July 20, 2010 at 10:32 PM ·


I am a proud violinist, violist, and composer! I am going to be a sophmore in high school and have been composing since 6th grade. I haven't become really serious about my pieces until 2 years ago. Writing the music is NEVER the problem with me...for me its getting people to PLAY it! I have tried getting music ensembles together at my school, but groups usually: 1. don't practice 2. Don't care 3. Think the music is too hard, or 4. Don't meet/ come to rehearsals. So as a composer who really wants his music performed, how can I get an emsemble to be serioius about my music, though I'm no Beethoven, at minimal cost? I have also thought about entering my pieces into a youth composition competition, but I don't know of any. Any recommendations? Thanks!
Corey W

Replies (23)

July 21, 2010 at 01:35 AM ·

Hi Corey,

I am a former violinist (still play) and composer. Things are not easy for composers and you will have to deal with it all your life. You can go to my website if you wish and read about a long article I wrote recently untitled "Why don't we write anymore symphonies"? I wrote 5 of them in the baroque,classical,romantic,impressionist and dodecaphonic ( serial) style and still,none of them has been performed yet. Everything is interdependant with the system of subsidies today and you have to be part of the system. My personal income as a criminal lawyer does not allow me to benefit from the governemental  subsidies in Canada... If you submit one of your piece to an orchestra,the administration will refuse it if you are not in the system. In Canada, it simply works like in the old Soviet Union in that very particular field. I do not know how it works in the States.

Wish you good luck and be perseverant. Marc:

July 21, 2010 at 07:57 AM ·

 I am a former violinist (still play) and composer. 

Me too. Like being an actor, some-one has to give you a break, and then you have to hope you don't screw up ! Even then, you can be "resting" for long periods. Don't give up the day job, they say !

Back in the old days composers such as Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn etc. held positions that entailed writing stuff for performance virtually next day. That was the patronage system. As Marc observes, money to fund public performances or broadcats of new "classical" work is rarely directed to unknowns. "Nothing succeeds like success". That's VERY frustrating, as is the fact that the libraries are stuffed full of old music that folk still want to hear.

My way was to keep up the fiddle playing and work in professional orchestras. By way of a few successful arrangements, folk began to ask for more serious contributions. Not all professionals are, as some will tell you, hardened cynics, and a musician can learn a lot by working alongside others. It helps to be aware of practicalities. Toiling away in isolation, without feedback, is dangerous. My view is that you should be a musician first, composer second. 

I had a string quartet under the bed, unperformed, for 40 years until someone decided to record it. That's not very encouraging for you right now, however, by sticking at it, most of my output is now for promised performances.

If you use the Sibelius somputer software to generate scores it's possible to publish your efforts on Sibelius. That's not something I have done myself, so I cannot describe exactly how it works. In any case, as you probably know, the playback is a great help in checking that what you write is what you mean.

Good luck.

July 21, 2010 at 12:43 PM ·

David: Just listened to your clarinet quartet: Bravo!!! I agree with your thoughts... I would add that here, there is a kind of association that I call "the serial killers". They are everywhere in the key posts in orchestras and government offices for the art and subsidies. They write serial music and it became a dogma. It is quite inferior to anything Shoenberg wrote or Olivier Messian... Since they are in charge, they discredit anything tonal, atonal or impressionist... Critics are usually very bad about their creation ( and we have great critics who are aware of what is going on in the world in terms of modern creation), but still,they have the power to decide who is worth to be played and who is not.

I believe that a real composer should be able to write in any style today, alike Stravinski or Schoenberg. But it is not the case...

Corey: why don't you open your own website and present your compositions to the public. You will be surprised how much you can be known with internet...

July 21, 2010 at 02:47 PM ·

Yeah I would definitely recommend starting a website and becoming involved with the classical community online. There's probably the of composers - - somewhere. Keep a good blog, research other composers out on the Web, and network as a player locally. Have you tried googling youth composing competitions, or some similar phrase? Try local small string orchestras; they're often more flexible and open to performing stuff (especially shorter things) than the bigger ensembles. You could try publishing a few pieces on Sibelius or Youtube (look how Bram on this website has "published" the violin concertos, under the name HenriVieuxtemps on youtube). I'm not a composer but I do write and so I feel your frustration about not being performed, except in my case it's not being published, or not getting work as a journalist, etc. Hopefully other actual composers will have more to say.

July 21, 2010 at 03:13 PM ·

Emily: I am already the composer(lol) !!!

July 21, 2010 at 06:22 PM ·

Thanks for all the comments! I do use Sibelius software and I do publish (some) pieces online. I have searched youth composer competitions, but  I don't know of any credible competitions, also for the couple I found, I noticed that the winners were people in college (one was at curtis under Jennifer Higdon O_o...yeah, probably won't win that competition! ahah)!  I'll continue to push my music at school through my director.

July 21, 2010 at 09:41 PM ·

Corey: In Montreal we have not only one of the most famous violin competion ( with Moscow and Queen Elizabeth) but also the Montreal symphony orchestra international competition for young composers. Go to their website and you will find all the information you need. Bonne chance!!!

July 22, 2010 at 05:32 AM ·

In Montreal there's also the Quatuor Molinari competition. I think that's an anuual event. I wrote my second string quartet for that - but then found I was disqualified by age !

When searching the web for a contest, hoping to massage my CV, I found that competition and one in Australia for Shakuhachi, (a kind of end-blown flute) which did not appeal. There are other contests. Maybe someone out there will add to the list .....

July 22, 2010 at 02:56 PM ·

thats too bad! I hope you found somewhere else to have your quartet played! I'm hoping to sponsor a composition competition at my school, hopefully that will boost the motivation of other composers at my school (including myself! aha)!

July 22, 2010 at 03:12 PM ·

 I hope you found somewhere else to have your quartet played!

No problem, Corey, I found an ensemble who wanted to record it - and they did so.

Sponsorship would be the problem with starting a school composition competition - if the prize isn't substantial enough, no-one will want to bother. Maybe winners would be content with a trophy, engraved with their name - but a silver cup, claret jug, or whatever still has to be bought. Maybe a local music shop would consider it good publicity to become sponsors.

July 22, 2010 at 04:01 PM ·

The orchestra I play in reads new works by composers from our state (New Mexico) three times a year.  We love to have things written by young people, and performed one piece by an extraordinary 16-year-old on one of our concerts.  The local Youth Symphony has also performed pieces written by members.  Neither of these are the route to fame and fortune, but they allow YOU to hear your piece and give you at least a little exposure.  Perhaps there is someone in your area who would do the same thing.  Many cities have reading orchestras.

July 22, 2010 at 05:36 PM ·

David: I know Olga Ranzenhoffer, first violin of the Molinari, since she is a child. What a violinist ! I am also disqualified because of my age. You should try to write to her personally. They do perform modern works,even if it is "hors concours"...

July 22, 2010 at 06:10 PM ·

David: well congrats! Thats awesome! Ill look for it sometime!
Just having one's piece played is enough of a prize (personally) but I'll look into other things that could be rewards (probably a gift card to our local music shop?) I'll mention it to my director.
I will also look into youth symphonies and other local orchestras to perform my works (after I have a professional comment on it of course). My school actually performed one of my friend's choral pieces with one of our choruses, but choruses aren't as "up-tight" or "difficult to work with". But I can see if I can get a chamber group set up to make a recording of my piece sometime! Thanks for the help!

July 22, 2010 at 08:44 PM ·

I believe it was Leonard Bernstein who started out in junior high by writing custom arrangements of existing songs.  When his school, synagogue, or his family's friends needed a short processional march or a piece of intermission music and they had certain musicians lined up,  he wrote a custom arrangement specifically for those instruments.  Bit by bit, he built a name for himself,  got more work and more of it played.  Of course, he went to music school to get really good, but the early experience taught him a lot. 

One constant thing about people who are really good at something is that they do it over and over again in different ways.  Don't try to hit home runs now.  Get to first base over and over and over.  You will build valuable skills, and as you develop, will build a reputation.

July 23, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

Great advice! My friend and I are both composers and we do LOTS of exercises to train ourselves. We do score reductions, arrangments, orchestrations, different genre exercises, and we read lots of books. Each week or month we challenge each other to help build our composition skills, week 1: set a poem for chorus, minimum time: 2 minutes, SATB set up, and due in a month. We do different things like this exercise to help us become better! (current exercise: 1 month to write a tone poem based off a book ((mine is a modern work of 1984)) minimum 3 minutes, must have one sort of percussion). We work hard :)

July 23, 2010 at 04:47 PM ·

You and your friend should set up a formal mentorship arrangement with a composer or teacher.  Find someone who knows something, who would be willing to work with a couple of serious kids, and who would be willing to meet with the two of you once a month or so to critique what you're doing, help you figure out where you are going, and give you some direction.  College faculty?  Youth orchestra conductors?  One of these folks might fit the bill, or could introduce you to their friend who'd be perfect for you.

July 24, 2010 at 05:07 AM ·

An opportunity that occurred for me was this - I was relatively useless as a fiddle-player, but my efforts at composing got me into the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain as a "general musician". I had to play the tubular bells (later graduating to viola - OK, no jokes, please !) but we composing freaks got to show our stuff to Herbert Howells. Very helpful.

Do any youth orchestras in the USA offer anything similar ??

July 31, 2010 at 09:01 PM ·

 Hi Corey, right at the start Marc mentioned perseverance. This is primordial. If there's one strategy to employ it would be to employ multiple strategies simultaneously (!) because they are all likely to bear fruit at different times, but you may have to wait longer in some cases than others. 

There are many ancillary skills necessary to be a composer, one of them being able to decipher player's comments on your work. So, when someone says "it's too hard" it could mean that it's too hard, or it could mean "this work is not standard repertoire therefore I expect to be able to present it perfectly on sight reading it, or at the most with a small amount of individual work, and it's harder than that".

The idea of writing for non-standard or non-traditional formations has been around for a while, so following that idea may help get a performance. On the other hand as a player there should be good opportunities to be part of a regular group playing standard repertoire where you can pop one of your own works in the programme. 


July 31, 2010 at 10:13 PM ·

I agree very much with the comment about the difficulty. I plan on to continue writing (I can't remember mentioning or not, but I am an "on the boarder of minimalism and tonality kinda writer" so knowing that, standard instrumentation is usually no common :/) however the instrumentation will be based on what I believe will get me the sound I want...and not to only be "innovative". But I will continue to push my music! :)

August 1, 2010 at 12:54 AM ·


I myself have been thinking about getting into arranging, and here's my observation: musicians love when sheet music is free.  Make some of your work free and widely available on the web, especially if it's a new and interesting arrangement of a popular tune (minding copyright laws, of course) or some forgotten gem, and use word of mouth to its highest potential to help people find it.  Along the same lines as what Bernstein did, but on a much larger scale thanks to technology.

Also, another way is to have a popular/respected artist or ensemble commission a piece.  It's a win-win: you get publicity and the advantage of their reputation, and they get to be champions of young local composers.  Who can you establish a relationship with, or how can you nurture an existing one?

August 1, 2010 at 10:37 PM ·

Interesting that you put innovative in inverted commas. Everything has already been done, yet it's still possible to create a unique sound.

August 2, 2010 at 01:57 AM ·

ahah! don't worry, my pieces are..."out there" and unique... isnt all minimalism? aha

August 4, 2010 at 07:40 AM ·

 "out there" is not an expression I would have applied to minimalism. For me it's now just another "classical" style that's been around a fair while. If you are talking about classic minimalism then probably one of the harder ways to try and create something unique with. Even as far back as the second to last decade of the 20th century minimalism and "the new tonality" had taken hold in NZ where I was at the time, although I never felt inclined to jump on the bandwagon and don't regret that. I just dug out an old review for a work of mine, Diffractions, where it says I was apparently "swimming against the tide" which I think is not a bad thing for a composer to do.

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