Shelf Life

When is “new music” no longer new? I’m not necessarily asking it in a global sense (Puccini isn’t “new” just because he made it to the 20th century). I’m asking in more a “when is your work too old to submit to a festival” sense. I try to submit to several festivals each month and, while I often have pieces that fit the basic call for scores, I’m thinking that some of my works are a little long in the tooth.

So is there a shelf life? Should I still be slinging around music from 2007? I happen to have a bunch of really good pieces from 2008. I like them and they still work for me. Some of my newer material is a little harder to get programmed because I’m changing direction slightly. The things I’m writing now are different because I’m significantly different. My obsessions have changed and it isn’t necessarily in the direction of the festival circuit’s tastes. My music from 2008, though, will usually get picked.

Four years feels like an eternity in my own skin.

So, do I forsake performances of older pieces in vain attempts for performances of newer ones? Should I only submit my most recent work? Do I lay these obsolete models aside and dream of another year of hits? I’m convinced that the stuff I’m doing now is good, I’m not looking for external approval (although my P&T board will be), I’m just wondering: how old is too old? I wouldn’t dream of submitting the clarinet sonatina I wrote in ’97 to a “new music” festival. Is that wrong?

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jay,
    I send the pieces that need love (if they fit the call for scores). That is, my 2008 piece “Starry Wanderers” for solo piano has been heard at two SCI conferences, and has had several other (great) performances, so it’s done. I won’t send it anymore (even though a solo piano piece with composer-provided performer is an easy one) so that it can have a life of its own. I have a sonatina for oboe and piano from 2007 that hasn’t been heard on a festival or conference, so I keep sending it out. My recent band piece, “Moriarty’s Necktie,” has had several performances, and when the latest SCI national conference at Ohio State came up, I didn’t send it, because it was commissioned for Ohio State in the first place and it’s been heard in Columbus (maybe I should have sent it, because I didn’t make the program!). I’ve only been composing seriously since about 2001, and much of my earlier stuff I just don’t let out of the house because it doesn’t reflect what I’m trying to do, but I’d love to have a conference or festival performance of the first piece that really put me on the path to being a “real” composer, my chamber piece “Martian Dances,” from 2004, which hasn’t been played since 2006. It includes harpsichord, making it a tough sell, so I recently reworked it as a Pierrot Ensemble piece to try to get it out there anew. If you still believe in a piece, you owe it to yourself to send it out if it isn’t generating its own publication or performances. I have a horn and marimba piece called “South Africa” from 2008 that, inexplicably, gets lots of hits through a YouTube video of a performance in Virginia that I didn’t even attend (after a premiere at the International Horn Symposium). It’s my best-selling piece, and I send one off every couple of months to someone who has bought a copy, but never to a festival or convention–there are other pieces that need my help (and that usually fit the Call better). Having just come off co-hosting a regional SCI conference, I can tell you that date of composition played essentially no role in any of our programming decisions (although we had to disappoint one composer who wanted the musicians to dress in authentic 18th-century apparel when they played his concerto grosso).

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