I was at an interesting mentoring session yesterday titled, “So you want to be a composer?”.  It featured the very distinguished panel of Francis McBeth, James Barnes, Eric Ewazen and Mark Rogers -all of the Southern Music company (Mark Rogers, is actually an editor of music and the president of Southern).

It was an hour long session that featured all of the composers talking about what it takes to be a composer.  It was full of interesting anecdotes and good advice for budding composers…

What I found particularly interesting (other than the normal hysterical jokes from James Barnes), was when they answered a question about using notation programs.  Of the four, all but Francis McBeth actually used notation programs.  Mark Rogers and Eric Ewazen stated that they edit in Finale.  James stated that he tried to use Finale but found it not very user-friendly and now uses Sibelius. 

All of them stated that they would typically begin the composition process not on the computer, but rather, with traditional paper methods of writing.   The overwhelming response from them about the usefulness of notational programs was the value in part-extraction.  That is, after they put the music into the program in score format, pulling the individual parts out.  I found that particulary interesting as most people I know would have probably also noted other favorite features of the softwares.

No doubt, the most proficient of them using a notational program was Mark Rogers, as he does a tremendous amount of proofing and editing.  He stated that one of the things that he really works toward, as an editor, is the ease of individual part readability…turning pages, elimination of D.C.’s and D.S.’s, ensuring that measure numbers are intact and usable, etc.  It would be interesting to ask a panel of current composers that were under 35 the same question and get their responses.

Another interesting item from this session was gleaned from Francis McBeth when he stated that he still writes the individual parts himself and that many times, as he “pulls them”, he will re-edit them as he might think that “this person is not going to be happy with this line” or that it might not be interesting enough.   He also spoke about the fact that condensed scores were never meant to be conducted from.  They were a learning tool to be used to understand the piece better by playing it on the piano and that there is no need for condensed scores today.  He did state, however, that William Revelli preferred to conduct from condensed scores as it lessened the need for page turns.

A number of questions were brought up about taking older condensed score only compositions and turning them into full score.  Mark Rogers talked about the copyright legalities of such things and stated that there are a number of issues with regard to creating a full score from a condensed.  He also stated that if the intent was not for re-sale that it fell on the “shady” side of copyright law and many people do this type of thing.  James Barnes also stated that if the intent was to profit it from it, then that would be an infringement.

Eric Ewazen talked about his experience as a strings composer and the number of things he had to do to bring that experience in to the wind-band arena.  As a composer he had to learn the dynamics of every instrument he was writing for… their ranges, their color, the ability for the wind instruments to need a “break for air” every once in awhile…  He stated that their are marked differences between composing for the two types of ensembles (strings vs. non-strings).

In the end, it was a great “mentoring session”…  As this session fell under the Midwest Clinic’s “mentoring” theme, Francis McBeth started off the session by stating that “they never had mentors…only teachers”.  I thought that was an interesting point of view and perspective that has all kinds of future dialogue associated with it.

Because this was sponsored by Southern Music, there was a “why you need to have a publisher” behind you spin to the whole session.  It will be very interesting to see how publishers like Southern and others evolve as they have to deal with the proliferation of individual publishers now taking advantage of the power and reach of Internet venues in the next 5-10 years.

Every single panel member expounded the need for composers to “love music” and to be composing constantly.  James Barnes stated that you cannot “make composers”.  God makes composers.  He went on to qualify that be stating that good teachers can help to mold and shape future composers.   All of the composers stated that you need to find a “mentor” that is actively publishing and current for a teacher as many composition teachers are not really producing compositions at all…

I’ll leave you with this funny story from the session as told from James Barnes:

When I was growing up the biggest band that I had ever been in was about 30 people.  The town was so small that when the band had to perform a town parade -they lined up in the middle of the main street and starting marking time AND… the town walked by. :)

               J. Pisano

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