There’s no better way to energize your choral program than by commissioning new music. Yet, many directors have never considered it—either because they don’t personally know a composer, or they assume it’s going to be too expensive or too complicated. (It might be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.)
The benefits are enormous:
- It’s exciting and memorable to be the first group EVER to perform a piece of music
- Preparing for a premiere performance can be a great motivator in rehearsal
- The music is tailored specifically to your singers, their abilities, personality, and sound
- Choir members get the educational experience of working with a professional composer
- A new commission can honor a loved one or mark a special occasion
- You can ask a composer to write ANYTHING! Bring that weird creative idea of yours to life!
- Sponsoring new music is a great way to contribute to, and advocate for, choral music
- Premiering a new piece of music brings prestige and relevance within the choral community
What Happens in a Commission?
In the choral world, the term “commission” is used when a choir hires a composer to write new music for them. In a standard agreement, the ensemble gets rights to the first performance (the “premiere”) and/or the first recording. The composer retains ownership in the copyright of the work, including the rights to publication. Typically, the commissioning director and ensemble are honored in the dedication of the published sheet music. This agreement is usually in writing, although there are composers and choirs that have less formal working relationships.
How Do I Talk to a Composer?
First of all, don’t be afraid of them! No composer is ever going to be offended or annoyed that you asked them to write a new piece of music! There’s nothing more satisfying for a composer than hearing a new work come to life. And, to put it bluntly, composers make much more money from commissioned work than they do from publishing royalties. Word of mouth, professional conferences, and social media are all great ways of finding composers.
When selecting a composer for your commission, there are two main things to consider: the type of music you want them to create, and the working relationship you want to have with them. The personality of the composer matters but knowing how you like to communicate and collaborate is equally important. For example, are you comfortable setting them free to create whatever they like, or do you have specific musical ideas in mind?
How Much Does It Cost?
For various reasons, people feel uncomfortable talking about money—especially when it is intertwined with the arts. But it doesn’t need to be awkward. The easiest way to get through this part of the conversation is to know what you want before you contact the composer! The more specific your initial request is, the more specific their response is going to be.
Composers typically determine their fee based on the length of the finished piece and the size of the ensemble. The longer the piece, the more expensive it’s going to be. Similarly, a piece with full orchestra is going to be more expensive than a work with piano accompaniment. Not surprisingly, the more experienced and well-known a composer is, the more they are going to charge. Be upfront with your funding sources and how much flexibility you have. Most composers want to help and will have ideas on how make the commission a reality!
To commission a new choral work by Garrett Breeze, fill out the contact form on the commissions/events page.