There’s been a big brouhaha brewing over at Sequenza21. Thus far (5:27 P.M. on Tuesday, February 15, 2010), there have been 94 comments in response to a post by Christian Carey about eighth blackbird’s recent call for scores which requires composers to pay a $50 application fee. [UPDATE (March 10, 2010): For the time being, eighth blackbird has postponed their composition competition.]
I have to confess I’m a little late to the game here having spent most of the Valentine’s Day/Chinese New Year/President’s Day weekend offline. (You ought to try it some time.) But then again, Molly Sheridan weighed in rather exhaustively on the topic of entry fees almost six years ago, and I’m not sure there’s anything new to say.
For music that exists in the dot-org economy, it’s always about having fewer resources than you need to do the things you believe in. That’s equally true for composers, performers, presenting organizations, small record companies, small publishers—you name it. We’re all in this together and anything that creates an “us versus them” dialectic destroys the very fragile ecology in which we all must subsist. Yet it’s hard to see past our own neck of the woods. So we all complain about each other rather that trying to get together to address the larger problems that are keeping our entire ecology from truly flourishing. Do I have the answer? Of course not. But I do know that unless we constantly create arenas for an open exchange of ideas we’ll never get past where we are.
That said, putting on my composer hat for a moment, I have almost never entered a competition in my life, either one with a fee or one without one. When I was younger and more competitive I entered my share for a bit. I remember winning something called the American Pen Women Award for musical composition and horrifying folks at the awards luncheon by playing my relentlessly loud tone-cluster-filled winning solo piano piece. I also vaguely remember paying once or twice to enter a competition (not that one), though I always felt weird about it. But as an adult, I’m a tad uneasy about all of it. Setting my work up against someone else’s, which more than likely is at least equally worthy, seems anathema to me. It’s great that such processes bring to light some truly magnificent music, and the accolades from winning such things can even result in much needed notoriety for composers. This is something we desperately long for in new music’s media-starved environment, despite there now being the existence of some dedicated outlets such as our friends at Sequenza 21 and these pages. But there’s got to be a better way to shine light on all the great music that is being created right now.