the Sandy Hook shootings. Sarah Gibson’s Talking to the Time demonstrated both bubbling energy, large gestures in the brass, and a masterful control of her musical materials. Carlos Simon’s piece was tight and clear as a bell, nearly perfectly executed by the orchestra and written in a fresh and compelling way. Michael Small’s art-inspired Eastern Point was coherent and had a consistent through-line that brought the listener from beginning to end without issue, avoiding the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. The range of works in the evening made for an effectively programmed reading session and enjoyable listen.


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