Saturday, January 25, 2014

Do your submission materials best represent you?

Over the years, I have adjudicated a number of composition-related opportunities (competitions, applications for college, grant proposals, etc.) and have seen a very wide range of composers’ approaches to preparing their submission materials.  I’d like to offer a few observations on how to select your materials and prepare them to make the strongest impression that you can for any opportunity:

1. If you are asked to submit two or more scores, make sure you send works that contrast each other.  I’ve seen a lot of applications in which the submitted works have extremely similar features – a flashy opening, a constant motor rhythm, and so on.  This approach gives the adjudicator a good idea of what the composer can do with those particular musical parameters, but it doesn’t necessarily flesh out a fuller picture of a composer’s capabilities.  I’d also suggest choosing works that show contrasting instrumentation.  An application containing two solo piano works probably won’t be as strong as an application that features a piano piece and a string quartet.

2. Depending on the adjudicating circumstances, your application might only spend a few minutes before the judges’ eyes.  In my experience, a judging panel frequently has a rather large pile of applications to get through in a fixed amount of time.  Choose your pieces carefully – submit works that have effective (yet contrasting) beginnings.  This doesn’t mean that you should choose works that have flashy openings; select pieces that exhibit something intriguing right away that will lure the panelists to keep listening.

3. Take into consideration what you’re applying for.  If you’re submitting scores for a festival that focuses on chamber music, then sending a large orchestra or concert band piece won’t really give the judges an idea of how you might compose a piece for chamber ensemble.  Likewise, if you’re applying for a grant to write a specific piece (such as a choral work), submit at least one piece that clearly demonstrates that you’ve previously composed in that genre.  Judges are more apt to fund a composer who has exhibited the ability to successfully carry out his/her proposed project than one that is untested. 

4. About recordings: edit them.  Remove long pauses, footsteps, and the tuning of instruments from the beginning so that your music starts right away.  Similarly, take out clapping at the end.  Live recordings are almost always preferred over MIDI, particularly as these show great initiative on the composer’s part to get his/her music played.  If you’re submitting a physical CD (which is getting less frequent, but still requested by some organizations), make sure to write the piece information on the CD case, not the CD itself.  Once a CD is put into a machine, judges can no longer read what you wrote on it.  Make sure your CD actually plays – check it in a stereo or computer before sending.  Ship your CD in a plastic case, not a paper sleeve; I’ve encountered several cracked CDs that weren’t properly protected prior to shipment.

5. If a Curriculum Vitae or résumé is requested, have a section in your document for your list of works.  Be sure to include the title, duration, instrumentation, and year composed for each piece; divide your list into categories, such as large ensemble, small ensemble, and chorus.  You should also include publication and premiere performance information if appropriate, as well as the authors of any texts you’ve set. 

6. Last but certainly not least, make sure the notation on your scores is as clean as possible, so it will leave the judges with a great impression about your level of professionalism.  See my previous First Impressions blog for more thoughts on this topic.

One final thought: even if you’re not currently preparing an application for an opportunity, there are a few things you can do right now to cut down on your future prep time; update your C.V. and list of works on a regular basis, make sure your scores are in great shape, and get musicians to record your works.  Then you’ll be ready to have your materials best represent you when you submit them for the next opportunity.