I was, as usual, perusing the AMC Opportunity Update which conveniently lists upcoming commissions and other programs for composers. Lately, I have been noticing a trend, which seems to get stronger and stronger: opportunities are reserved for the young. Many programs list 40 or even 35 as the age limit.

True, young people should be encouraged, but it is the business of schools and conservatories to offer opportunities for composers who are starting out. To systematically shut out any composer over 40 is, outrageously, politically incorrect. This blatant age discrimination issue needs to be addressed in the broader social context of the arts industry.

What does such an age-driven policy entail? Composing is encouraged for young people; they get a start, get better at it, accomplish a few oeuvres until they reach the doomed age of 35 (!) and the carpet is pulled from under them. Oops… no one wants your music any more, you’re just an old fart now. The composing profession is not like sports or modeling; the activity is not dependent upon the condition of the physical body, but very much on the condition of the mind, which only improves with age and maturity and accumulated knowledge. The craft of composing and developing one’s own voice takes years, so why ostracize the practiced composers when they are just beginning to get good at it? Human life spans are now much longer due to the progress of medicine and health awareness; at 40 one may have another near 40 years to live.

Youth-oriented culture as represented in advertising and popular entertainment is giving a false picture of what our lives are like, and should be counteracted as a deceptive illusion. In our culture, unfortunately, seniors are still being denied even their dignity, and relegated to nursing homes away from the ‘living’, whereas in other histories and geographies age is revered and appreciated as it comes with a certain amount of wisdom, and seniors serve as guides and mentors. But more importantly, the artistic development of a composer takes place over a lifetime. Once discovered, a composer should be allowed to develop and make a worthwhile contribution to the culture. An appropriate form of support would be a long-term award program which would sustain work creation over a number of years.

The youth-oriented approach to support assumes that, once initially encouraged, the composers will reach critical mass on their own. But this is a fallacy; what in fact happens is a process of elimination; only a happy few will gain access to the profession, and many other talents will be lost, along with a culture that could be thriving and enlightening for society as a whole.

The most shocking aspect of this blatant injustice is that it is not being addressed, possibly in fear of challenging the already inadequate support system for composers. Being self-supported gives me the freedom to speak up. I think the practice of offering age-driven opportunities must be stopped.

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