Getting our compositions "out there"?

February 13, 2018, 3:14 PM · Over many years of playing, writing music and teaching, I have arranged and composed many (hundreds) of pieces for school concert bands, and ensembles of all kinds.

Most recently I have written twenty or so compositions for string ensembles (Middle School string orchestra, Middle School string quartet, and Senior School string orchestra and quartet).

A few days ago I was lucky enough to have six of these pieces played by an ensemble of string teachers, gathered to "test and preview" new compositions.

I have emailed ten schools with an offer to write music for their enesembles, but have not received any replies.

Of course, I know to put on a clean shirt, make an appointment with the Principals, visit and leave a sample package of arrangments and parts, and ask for a subsequent meeting with the Directors of their music ensembles, if they are interested.

But my work would be fun to play in ensembles, school and community, anywhere in the world.

Here is a link to one Senior School String Orchestra composition:

How can I reach school ensemble leaders in Europe, in Asia, in the USA, etc?

I am not trying to make a lot of money, in this endeavour, just to be useful and enjoy myself using my experience and skills.

Replies (11)

February 13, 2018, 3:29 PM · Graeme, I think a huge step would be to take even one piece from a MIDI recording to an actual one. This may require some money. Having a real orchestra play a piece will also add tremendous legitimacy to the piece (no one has to know you paid them to play it :))

One thing I have found is that it's very hard for most people to "See the vision" in a half-finished product in the same way the composer sees it. The only way to have them understand is to give them something that's remarkably clean and real sounding, and fully finished and performed. I guess a good analogy would be a violinist going into an audition with a piece half-learned, but him expressing with the utmost conviction that "if he had spent more time, it would be perfect," and then hoping the judges will see him for what he COULD be, rather than what he IS.

But mainly, I think you're also going after a pretty tough market. To be honest, most public schools don't give a crap about music. They're just hoping their players can play ANYTHING in tune, let alone explore new music. And that's the ones that even have orchestras. In a sense, going after the high-school/middle-school orchestra market is much like trying to convince a homeless man to buy a nice wallet. Even if you give him what you consider a GREAT deal, he's still not going to buy it, because he has very little to put in it in the first place. He's worrying about just having enough food to eat, let alone having a nice wallet.

However, if you're stuck on the idea of tapping into that market, I think your best bet would be to find a good high-school orchestra to perform the piece (you may even have to donate $$$ for this to happen), and then to use that as a "sample" of what other schools could do with the music. You can keep all the other compositions in MIDI form, but there has to be at least one video-tape example of your piece being performed.

Edited: February 13, 2018, 5:14 PM · Another way of publicising your own compositions is if you're a member of a good community orchestra, or have connections with one (they like to find modern works to perform with no copyright or hiring problems).

One of my local community orchestras regularly showcases new works by local composers, one occasion including the first performance of a new piano concerto. Another was a double bass concerto which was part of a doctoral portfolio, and its composer was also the regular conductor. In this case the first public performance, by a professional bassist, was recorded by the university's audio department for the portfolio.

Sometimes the soloist may be from within the orchestra, or may be a third-year student from one the conservatories looking for the experience.

February 13, 2018, 7:17 PM · You can publish your music through SheetMusicPlus. I know a guitarist who publishes arrangements that way. They take care of all the copyright licensing stuff and you get a cut of the sale price. Then advertise it in appropriate social media channels.

If you don't care about the money, put your stuff up on a website for free as PDFs.

February 13, 2018, 8:25 PM · It's all about connections. All the new music commissions my ensemble did went to composers we have worked with and admire as colleagues and artists.

Looking back to conservatory days, I only volunteered to play new music by friends or composers whose work I thought was incredible and would do it for the experience. (Or they bribed people with pizza).

I think honestly from your sample even if you send 500 copies to schools and you won't get one reply because they don't know you. I would start by networking with friends of music directors who can recommend you.

February 13, 2018, 9:15 PM · That's not entirely true, Erik. There are composers who seem to be highly successful in that public school orchestra market -- Brian Balmages, Richard Meyer, etc. It might be the single most common way to get a composition played by multiple orchestras.
February 13, 2018, 10:53 PM · They make a living doing that??
February 14, 2018, 4:29 AM · Hi Erik,
Having a piece played by a string orchestra is a buzz, I admit, but I can't say I agree it is a huge step, well, not as far as discovering what the compositions sound like. The new sample library I use gives a reliable enough impression of the sounds I have written. And, of course, I write the bowing and articulation and dynamics, and I can play most of the violin and all the cello parts. The library is not a replacement for a real orchestra in my hands, but it is for many other composers. (Is that a topic for another thread?)

I have another sample library that almost make the violin sound like flute in some registers. Not good.

I do agree, however, that it seems as though strong string programs in schools are not as common as we would think (hope).

February 14, 2018, 8:00 AM · Meyer is a public school teacher. Balmages does composition-related work full-time though, it looks like. But having a significant body of work published and played probably counts as "success" in composition.
February 15, 2018, 8:52 AM · I don't know but my thoughts are to start by getting to know your local orchestra teachers and youth orchestra conductors and some people that are frequently asked to do all city, all county, all state orchestras.

But also it might be worth your while to get a vendor table (or be on a table with another vendor) at your states music educator's association annual meeting, American string teachers meeting and similar.

February 16, 2018, 3:11 AM · Thanks Laura.

I have had email with the Director of our city's Youth Orchestra, and I know my online files have been used by staff, but there has been no further contact. Maybe that's telling me something ...

Getting a table at the next conference is a great idea, particularly since "shared tables" are available, and that is all I would need (along with well packaged wares to sell to the curious, of course).

February 16, 2018, 6:36 AM · It might be harder than you think to get in the middle/high school market. Schools in the US like to participate in competitions- and those have requirements as well as lists pieces must come from. Or the director may want to play something for pedagogical reasons.

However, community orchestras could be a great place to go. They don't have money to buy new compositions and arrangements and may not have the skill level to play original, out of copyright compositions off of IMSLP.

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