I haven’t written much about my composing lately, because I’ve found myself — due to some extraordinary good luck and some old-fashioned hard work — teetering on the brinks of four major commissions. One — a consortium commission involving five orchestras — is a done deal, but the music isn’t due until Jan. 2010, so I don’t really feel compelled to dive into it just yet. Another one is pretty much a done deal, just a few technical issues to work out – but that one’s not due until July 2009, so, again, I’ll be in pre-compositional mode until maybe the fall. A third is very likely, but not certain, but it would have to be finished this summer, and I should be hearing yea or nay any time now. And the fourth is probably not worth mentioning, except it’s the biggest, but it wouldn’t be due for another two-and-a-half years, if it works out at all.The nicest thing is I’ve reached the point in my career where I can go to people with my ideas and ask for their support, as opposed to simply reacting to what other people want from me.

With all of this on the horizon, though, I haven’t felt too eager to start anything else major, so I’ve been futzing around with older pieces, refining them and prepping them for recording sessions.

It’s given me some time to reflect on the nature of professional success. Some composers seem to have a nose for money – for relentlessly tracking down funding sources and bagging them one after another, like hunters after prey. I haven’t had that kind of talent, but I’ve learned, very slowly, a few things about finding money.

There are, I think, six primary sources for funding compositional projects:

  • Grants
  • Corporations
  • Individuals
  • Artistic Institutions
  • Educational Institutions
  • Sales

The composers with the greatest professional success seem to tap into several of these sources all at once. For my part, most of my success, such as it is, has come from individual supporters and educational institutions.

The educational institution I’ve benefited from the most has been the North Carolina School of the Arts, which has supplied me with an annual income, materials, performances – and immeasurable inspiration.

But my favorite source of support is the individual donor. There’s nothing like having people who believe in your work so much that they are willing to put their own hard earnings into it. Sometimes that support is modest; sometimes it is really substantial. Either way, it’s a great way to do what you really want to do compositionally, because you have personal support for your vision, as opposed to generic support for your work as a category.

The tough part of getting individual support is talking up what you are trying to do – sometimes I’m very good at it, and sometimes I am hopelessly tongue-tied when it comes to my music. I can’t really say I’m getting better at it, I’m just getting more willing to keep trying, which of course results in increased success (as opposed to not trying, that is).

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