BPO Composers Reading & About Self-publishing
Hello everyone, my name is Sia Uhm, a new classical radio intern at WXXI. I am originally from South Korea and I came to the US 7 years ago to attend Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts. Currently, I am a composition major at the Eastman School of Music and I am in my final year.
ACO (American Composers Orchestra) organizes an opportunity called EarShot for emerging composers to have their orchestra pieces come to life and get input from professional composers and performers. My orchestral piece 'Ladybug in the Room' that I wrote last year was recently selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings. The performance (public reading) occurred on January 30th in Kleinhans Hall, Buffalo, with Maestro Bradley Thachuk conducting,
I wrote this piece about an unexpected creature friend who showed up in my life a year ago. Over a few days, I kept hearing buzzing noises but didn’t know where they were coming from. I later found out it was from a ladybug. It kept flying around and crawling on my floor, so I tried to catch it. I ended up catching it and kept it in a bottle, and the ladybug lived with me for several months as my pet. The piece is a story between the ladybug and myself, including capturing the moment when the ladybug was in my room. I also tried to depict the black dots on the ladybug in how the notes are arranged in the music.
As I am not allowed to share a live recording, here is a good midi version of my piece, 'Ladybug in the Room'!
The two-day residency schedule was fully packed. Starting at 8 AM with some coffee and donuts, all the mentor composers and selected composers were driven to Kleinhans Concert Hall to discuss our pieces before the first reading session. The discussion was speed-dating style, where we rotated between different sections that included the conductor, composers, and string and percussion players. We then absorbed different advice from a variety of focuses. We took memos of key things to focus on for the first reading, and with our memos and scores, the reading session began.
During the reading session, the composer of the piece sat on a 'hot seat' with an assigned mentor composer where the composer could talk to the conductor and musicians through a microphone and speakers. Our pieces were read for 30 minutes each, followed by a brief explanation of the piece and a Q&A session with the musicians.
We had another intense discussion of the pieces right after the reading with the conductor, mentor composers, librarian, percussionists, oboists, and violists, with a pile of comment sheets from the players. We had fervent discussions on trill notation, dynamics, percussion notation, use of the contrabassoon, and ways to tackle orchestral writing. One of the comments I received was to maximize the impact of change in mood with more effective use of percussion instruments. It was a useful, informative, and motivating time - the session brought me a huge influence on my future composition.
Next, Career Development Seminar! ACO partnered with a variety of organizations that help contemporary composers (New Music USA, American Composers Forum, ADJective Music, and SUNY Buffalo) to present a discussion session. It was a 3-hour long session dedicated to learning about copyright, publishing, and programming new music. These topics are extremely important for every living composer, yet they are not being actively discussed in schools or classes.
In Beethoven's time, many publishers competed against each other to publish Beethoven's music. However, in the world we are living in now, it is highly unlikely for the publishers to knock on composers' doors to ask if they could publish their works unless they are well-established. When composers' music is published, publishers take 50% of the performance royalties and 90% of score sales which could be a significant income for freelancer composers.
But if you did not have that publisher, you would have to deal with printing and mailing scores by yourself; that is the self-published composers' biggest extra obligation. I did all my scores and parts myself for the Buffalo Philharmonic reading and mailed them. Needless to say, it was a painstaking and time-consuming process. From printing out scores on card-stock paper, spring binding them, to purchasing right kind of paper, cutting 11x17 (inch) paper into 10x13, printing parts one by one and tape binding them. It took several nights of figuring out 'how' to do it and doing the repetitious work. I could see the clear pros and cons of having a publisher after the experience.
Participating in an event like this gave me a chance to grow in my writing and gave me a wider perspective on music. I learned not only from the comments on my piece, but also through all the comments on fellow composers' pieces, and together as a whole, the comments evoked interesting topics and questions that I would not have thought about in the past. Furthermore, attending a program like this also exposes a composer's music to a larger audience so the audience can get to know the composer, what they do, and what their music sounds like. I encourage younger composers to keep searching for great opportunities like Earshot and actively participate. In the meantime, keep composing and producing awesome music that only you can write:)