I’m all about helping composers "up" their composing for singers game—everything from text setting to poetry permissions to range, tessitura, and voice types & more!
It’s a particularly important subject during this current renaissance of new opera. So many composers are developing new operatic works.
But there’s someone else to keep in mind as you write your vocal works. Someone who often gets overlooked, ESPECIALLY in opera writing.
If you’re writing an opera, you’ve probably heard about taking your orchestral or chamber score and creating a piano reduction—a rehearsal score that singers will use in lessons, coachings, musical, and staging rehearsals. These rehearsals are ALL done with only a rehearsal pianist—not the full ensemble—for budget reasons. The instrumental ensemble only joins for the very last few rehearsals.
My #1 tip for you:
Make sure that piano part is beautiful, idiomatic, and artistic.
Make sure that it stands ON ITS OWN.
The sad fact is that many of the piano reductions I see are simply NOT playable. They suspiciously like what notation software spits out when you use their automatic “arrange” functions. This forces your pianist to rework your reduction in real time during practice and rehearsal, crossing out notes that don’t fit in their hands, leaps that are impractical, and sometimes even cutting out that chord or motive that is supposed to be an important cue for the singers—YIKES!
Don’t let that be you. Take that extra time (and negotiate for extra money in your commissioning fee!) to make sure that the piano reduction isn’t just an automated “arrangement” of what the ensemble plays, but a thoughtfully composed piano version. A version that provides all the necessary elements for the director, designer, and singers to rehearse and stage your show AND that makes expressive, beautiful, crafted music on its own. It’s more work. But it’s worth it.
How much do you charge for your music?
That question can make composers sweat bullets!
Maybe this is you...
When that moment happens, you need to be ready.
Because pretty soon, the conversation is going to move from what kind of piece they want and what they love about your music to the scariest of questions: "How much do you charge?"
The most important step you need to take? Figure out your rates now.
Here are a few resources you can consult:
New Music Box Commissioning Fees Calculator
Canadian League of Composers Commissioning Rates
New Music USA's Commissioning Music: A Basic Guide
Meet the Composer's Guide to Commissioning Music
Dominick DiOrio's Guide to Commissioning Music (especially helpful for choral works)
American Composers Forum Commissioning By Individuals Guide
Have a look through these tools and documents. As you read, notice: how do these rates make you feel? Excited? Nervous? Affirmed? Terrified? Do you feel ready to ask a commissioner to pay you these rates? Why nor why not?
Drop me a line and let me know.
My friend Danielle Kuntz, harpist asked a great question on Twitter today:
How do we support and encourage living composers?
I love this question, and it's one I get a lot. Performers, ensemble directors, music teachers, and music fans know that the odds have been stacked against living composers for a while. They want to take meaningful action, and they also know they can't do it all at once or all on their own. Many performers I talk to get stuck because they want to offer composers big commissions but don't have a dedicated funding source for that.
It doesn't have to be hard to support living composers. You can get started right now. It doesn't have to cost a thing.
Here's a list of 21 ways you can support living composers:
What did I miss? Get in touch and let me know YOUR favorite ways are to support living composers.