Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Non Compos

So eighth blackbird is POSTPONING their first ever composition competition (or "comp comp" as they are calling it because they do not have a proper name for it yet; may I suggest "I WANT YOUR SEXTET") due to general public outcry. Now we love eighth blackbird, as you may recall, sometimes unwholesomely, so, IN THE TANK, but I think this whole thingie is a big kerfuffle over not much.

See, if you're not a addict like Danny, then you might not be aware that that is where the voices of dissent gathered, in the comments section of this post on the subject. The complaint: a $50 entrance fee. Their battle cry: comp the comp comp!

Some very interesting people weighed in in; Corey Dargel (whom we also love), points out that $1000 would in fact be way too low for a commission, when you consider the time and trouble that goes into fulfilling it—but of course this isn't a commission. With a commission, you sign a contract that says you will write something, and then you have to write it. This is totally voluntary, an excuse to stop that score for Pierrot Plus from rattling around in your desk drawer.

This being the Internet, of course, there are also less-than-thoughtful responses. One commenter sniffs that his music won't be of interest to 8bb because a "serial composers [sic] chances aren’t very good these days," which really makes no sense, not just because I wasn't actually planning to enter, I just showed up for the whine-tasting is something of a childish attitude, and not just because I am entitled to performances of the music I am willfully writing in what I perceive to be an outmoded style is a slightly crazy attitude, but also just because this is eighth blackbird we are talking about, and they are HUGE FANS of some serial composers, so sweetie please do your homework.

And what is this? "...8bb has never had particularly strong community interaction, having been guided early on by success-driven agendas." Dude, no. Haven't they actually been pretty good about commissioning young composers? And, now think about this, what the hell is wrong with a "success-driven agenda"? What does the word "success" mean in this sentence, and why should we be so afraid of it? Should 8bb be shooting for failure? Who has a "failure-driven agenda"? (If you are my father, do not answer that question.) If they weren't "successful" then we wouldn't even be having this conversation, now would we, because nobody would want eighth blackbird to play their music.

But what's most striking about these comments is the peculiarly adversarial relationship that some of the commenters are imagining between composers and performers, formulated by one composer as a "men-women, white-black, straight-gay" sort of power imbalance. 8bb won their Grammy "[on] the backs" of the composing class!

Wait, what? I mean, well sure, if you want to get all Marx-y about it, then yes there is an imbalance of power between performers who have dedicated their careers to performing new works and composers of new works, because such performers are so few, and DMA composers are so many. And yes there is an imbalance of power between eighth blackbird and, well, YOU (I am assuming, when I write this, that you are not a world-class composer of new music), because they have earned so many laurels doing their jobs, and you are still on your way, with much to prove.

But then let's take this economical analysis of the situation the rest of the way and you will discover that you, composer, DO NOT NEED eighth blackbird. They do not have a monopoly on musical performance. You can play your own music! Your friends can play your music! You can form a collective of likeminded composers and performers and record it yourselves, distribute it yourselves. It's the 21st century! YouTubes are everywhere! Seize the means of production! Composers of the world, unite! You have nothing to etc but your etc.

Is $50 too high of an entry fee? Okay probably yes, just because a lower entry fee would have encouraged more submissions and been less of a PR headache. I'm not against an entry fee in principle, though, just because it seems like a smart way to stem the cataract of scores that you KNOW is already gushing in their transom. And look: if you think that an entry fee is too great a gamble, then fine, don't pay it. You're free! No one can make you enter this contest.

The important message here, though, is that this adversarial attitude is Not Healthy. Not for your career, and not for Music. Performers are not the enemy—performers are, or can be, and should be, your friends! Corey Dargel, you are going to be in Chicago this weekend, right? eighth blackbird, are you going to be in Chicago? Why don't you guys check out his show, which I am pretty sure will be great, and then afterwards he can buy you some beers (because of the POWER IMBALANCE), and then you can all be friends. Sound cool? Okay now hug.


David said...

It's already a huge pain in the ass to have your score copied and bound at Staples/Kinkos, and then there's the whole post office business. The cost and time alone for those things generally discourage me from submitting materials.

In terms of results, sending one's work to strangers (as opposed to friends/colleagues) is not too different from throwing it into a trashcan. At least a $50 entry fee is honest, and people will know not to bother.

Add me to the whine-tasting.

Dan Johnson said...

To be fair, I think that 8bb not only allowed but specifically requested electronic submissions, so you mightn't have had to bother with paper, postage, CD-Rs, or Irma the surly post office lady.