Sunday 10 December 2017

so you sent a score to a Canadian orchestra-- part 3

It has been over a year since I posted last, largely because the new music situation in this country hasn't really changed, except that we're poorer and sell less tickets.  But I keep getting asked about access to orchestras, and I realized that not all the questions I receive were answered in my two previous postings about the subject (which you should read before you read this.)

Here are some questions I just received:

How can I put an orchestral piece on the radar of Canadian orchestras? The piece for Esprit went really well, and I’d love for it to continue its life with other orchestras.

Do “cold calls” (emails, score via mail) ever actually work?

Do you email the artistic director or orchestra staff?

Some of this I covered in the first two postings.  But I like the really general nature of these questions, so I'll try to answer in more detail.  I will answer the first question last, because it is the most complex.

Do "cold calls" work?  Probably not.  But......once in a while, you may get lucky and present yourself at a critical programming moment when whoever is doing the programming is looking for a work that fits a specific profile, and your work is perfect.  It's rare, but it happens.

If you are going to do a cold call, here's what to do:
Know who you are.  This is obvious, but apparently, a lot of composers don't understand it.  If you are a high modernist, look at the programming for a given orchestra and see if they do any high modernism.  If they don't, they probably won't look at your score kindly.  If they programme nothing but high modernism, don't send them your charming Suite from the movie "Happy Happy."  They won't like it.
Find out who the appropriate person is to contact.  At the TSO, we actually have composers trying to submit music to people in the ticket subscription office.  Do your homework-- there will be only one or two people responsible for new scores.  If there is a Composer In Residence, that's who it is.  If not, in a larger orchestra, it will be the Artistic Administrator (they can have various titles.)  In smaller orchestras, it may well be the conductor him/herself.  Don't waste your time with anyone else.  Do not submit your score to the librarian.  Do not submit your score to the personnel manager.  Do not submit your score to the CEO.
Send a good recording first, either as a link or as a SMALL mp3 file-- link preferred.  If someone has to download a 10 meg file, they won't.
Do not send MIDI unless you are really good at it.  Hitting play in Finale or Sibelius is not being good at it-- it will work against you.  You need to know how to perform your work into a Digital Audio Workstation with professional sounds, and then how to finesse it into something useful.
If you do not have a good recording of your work, remind yourself that life is unfair and that you never get any breaks, and that other people are out to get you, and that so many other people have what they don't deserve it's enough to give you a stroke.
Include a link to a score.  Do not email a score.
Both the above options can be accomplished by regular mail.  Send a CD with a score and it will likely end up with the right person.
Do not harass people.  I admit that there are times when being persistent pays off, but it will only pay off once.  Once you are off the back of the person you are harassing, they will talk about what a harassing pain in the butt you are.  Everyone in the orchestra community will know.
Be patient, and re-read the earlier posts about not making assumptions about what happened to your work.

I alluded to this above, but yes, you can certainly email the staff of an orchestra.  It is in poor form to try to directly email the music director, except when the orchestra is a small one, and even then, your first approach should be to determine who actually intercepts emails to the MD.

How do you put your orchestral work on the radar of orchestras?  Basically, there is not a lot you can do about this.  But here are a few suggestions.

Don't be shy, and don't be aggressive.  Letting orchestras know through the above methods that you are around and have some repertoire is a good thing.

Watch for reading sessions and calls for scores.  TSO does a regular yearly reading session with 3 to 5 composers, and the MD is always present.  It will probably not pay off immediately, but your name at least (if not the work itself) gets on the orchestra's radar.

Win a prize.  Not a piddly SOCAN prize that no one pays any attention to, but something more substantial, like the Azrieli Commissioning prize or the Barlow prize.  Orchestras notice this.

Get interesting commissions.  I can't be much more specific, but something like a cantata for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will peak the interest of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Attend things.  Go to new music festivals.  It's expensive, but it pays off.  Go to the post-concert parties and talk to people.  Be someone they remember.

A word about specialized success.  Success with new music ensembles does not automatically translate into success with mainstream orchestras.  Success with the Esprit Orchestra will be noticed by CIRs, but probably not by MDs.  It's great that you had a success with Esprit, who are the most important new music ensemble in Canada and one of the most important in the world, but they are still a new music ensemble.  New music ensembles do not generally appear on the radar of mainstream orchestras.

Remember, re-read the earlier posts.  Be sure that the orchestral world is the world for you.  And good luck.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, useful advice; information like this should really be part of every young (and old!) composer's education--I don't think one usually finds this kind of advice in a university composition course. I certainly didn't.