Commissioning

One of the best things that I get to do as a composer is to collaborate with a conductor or group and write a work just for them. It’s a terrific experience to bounce ideas off of one another and to find out what someone is looking for in the work that they commission.

In the past, I have been commissioned by the following groups:

Aliqua, Vancouver, BC, Canada
American Composers Forum, Minneapolis, MN
American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota
Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs, Bloomington, MN
The Apollo Club, Minneapolis, MN
Appleton North High School Varsity Men's Choir, Appleton, WI
BealeCanto, Nashville, TN
Bexley High School Concert Choir, Bexley, OH
Boston Choral Ensemble, Boston, MA
Bowling Green State University Men's Chorus, Bowling Green, OH

Cantus, Minneapolis, MN
Cherry Creek High School Meistersingers, Greenwood Village, CO
Chor Leoni Men's Choir, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Cor Cantiamo, DeKalb, IL
Crowder College and Neosho and Joplin High Schools, Joplin, MO
DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Notre Dame, IN
Eden Prairie High School, Eden Praire, MN
First Lutheran Church, Columbia Heights, MN
Flower Mound High School Jaguar Chorale, Flower Mound, TX
Flower Mound High School Men's Chamber Choir, Flower Mound, TX
The Church of St. Michael's, children's choir, Stillwater, MN
Greg Harris (personal commission), VA
Heartland Voices, Elgin, IL
Hopkins High School Concert Choir, Minnetonka, MN
Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY
Kent State Univeristy Men's Chorus, Kent, OH
Kirsten Whitson, cellist, St. Paul, MN
Lawrence Free State High School Chamber Choir, Lawrence, KS
The Linden Duo (soprano, piano)
Lorelei Ensemble, Boston, MA
Melange a Trois, Minneapolis, MN
Miami University Men's Glee Club, Oxford, OH
Minneapolis Public School, Minneapolis, MN
New Richmond High School Kammerchor, New Richmond, WI
The New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus, Albuquerque, NM
DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, South Bend, IN
Pavia Winds, Minneapolis, MN
Peace Lutheran Church, Bloomington, MN
Prior Lake High School Varsity Choir, Prior Lake, MN
Rhodes College, Nashville, TN
Robbinsdale Armstrong High School Concert Choir, Plymouth, MN
The Rose Ensemble, St. Paul, MN
Rochester Choral Arts Ensemble, Rochester, MN
The Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists, Minneapolis, MN
The St. Olaf Choir, Northfield, MN
The St. Olaf Band, Northfield, MN
The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, Minneapolis, MN
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Women's Concert Chorale, Eau Claire, WI
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Singing Statesmen, Eau Claire, WI
Vassar College Choir, Poughkeepsie, NY
VocalEssence, Minneapolis, MN
Washburn Rural High School Choir, Topeka, KS
Western Michigan University Choir, Kalamazoo, MI
The Young New Yorker's Chorus, New York, NY
Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud, MN

Writing a new choral piece is always driven by the text. I spend a lot of time researching poets and poetry trying to find the right fit for a new work. I always look for a poem that speaks to me immediately; one that has a strong message, image or narrative; and one that will fit within the scope of the program in which it will be performed. Once I find the right text, I spend a lot of time with it before I write any music. I read and record it out loud, take note of the strong rhythms in the poem, and figure out what it is in the poem that I want to get across musically. What is the main theme? How will the form of the poetry influence the form of the music?

For an instrumental work, the creation of the piece is driven by images, gestures, and form. First I get an idea of how the piece will be shaped, what it might "look" like, either on the page or in the ear, and then I start creating the melodies and textures to support those images and gestures.

When my work is driven by melody, that's where I start musically. If it's based on rhythmic gesture, I'll create a couple to start with. Once I've written the main figures of the piece, I'll sit down and write a suitable harmonies, melodies, rhtyhms to support what I already have. But remember, I've already spent a lot of time constructing a blueprint of the piece in my head (or even drawn on paper), so I know what the end result should look like (barring any unforeseen turns or happy accidents along the way).

Some of my favorite moments in writing a new work occur in the crafting stages of a piece. This happens once I get 95% of the music down on paper. I sing through each line separately and make sure that every note is necessary and that every line is efficient and beautiful. Sometimes changing one note can alter the final product quite a bit.

If you are someone who is interested in talking with me about the possibility of commissioning a new piece of music, please contact me. If you're not sure where to start or what to ask, please read on.

Some comments offered, some questions answered

Commissioning new music is not nearly as hard as some make it out to be. Although it is a more time consuming process than simply ordering scores through a distributor, the benefits and joys of contributing new art into the world far surpass the small amount of time that it takes to get a project started. (It's a relatively small time for the patron, not necessarily the composer!)

Anyone can commission a new work. It doesn’t have to be a choir director, or a high-end donor. It can be anyone who has a reason to put new art into existence. People commission music for weddings, anniversaries, school concerts, student recitals, birthday presents, and yes, concert music as well.

I want to commission a new piece. Where do I start?

Take stock of the composers you like. Which ones’ work has your group already performed? Whose music do you like? You could find somebody who has written a lot for the voicing of your group. They know the capabilities and limitations already, so that’s a plus. Or, you could find a composer who has a great musical voice, but hasn’t yet written for your particular instrumentation or voicing.

Also consider that most composers don’t advertise too much. They let their music speak for itself. If there’s a composer who catches your ear, track them down and find out if they’re taking commissions.

I have a composer in mind that I’d like to commission, but their music is too hard for my group. Should I look elsewhere?

No. One of the benefits of commissioning is the ability to set guidelines for the piece. You get to tell the composer the instrumentation and voicing, duration, and the difficulty level. The composer should tailor the piece for your group.

What if I don’t have a strong idea for a project yet?

As a composer, it is easier to narrow down the focus of a search for texts or musical ideas when there are a few guidelines from the group or person who is commissioning the piece. However, don’t worry about coming to a composer with nothing but the desire to have a new piece of music written. Most composers have so many ideas in their heads – texts they’d like to set or ideas to try – they’re likely to have three or four to talk about with you.

How much does it cost to commission a new work?

The cost varies between composers, and a lot depends on how long the piece is to be, and the final instrumentation. I’d recommend looking at the guidelines set forth by Meet the Composer (pdf). They have published a range of rates from professional composers, and it’s a great place to start when you’re figuring out how much a new piece will cost.

Don’t be afraid to start a dialogue about commissioning with a composer. Many projects that people brainstorm don’t yield an end result. But the conversations you have might flesh out your own ideas, and make the project become clearer. Maybe you can’t afford the composer you talk to, or the two of you don’t see eye to eye about the scope of a project, but you’ve still gained a little by hearing from the composer’s perspective.

Things to ask when starting a conversation about commissioning:

Can you describe your musical style?
Have you written for __(voicing)__ before?
How much will it cost?
What is your schedule like? When would you be able to write this?
- or -
Can you get a piece done by__(date)__?