Music of the Spheres

Composition Competitions – Friend or Foe?

Composition competitions can be daunting, delightful, stressful, playful … it all depends on the competition!

What makes a successful composition competition?  What environments and incentives bring composers back again and again to enter another new piece?

I’ve had a lot of experience with composition competitions, since my own students enter them faithfully every fall, and sometimes more frequently.  I’ve even entered a few myself! 

In recent years, I’ve been part of a team who sponsors international competitions.  I’ve corresponded with composers from all over the world, and listened to their experiences and feedback.

What has my team learned from these many years?

Here are the results of a  survey we sent out to composers who were entering the Simply Stunning competition in 2014.  The first question asked them what they would most like to experience in a composition competition, and how important various experiences were to them. 

The respondents were of all ages, all levels of experience, and from all over the world.  Their responses were quite interesting, and perhaps somewhat unexpected:

This survey, combined with individual comments and responses from other composers and other competitions, led us to some conclusions:

  •  Many composers aren’t drawn to competitions for the money prizes.
  •  Composers want their pieces to be heard.
  •  Composers want their pieces to be played.
  •  Composers appreciate feedback: from general audiences, from composition teachers and professors, from other composers, and most importantly, from performers.
  •  Entering a competition is a great incentive for finishing a piece!

We also learned from various discussions with composers from all over the world that they were not as interested in winning the competition as they were in having their pieces available for others to hear.  Most composers don’t like entering competitions where their pieces go into a black hole and they never know who else entered or what all the new music sounded like.

We composers are hungry for new music.  It’s very exciting to see what our international colleagues are up to!  We like to meet each other and hear each other’s music.  We like to get feedback and suggestions that will help make our own music better.  We like to know that people are listening to or playing our music.  We like to feel that new music matters, and that we are part of a community that supports new music.

Here are some stories of composers who experienced great success, by their terms, in competitions.  Some of them actually won a competition, and others didn’t win at all. Each of these, folks, however, remember that particular competition for something special they experienced.  

Let’s hear some of their stories:

Samantha Strowd – Five Cats, Something Like That

Mike Tauben – Saudabe

Julie Harris – La Premiere

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