Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors

How many panels have you served on over the years? What are some of the more well-known or prestigious panels you’ve served on?

Informant A: I’ve probably served on a total of forty panels. They like me. I’ve served for the New York State Council on the Arts, Cary Trust, Jerome Foundation, Bush Foundation, Colorado and Ohio Arts Councils, BMI, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. There are some you can’t tell anybody…

Informant B: BMI, Rome Prize, Pulitzer, I served on some other panels that are done entirely by mail. Minnesota Readings, Whitaker… I haven’t served on that many panels, just a few important ones. For reasons of geography, I don’t get called on that often.

Informant C: Let me think for a second. I haven’t been on that many panels. Five or six. Seven, maybe. I’ve been on a Meet The Composer Commissioning USA panel, I’ve been on a Margaret Fairbanks Jory Copying Assistance panel [for the AMC]. I was on a panel for Chamber Music America. I don’t remember all the panels I was on. I was on a panel once for ASCAP. I was on another AMC panel and I’ve been on another Meet The Composer panel.


Have the judges you have served with been mostly composers?

Informant A: I’m trying to think of situations when they weren’t composers, and there have been a few. In that case, they were performers, presenters, arts administrators…but the majority have been composers.

Informant B: Yes, but sometimes performers and critics.

Informant C: It’s been a mix of composers, industry people, artists in other fields and performers.


Is the music of the other composer-panelists you have worked with stylistically similar to your own music?

Informant A: I’ve been on panels where they’ve been musically and stylistically completely different and I’ve been on panels where they’ve been somewhat similar. More often, I have something in common with them.

Informant B: In the main, no. I would say that on the panels I’ve served on there’s been a reasonable amount of diversity, though I think there could be conceivably more.

Informant C: I think it has generally been the case that what I do is not stylistically similar. I wouldn’t say that there are light years of difference between what I do and what other people do but, of course, that’s a matter of perspective. When you go to a panel, it’s not a schmoozing session for the panelists. It would be nice to get along with people and I think it’s important not only for the panel process, but also for the field that people learn to have conversations even if they make different aesthetic choices when they’re not on panels. After certain panels, I’ve gone to get CDs of other people or I’ve asked for them. Upon occasion I’ve been given work and I think that’s a nice thing.

I remember reading in Sarah Cahill‘s article in NewMusicBox about the differences she felt between John Adams and Andrew Imbrie. To have someone write that Adams and Imbrie are basically the same because they write notated music…I remember thinking well that’s definitely a different perspective and I’ve been on a panel with someone who had that perspective. I think there’s been a pretty divergent sense of style, but, of course, that comes from the perspective of people who generally look for composers who work with notated music. There’ve been exceptions to that, but I feel that’s mostly been the case.


In general, what is your opinion of the people who have served as judges along with you? As composers? As adjudicators?

Informant A: For the most part, and in most situations, I would have to say that I have dealt with fellow panelists who I have respected and admired. I loved working with them. In a few rare cases, I’ve had to work with people who were there for their friends or were there for a particular kind of music. That made it very difficult to make judgments based on the art which is what it should be.

Informant B: I’ve thought very well of them as composers and as adjudicators, in the main. I’ve been annoyed by personal quirks, but that’s something else.

Informant C: I think that they have, on the whole, been open-minded, reasonably knowledgeable, sometimes very knowledgeable, and not dismissive of people of any particular school. I have found that there’s the occasional backlash against music which could be described as non-tonal and academic, kind of in the way that Eastern European countries sometimes have backlashes against Communists. I have found it unfortunate that someone who writes what could be called “academic music,” and in fact teaches at a university, is sometimes given short shrift. On a couple of occasions I have suggested that this [type of] person deserves the same chance and I think people come around and listen.


How often do you see the same panelists on different panels?

Informant A: There have been repeat panelists on many different panels. I’ve had the experience of working with a few on different panels, which was good. Sometimes it’s good to have repeat people or at least one in there who really knows the ropes. Sometimes it’s not.

Informant B: I would say that with my experience it’s been insignificant.

Informant C: I have never been on a panel with an individual more than one time. I think there was one I couldn’t do which would have involved a duplicate.


How did you get to be chosen to be on these panels?

Informant A: These people from foundations, corporate foundations, and even government agencies, speak to each other and they talk about who are good panelists. Then they ask other panelists to recommend panelists they thought did a really good job. Doing a good job to most of us means you pay attention to the art and you make a decision based on the art, not on personality, prestige, profile, even stylistic situations, or I’ll even go so far as to say multi-cultural interests just for their own sake—those are the people who are considered the really good panelists. And I’ve been recommended all across the country because this is the position I take.

Informant B: In some cases, I haven’t known. I also know that sometimes it has to do with geographic diversity.

Informant C: For the American Music Center, I got a call from the Director of Grantmaking Programs both times. I suspect that it was because I knew the Director of Grantmaking who knew that I listened to music widely and that I’m not a firebrand for a particular style. I was asked to do a Meet The Composer panel because I had received a Meet The Composer commission and they got to know me that way.


Are you paid?

Informant A: I’ve been paid for every panel I’ve participated in.

Informant B: Yes.

Informant C: I have always been paid except when I was on some panels for CRI. On occasion I have donated back part or all of my panelist fee.


Do you feel the pay is adequate for the work you do on the panels?

Informant A: Most often, but not always.

Informant B: In the main, yes. I served on some smaller adjudicating things, like university prizes when I’m an outside referee, and those tend to be piddly in terms of a fee and the work is not that much of a pleasure. But I have no complaints about the honoraria or anything of that sort.

Informant C: They pay well. I’ve been paid $300 a day plus food. I’ve been paid $250. I’ve been paid a $150 honorarium. I think that’s reasonable for what’s asked of me.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.