Friday, February 18, 2011

New Music Blog

I love playing and hearing new music, and sponsoring new music contests. One of the most exciting things in which I find myself involved, is new music. As I write this, there are EIGHT brass players sitting right next to me playing new music written in the last few months. Imagine being the first people to hear a BRAND NEW WORK. I sponsor a composition contest each year for brass chamber music. So far, we have generated over 300 new works for brass chamber music. The prize fund is $3,500. We have received entries from Japan, China, Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Peru, Iceland, England, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Austria, Romania, Canada, Estonia and, of course, the US. Some of this stuff is really great!

The other thing I like is paying composers for their music. Like many freelance professionals, many composers & arrangers write stuff and don’t see much in the way of remuneration for their talent, hard work and intellectual product. Many people who play music (especially chamber music) think nothing of Xeroxing® parts. This screws ALL of us. If composers, arrangers and publishers don’t get compensated for their work, what is their incentive to continue to do so? We need to commission new works, hire arrangers to write charts for us, and most importantly, BUY MUSIC from publishers. I imagine a budding Mozart somewhere working fast food, because she, or he, can’t make money composing.

I only have one problem I am overcoming right now: Music Rentals. I will NOT rent music. I don’t care if it is the greatest work ever written, I HATE rentals. I will pay composers, arrangers and publishers for the music, but do NOT ask me for a rental fee. Recently, I decided to do a work with my Wind Orchestra ( I contacted the composer with unbridled enthusiasm for the wonderful work and the opportunity to play really great music. He said, “Thank you very much. You can call so & so to rent the parts.” “No, I don’t rent music.” “Well the only way you can play the music is if you rent the parts,” was the reply. “I don’t rent music,” was mine. To make a long story short(er), we were at an impasse. Finally, I said, “Look, you are a composer. I like your music, and want to perform it. Don’t you WANT to have your music played? Please, I would like to give you money for your music, fine musicians will play it and enjoy the experience, and it’ll get played in public where many people will hear it. Doesn’t this sound like a good deal?” Bear in mind, at this time we weren’t negotiating a price, I didn’t care. I just wanted to BUY THE MUSIC. You know, I give you money; you give me music. Sounds pretty simple, no?

I digress -

So where are the really great composers hanging out these days? There are choice few making money in the film industry; Williams, Courage, Horner, Goldsmith, Broughton, you know the names. There are some wonderful composers writing for TV. One with whom I went to school, Jeff Rona, is extremely successful. And another I know from my summer at Disneyland, Mark Wolfram, is also doing VERY well. Where are the others? Writing for winds (band). Let’s say a composer is lucky enough to get a commission from a prestigious orchestra (i.e. LA, NY, Chicago, SF), the work might get one playing, or if it is a really outstanding work, it might get picked up in the pipeline and get a second playing with another orchestra. Write one decent band piece and it gets played at Midwest, or CBDNA and the composer sells thousands of copies. EVERY wind conductor I know owns Frank Ticheli’s Amazing Grace.

I LOVED playing the Cabrillo Festival, in Santa Cruz, California. In two weeks, that orchestra plays 30 new works (I would guess). For me, this was Nirvana. All that new music!!

With orchestras all over the US closing shop, it is time for us to try something different. Instead of playing music by a bunch of dead, white guys, maybe we can play some NEW music.

Waddya think?? I’d love to get your opinions on this……


  1. You provide a wonderful opportunity for composers of brass music to participate in Humboldt State's annual Brass Composition Competition.

    The only (but very important!) thing that would make this truly a top-notch competition is for your excellent faculty to perform all three winning compositions in their entirety for the general public as a culmination of the brass workshop. EVERYONE would benefit!

    Here's hoping.

    Cameron Kopf
    partner of third prize winner, 2010.

  2. Tony,
    This is exactly what eighth blackbird does! The group I'm gonna tour with. Check out their website. They played a new concerto at Cabrillo last summer and many of the members play in that orchestra every summer. New music is what I've been busy with for a while now. I'm premiering a piece at Berkeley and Stanford next month. For any percussionist, new music is where it's at. I think in any time period, it's the only thing propelling the art forward.