Why Consortiums Work

Composition   •   December 10, 2018

This year in 2018, I organized a consortium for the first time. What is a consortium you might ask? A consortium is when a group of ensembles or individuals each pay part of a composer’s commissioning fee for a new work. The benefit to the ensemble is obvious – commissions are expensive, especially from established composers. With the consortium, no single entity needs to carry the entire burden of the composer’s financial requirement. The ensemble (or individual) also has the opportunity to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves, and can take pride in their group’s premiere. For the composer, he or she can receive many performances, rather than just one single premiere, across a large geographic location. For me personally, I also enjoyed “polling” my consortium at junctures in the creative process. More on this in a minute!

The process of attracting Directors to my consortium was also an excellent entrepreneurial exercise. I started with a concept, which was to create a project that would potentially allow every student in a band program containing up to three bands, the opportunity to participate in a premiere. Most often, programs commission works for their top ensemble only. As the wife of a Middle School Band Director at a very large band program, I especially have developed an interest in inclusive initiatives. And since I am currently focused on building my concert band music catalog, I decided to create a consortium for three new works – a Grade 1-1.5, a Grade 1.5-2, and a Grade 2.5-3. I can proudly say that I reached my goal of nine participating programs:

Director Angie Hutto and Bethesda Christian School

Directors Dean Surface, Allyson Machado, Aaron Trewitt and Trinity Springs Middle School

Directors Jeffrey Krubsack, Nick Jelich and Longfellow Middle School

Directors Jennifer Bergeron, Josh Stover and Walsh Middle School

Directors Margaret Wis, Alex Harrison and Austin Academy

Director Martin Trammel and Groves Middle School

Directors Matt Koperniak, Dean Patterson and Riverwatch Middle School

Directors Nathaniel Neugent, Victoria Hitz and T.A. Howard Middle School

Director Trent Warner and Annie Camp Junior High School

As composers, our careers simply are not possible without being paid for our work. And for a lot of us, commissioning fees are one of the primary, if not the primary source of income from our creative efforts. I am deeply appreciative of the financial support my consortium provided! But even further than that – they were also very helpful during my creative process. When I began writing the first work (A New Day, which just received its premiere recently by an honor band performing at Reinhardt University, conducted by Director, Matt Koperniak), I created a closed Facebook group so I would have a place to give progress reports and generally interact with my consortium members. One very important post involved my sketches for my Grade 2.5-3 work, Melting Pot. In the beginning stages of writing the work, I uploaded the following three sketches as options for the genesis of the work:

I was nervous to ask for input on such an important part of my process! It was also a risk, in that if my members didn’t agree on the sketch, whichever one I ended up choosing might have alienated someone and been bad for morale. But, I felt a strong sense to take this path with this particular work. The first Director who commented chose the third sketch, which is the one I was leaning towards before posting the video. Two other Directors responded and said the first one was definitely the right choice, and then the Director who had posted first and initially voted for the third sketch, wrote back and said he agreed – the first sketch was the clear best choice (whew!).

I was elated by this sequence of events…at first. I quickly realized in my next writing session that I had no idea what the music was about, and wasn’t sure how to write an entire piece based on it. I can’t explain what happened over the course of the next few weeks, because although it was one of the most frustrating compositional periods I have had as a composer, somehow, the music gravitated towards a version of itself that to me sounded a bit like klezmer music. This led me to thinking about all of the different musical influences that must be floating around in my subconscious. In my own life, I have had the pleasure of working with musicians from a wide range of nationalities, and know that performing music can be a wonderful way to create unity. My work eventually found itself through my blending of music from different cultures, and once I landed on the title Melting Pot, I was able to move forward confidently and make the (hopefully) best creative decisions for the work.

Without the consortium, I don’t think this music would have ever seen the light of day! And I wouldn’t have been forced outside my comfort zone in this way. Plus, I found something of extreme value – I found a way to gage what kind of music is in demand. With nine programs of varying sizes from all across the United States participating, including Wisconsin, Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, including a private school in addition to the public school programs, I could poll a fairly broad demographic of band directors about what version of my voice as a composer most resonated with their tastes and needs. This as much as anything to me is why consortiums work! To learn more about the work I created for the consortium, click here, and/or check out the preview audio:

It is my sincerest pleasure to announce that Melting Pot has been awarded First Place in the Vlamo Composition Contest, based out of Belgium. A nice little write-up on the award can be found at the Windband Repertoire blog. To my 2018 Young Concert Band Consortium – thank you for making my music possible.

Next on the Agenda

I am currently organizing another one of my annual consortiums for 2019, but this time it is for Saxophone! I will be writing a new work for advanced Saxophone Quartet entitled Chasing Light about a plane’s ability to remain in darkness as it stays on one side of the earth during flight. I will also include a reworking of my composition Transition for Soprano Saxophone and Piano. Please visit my consortium webpage here for more info, as well as my second most recent vlog here