Composition Applications for Beginners

This past fall was the first time I was on the receiving end of a call for scores. Looking through 200+ submissions and talking to some of the composers who sent materials in taught me more about the process than submitting ever did. It also gave me a really eye-opening look at what a field of applications looks like. Some composers are veterans of the application process, but some newer composers make mistakes in their application and follow-up that are easily avoidable, and could help them make their applications much stronger. If you’re a veteran of the process, all this is likely old hat, but I hope it will be useful for composers who are new(er) to submissions. Plenty of people have more experience than I do with receiving and reviewing submissions; I hope they’ll feel free to comment and add their thoughts.

This post arose out of a conversation with Meerenai Shim, who wrote up an excellent post on submitting unsolicited scores to performers, which I highly recommend. Some of the ideas below are applicable to those inquiries as well.

[Note: This post gets a bit of traffic each time we launch our annual call for scores, and has been edited and revised from time to time.]

The Application

Read the guidelines

I know, this sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning just because it’s so important. Of the e-mail inquiries I receive about our calls for scores, approximately 90% are questions whose answers are contained in the guidelines: who’s eligible, whether we charge a fee, what our instrumentation is (for the General Call for Scores), etc. Also, make sure you apply for the right thing! We run multiple composition opportunities, and applications for the two are often accidentally switched.

Follow the instructions

This one sounds obvious, too, but it’s also critical. Read through instructions carefully, and submit the materials requested (and only the materials requested). If the call asks for 2-3 pieces, submit 2-3 pieces. If it asks for recordings, send recordings. If the call does not request a cover letter, don’t send a cover letter.

Another way of thinking of it is: don’t make substitutions. If a call asks for live recordings, don’t send MIDI. If it asks for scores as PDFs and recordings as MP3s, don’t send Sibelius files and AIFFs. If it asks for finished pieces, don’t send works-in-progress. If it asks for a resume and a bio, send both (not one or the other). If the call requests you submit online at their website, don’t send the application in via e-mail.

Of the applications we received, I’d guess that roughly 10-20% did not follow the directions in some way. Our approach is to do the best we can to understand what the composer and the music are all about, despite whatever problems there may be, but the mistakes can be time-consuming or difficult, or leave us feeling like we don’t know what we need/want to know about the composer.

Tailor and proofread your materials

Keep the information in your materials relevant to the discipline at hand. Your composition resume should generally consist only of information that supports and explains your experience as a composer. In addition to your compositional work, this could include your experience as a performer, or, if your work is interdisciplinary, your experiences in those other disciplines, but it should all lead back to your musical work in some way. I’d recommend keeping one resume for composition opportunities and one for non-musical work at the very least; you may find that further tailoring would make sense for you. If you’re a student, have your teacher look over your resume. Chances are, they’ve seen tons of materials from emerging composers and can give you good advice.

Tailoring also means preparing your application with the spirit of the project or the interests of the organizing group in mind. Read over the description of the opportunity carefully, and do your best to make sure your application is faithful to the intentions of the opportunity. In the case of Wild Rumpus, our Commissioning Project is about commissioning brand-new works, and our group is interested in collaboration because of the creative risks we believe it encourages composers to take. We received many proposals to re-orchestrate old pieces, and while some of those pieces were very strong, those proposals weren’t as inherently engaging to our interests as applications that proposed new works (or didn’t mention a proposed work at all).

Look over your materials carefully before you submit them. Does your score file include all the performance notes we’ll need to understand your score? Are the dynamics marked? Instruments clearly and correctly labeled? Graphic notation and/or extended technique notation clearly explained? If the score is handwritten, is it legible? Are the pages in each file rotated correctly and in the right order?

Do your best to get high-quality recordings

Live recordings are always preferable to MIDI, and they are definitely not equivalent; MIDI is always at a significant disadvantage. Jurors reviewing submissions may not all (a) have enough experience with MIDI to mentally “get around” the inaccuracies and lesser sound quality, or (b) be willing to take the extra time with your score to figure out how the piece should “really” sound. If you’re lucky enough to have access to performers, do your best to wrangle a recording. The higher-quality that recording is, the better, but a halfway decent recording is better than MIDI.

Where MIDI is really absolutely necessary, do your best to make sure that the sounds are as faithful as possible. At the very least, the sounding pitches in your score should be accurate. (Artificial harmonics that sound as parallel fourths is a particularly common problem. Transposed scores that sound as written instead of at the transposition are less common, but definitely memorable.) And MIDI gets a bad rap, but all MIDI’s not the same! The default sounds for Sibelius or Finale may sound cheesy, but higher-quality samples can dramatically improve the quality. The more high-quality your MIDI instruments are, and the more you can incorporate samples for your extended techniques, the better. Putting together a high-quality MIDI mock-up is an art in and of itself that’s worth taking time to master, if you have little access to performers, or if you often write for large ensembles.

I mentioned above that about 90% of the questions I receive are covered in our guidelines; the remaining 10% is almost entirely composers asking to have the recording requirement waived. If documentation of some kind is truly impossible, it would honestly be better to submit a different piece. Imagine that we have hundreds of entries, and that our first pass with your materials will be a cursory one—we’ll set aside applications to study more in-depth as they grab our attention. With your materials, you can make that initial pass easy and engaging by making sure your application’s complete and clearly organized. On the other hand, having to work through a score with no audio makes that initial pass prohibitively time-consuming, and jurors may or may not be willing to make the extra effort with an incomplete application.


Focus your questions

Imagine that the contact person you’re writing to wants to help you, but has hundreds (or thousands) of e-mails in his/her inbox. When you write to him/her, keeping your questions specific and short is greatly appreciated, as is asking a question only if you can’t find the answer elsewhere. It always helps to check the organization’s website and re-read the call, just to make sure the answer isn’t covered there. I can only speak for myself, but I tend to prioritize e-mails that (a) can be answered quickly, or (b) cannot be answered by anyone else. As Meerenai mentioned in her post, research is critical.

Be patient

There’s an opportunity that hasn’t announced their results yet, and you’re anxiously awaiting the response. You’re pondering a follow-up e-mail, but resist the temptation! At least over here, we announce things as soon as we’re able, so if you haven’t heard anything, that’s because there’s nothing to tell yet!

Respect the people on the other end

A call for scores is a group’s way of inviting you to contact them, but the other side of that is that, to them, your submission is a sufficient way for them to get started getting to know you, and the ball’s essentially in their court. While it may be tempting to immediately follow up on your application, in the hopes that it will make your application stand out, have faith that your work speaks for itself and will represent you and your interests in all the ways that matter to the jurors.

All the rules that apply in other social situations apply with contact people running calls for scores. Extra unsolicited materials, insistently pursuing a meeting or extra attention for your portfolio, or reprimanding a contact person for not responding to your extra materials/requests are unlikely to make your application stand out in the way in which you’d like. Remember, you’re a total stranger, and an interest in further contact has to be mutual. Let them follow up with you. Friendly, non-creepy contact is always the way to go.

On to the Next One

Disclaimer: This last thing isn’t really advice from a person who runs calls for scores so much as a suggestion from an emerging composer who also applies for stuff. So, you know, take it as you will.

A composer friend recently told me that he doesn’t apply to opportunities because he doesn’t handle rejection well, which seemed to me like a completely understandable impulse, but one that will end up only hurting him in the long run. I’d guess that I’ve been applying for opportunities in earnest for about six years, and I still have no ability to predict what opportunities will/won’t accept me. Let someone else decide whether or not you’re what they’re looking for that year. When you don’t apply at all, you’re basically making that decision for them.

Most composers are rejected for things fairly often, probably more often than not, and that’s a normal part of the process. Try not to take it to heart—the music you sent might not be right for them this time around, but it will likely be right for somebody else. It may even be right for this same group, just in a different year. Applications are basically a way of fishing for the people and the groups that your music engages. Keep giving your music the chance to be found by those people.

This post is really just a tip-of-the-iceberg post, since topics like a good MIDI mock-up, a well-tailored resume, or a beautifully written/engraved score could really be their own posts or series of posts (or overarching life pursuits), and I don’t claim to be an expert on any of them. But the process of reviewing submissions for our first two opportunities made me realize how important these basics are, and I hope this is helpful for those of you who are new to submissions. For those (thousands? millions?) of you who have more experience reviewing submissions than I do, I hope you’ll feel free to add your ideas in the comments. Happy applying!

The 2011 Commissioning Project Results!

Picture this: hundreds of hours, shameful amounts of soda, and a couple Korean dinners after we received 215 submissions to our Commissioning Project, we were still struggling with finalizing our results. The reason was a great problem to have: we had too many strong composers to choose from, and we wanted pieces from all of them. Letting anybody go was a real wrench because we wanted to work with them so much. Eventually, Dan (I think?) had the Plan. We didn’t have many plans yet (programming-wise) for next season. So why not ask all our finalists if they’d write for us, too?

So we’re so thrilled to announce the winners and finalists of our Commissioning Project, all of whom we will commission for new works, and who will comprise much of our programming for next season:

Congratulations to all and thanks to everyone who applied—it really was an incredibly difficult choice!

Julian Day

Julian Day is a composer and sound artist based in Sydney, Australia. Described as “an epic and intimate formalist”, he creates evocative works through simple yet often lateral means. His work inhabits a lush and frequently dark world of slowed down sounds, broken patterns and basic geometries, influenced by conceptual art, cracked media and pop culture. Recent works include Ascent for 100 flutes, Totem for skipping CDs and Ceremony for multiple spatialized synthesizers. Much of his work is site-specific and collaborative, taking place in spaces as varied as railway sheds, former meat markets and even on New York’s Central Park lake.

Day has worked with Lisa Moore and Mark Stewart (Bang On A Can All Stars), TILT Brass, Mark Dancigers (NOW Ensemble), David Longstreth (Dirty Projectors), ExhAUST and DuoSolo. His work has featured at New York’s MATA festival, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, ISCM World New Music Days, Whitechapel Gallery (London), Het Nutshuis (The Hague), Liquid Architecture Festival and Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. He directs the keyboard ensemble An Infinity Room (A.I.R) and co-directs Super Critical Mass, a large-scale performance project for massed identical instruments.

Day studied at the Queensland Conservatorium and Sydney College of the Arts, undertaking lessons and masterclasses with Louis Andriessen, Martin Bresnick, Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe among others. He won the British Council’s Realize Your Dream Award and The Australian Voices Young Composer of the Year. Julian is also a writer and new music broadcaster, having appeared on BBC Radio 3 and ABC Classic FM. His interviewees include Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson and John Cale.

Ruben Naeff

Educated in both mathematics and music and recently employed as an economist, Dutch composer Ruben Naeff (1981) finds himself in an attempt to comprehend the world and set it to music.  His broad interest led to many interdisciplinary pieces like De Bètacanon (about the hard sciences), The Dancing Dollar (about the current financial crisis), and the YouOpera (about our lives online). Currently, he is a recipient of the HSP Huygens Talent Scholarship from the Dutch government to study composition with Michael Gordon in a master’s program at New York University.

Ruben has collaborated with numerous people and organizations from a wide range of disciplines, reaching from national newspaper de Volkskrant to the debate & fine arts festival happyChaos. He is co-founder of the West 4th New Music Collective, which promotes the work of emerging composers in New York. He has written for renowned ensembles as the Deviant Septet, JACK Quartet, Vigil Ensemble, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, the Los Angeles based duo Meyerson & Valitutto, and the Dutch Erasmus Kamerkoor and Quatre Bouches, and for festivals as the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, Music11, and the UNL Chamber Music Institute. His music has been performed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Latvia, and various states across the USA (NY, CA, MA, CT, TX, NE). He has joined forces with such public figures as NRC Handelsblad economics editor Maarten Schinkel, scientists and (former) presidents of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences Robbert Dijkgraaf and Frits van Oostrom, and the Dutch Fokke & Sukke cartoonist Jean-Marc van Tol.

Andrea La Rose

Named by NPR as one of 100 composers under 40 you should know, flutist and composer Andrea La Rose is making waves in the New York music scene and beyond. Her pride and joy since 2002 has been her work as a flutist/composer/board member with the punk-classical antagonists known as Anti-Social Music, most recently (late 2010) touring the Ukraine and contributing to an album of remixes of songwriter Franz Nicolay. She has also been musically involved with thingNY, baj, Lone Wolf Tribe, and Mohair Timewarp. Print and online publications from Chamber Music America, to New Music Connoisseur, to Dusted have said lovely things about her fluting and composing prowess. Funding for her musical endeavors have been generously provided by the American Music Center and Meet the Composer. Since August 2009, she has been contributing her talents as a Music Teacher at the Franconian International School in Erlangen, Germany. When she is not making music in some fashion, she is quaffing beer and whipping up culinary magic in her kitchen.

“Prolific and an expert performer, she’s bouncing among a dozen good ideas, and wherever she lands will doubtless cause merriment, consternation, insight, and possibly the End of Civilization As We Know It.”
— Kyle Gann,

Elizabeth Lim

Elizabeth Lim is a second-year doctoral candidate at the Juilliard School, where she is studying composition with Dr. Robert Beaser. Noted for its unique expressiveness and verve, Elizabeth’s music has been widely performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, and she has received honors and recognition from ASCAP, BMI, the Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI), the National Association of Composers, USA (NACUSA), the New England Philharmonic, and the Society for New Music, among others.

Elizabeth completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where she was awarded the Hugh F. MacColl Prize in composition, the John Green Fellowship in composition, the Louis Sudler Prize in the Arts, and during her senior year, she was named one of the Class of 2008’s “Most Outstanding Seniors in the Arts.” She has been a composer-in-residence with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra as part of the Under Construction concert series, and other accomplishments include commissions and awards from the Alabama Orchestra Association, the Palo Alto Youth-to-Youth Commissioning Project, Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra Composers Competition, as well as from the first national Iron Composer Competition, hosted by the University of Nebraska’s Artsaha. Additionally, Elizabeth was named winner of the annual Juilliard Orchestra Composition Competition, and her work for orchestra, Paranoia, was conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky for performance in the Alice Tully Hall in April 2009; more recently she has also participated as a student composer-in-residence with the Albany Symphony as part of the Composer to Center Stage program.

Nicole Murphy

Australian composer Nicole Murphy completed her Masters of Music at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 2011, under the tutelage of Dr. Gerardo Dirié. During her undergraduate degree, she studied under composer Gerard Brophy, graduating in 2004 with a Bachelor of Music (Composition) with First Class Honours.

Nicole is the recipient of various awards, including the A.G. Francis Prize for Composition (2001), the Alan Lane Award for Composition (2004), and the Collusion/QCGU Composition Prize, for her setting of Australian writer John Tranter’s work The Moment of Waking (2004). She has written orchestral works for the Symphony Services Australia Young Composers Development Program (2010), TSO Australian Composer’s School (2010) and the Ku-Ring-Gai Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composer Development Program (2011).

Nicole has been commissioned by eminent arts organisations, including the Australian Ballet (2007), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (2008) and Orchestra Victoria (2010), and has had her music performed by ensembles such as the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (Tasmania), Chronology Arts (Sydney), Halcyon (Sydney) and Ars Nova (Dallas). She is currently working on a new piece for the Definiens Project (Los Angeles) and holds the position of Composer-in-Residence at the Queensland Academy for Creative Industries.

Jonathan Russell

Jonathan Russell is a composer, clarinetist, conductor, and educator who is active in a wide variety of music, from classical to experimental to klezmer to church music. Especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions, his works for bass clarinet duo, bass clarinet quartet, bass clarinet soloists, and clarinet ensembles have been performed around the world and are radically expanding the technical and stylistic possibilities of these genres. He has received commissions from ensembles such as the San Francisco Symphony, Empyrean Ensemble, ADORNO Ensemble, Classical Revolution, Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, Imani Winds, and DZ4, and performances from numerous other ensembles and performers, including the Berkeley Symphony, San Francisco Composers Chamber Orchestra, the BluePrint Project, the Great Noise Ensemble, the new music bands FIREWORKS, Capital M, and Oogog, pianist-percussionist Danny Holt, and pianists Sarah Cahill, Lisa Moore, Lara Downes, and Matthew McCright. Upcoming projects include compositions for So Percussion, the guitar-percussion duo The Living Earth Show, the new music ensemble REDSHIFT, and a new Bass Clarinet Concerto commissioned by the Bass Clarinet Commissioning Collective. His works are published by Potenza Music and BCP Music, and have been commercially recorded by the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo and pianist Jeffrey Jacob.

An avid performer on clarinet and bass clarinet, Jonathan is a member of the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned numerous new works and released two CDs of new American bass clarinet duets. He has also music directed two dance productions with choreographers Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton, and is co-director of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual eight-hour marathon concert that brings together the San Francisco Bay Area’s most creative and innovative composers and performers. He has served on the Music Theory Faculty at San Francisco Conservatory and on the Composition Faculty at the Conservatory’s Adult Extension and Preparatory Divisions. He has a B.A. in Music from Harvard University and an M.M. in Music Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His composition teachers have included Paul Lansky, Dmitri Tymoczko, Dan Becker, Elinor Armer, Eric Sawyer, John Stewart, and Eric Ewazen. He is currently a student in the Composition PhD program at Princeton University.

Jeffrey Treviño

Jeff Treviño’s recent projects include a one-act musical theater adaptation of Anthony Ha’s award-winning science-fiction story, Orbiting, a set of solo percussion frames for recordings of Alice Notley reading her poems, four two-minute duos for for a two-seat theatre in the Hammer Museum’s coat closet, a series of abstract animations for Golden Parachutes gallery’s Total Vivid Presence, and a year-long series of fluxus performances with his Berlin-based ensemble, the Institute for Intermediate Studies. Notable mentors include Mark Applebaum, Brian Ferneyhough, Max Mathews, Rand Steiger, Miller Puckette, Tom Erbe, Walter Zimmermann, Pauline Oliveros, Beat Furrer, Helmut Lachenmann, Chaya Czernowin, and Steven Takasugi.

Treviño has received commissions from the University of California at Berkeley Graduate Program in Media Studies, the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Music at the University of California at Santa Barbara, bass clarinetist Anthony Burr, percussionist Ross Karre, pianist Rei Nakamura, contrabassist James Ilgenfritz, violinist Batya MacAdam-Somer, and the Arditti String Quartet, with notable premieres at the International Computer Music Conference (Miami, 2004, and New Orleans, 2006), the Oberlin Conservatory Percussion Institute (2006), New York City’s Symphony Space, Germany’s Akademie Schloss Solitude Summer Residencies, South Korea’s Seoul International Computer Music Festival (2007), Mexico’s Visiones Sonoras (2007), SIGGRAPH (2007), the International Conference of the Society for Improvised Music (Chicago, 2007), the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik, June in Buffalo (2008), Portugal’s Vila Real Conservatory, New York City’s Miguel Abreu Gallery, the Carlsbad Music Festival (2008), Freiburg im Breisgau’s E-Werk (2009), and Berlin’s Hanns Eisler Akademie (2009).

An accomplished pianist and tubist, Treviño has performed in world class venues such as Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Sheldonian Theatre, and the Sydney Opera House. He is currently studying John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano with pianist Aleck Karis.

Treviño researches the ways composers think when they write computer programs, and his doctoral work at the University of California at San Diego is supported by the university’s San Diego Fellowship, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the university’s Center for Latin-American Studies.

Nicolas Tzortzis

Born in Athens, Greece in May 1978, Nicolas Tzortzis has been living in Paris, France, since 2002. He studied instrumental and electronic composition with Philippe Leroux at the CRD de Blanc Mesnil, musical theatre composition with Georges Aperghis at the Hochschule der Kunste in Bern, Switzerland and Computer Aided Composition at the University of Paris 8 under the direction of Horacio Vaggione and José Manuel Lopez-Lopez. In 2009-2010 he attended the CURSUS 1 of composition and computer music at the IRCAM and he has been selected to do the CURSUS 2 for the years 2010-2012, where he will present a large-scale work for piano and live electronics. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Montreal, under the supervision of Philippe Leroux.

He has taken part in master classes with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer and François Paris, as well as computer music seminars at the IRCAM.  In 2010, he was selected for the 6th New Composers Forum of the Ensemble Aleph. His music has been performed in France, Greece, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, Argentina, Peru, South Korea and Australia, and has been selected and awarded in competitions worldwide (USA, South Korea, Germany, France, Austria, Greece, Italy, Great Britain, Argentina).

Announcing the 2011 General Call Winners!

Wild Rumpus is delighted to announce the winners of our general call for scores: Nicholas Omiccioli (Invisible Worlds) and Liza White (Groove III)! Nick & Liza’s pieces will be part of our first concert, on December 10 at ODC Theater, San Francisco. (More Info) We also want to call out our three other finalists: Caroline Mallonée (Shadow Rings), Charles Halka (Trio), and Gilad Cohen (Trio for a Spry Clarinet, Weeping Cello and Ruminating Harp). We’ll be hanging onto Caroline, Charles, and Gilad’s pieces for future performance consideration.

If you come out in December, you’ll be able to meet Liza and Nick yourselves and talk to them about their work, but here’s a little bit about both of them to get you started:

Nicholas Omiccioli

Nicholas Omiccioli

Nicholas S. Omiccioli is currently a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Production Coordinator for newEar Contemporary Ensemble. His works have been performed throughout the United States, Italy, Thailand, and China. He has recently been commissioned by the Souse Institute at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and the Wellesley Composers Conference.

Liza White

Liza White

Liza White’s music has been performed by Alarm Will Sound, ALEA III under Gunther Schuller, Fifth House Ensemble, the Charlestown Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet, and many other world class musicians. Her work draws on a broad spectrum of real life experiences, including growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, living in major cities, enjoying a wide variety of music and cultural entertainment, and exploring issues of social justice. Liza is currently based in Chicago, where she is working on a doctorate in composition at Northwestern University and teaching at Northwestern, Access Contemporary Music, The Merit School of Music, and People’s Music School.

Thanks again to everyone who applied for our call: we chose these five pieces from fifty-five submissions, and the decision was an extremely difficult one. Our general call is essentially always open (the call for next season’s open now!), and our needs as an ensemble are bound to change from season to season, so please send us your work again!

Announcing Our 2011-2012 Composers (Pt. 1)

This season, Wild Rumpus has commissioned seven emerging composers to write for the ensemble so far. We’ll announce the rest of our collaborators (composers chosen through our Commissioning Project) in mid-October, but we’re so excited about these guys that we couldn’t wait until then to tell you about them. Here’s a little bit about each of them, to get you started:

Travis Alford

Travis Alford

Travis Alford is a composer, trumpet player, and improviser currently living in the Boston area. His music has been performed at venues including the June in Buffalo Festival, the Composers Conference at Wellesley College, and the ACA Summer Music Festival at Symphony Space in NY, by groups such as the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the Lydian String Quartet, Second Instrumental Unit, and members of the New York New Music Ensemble. Last year, he was awarded an ASCAP Young Composers Award for his composition, Breathing Room. He holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and East Carolina University, and is working toward a PhD in composition at Brandeis University.

Nomi Epstein

Nomi Epstein

The music of Nomi Epstein, a Chicago based composer, curator and performer of experimental music, and music educator, has been performed throughout the US and Europe. In her music, she is interested in finding the space between static and dynamic art, examining subtlety, and sometimes working in the realm of acoustic sound sculpture.

Florent Ghys

Florent Ghys

Florent Ghys is a French composer and upright bass player from Bordeaux, France. He writes mainly acoustic music for himself and friends. He uses notes, hair dryers, blinkers, weather reports, numbers, and enjoys controlling randomness. The label Cantaloupe Music released a 5-track EP in January 2010 and a full length album called “Baroque Tardif” in September 2011.

Jenny Olivia Johnson

Jenny Olivia Johnson

Jenny Olivia Johnson is a composer and music studies scholar from Santa Monica, California. She studied composition and theory at Columbia University, Manhattan School of Music, and NYU (Ph.D. 2009), and is currently an assistant professor of music at Wellesley College. Her academic and artistic interests include musical perception, synaesthesia, multi-media art, and the impact of audio technology on musical memory and sensation.

Christopher Stark

Christopher Stark

Christopher Stark is a composer of contemporary classical music deeply rooted in the American West. Having spent his formative years in rural western Montana, his music is always seeking to capture the expansive energy of this quintessential American landscape.

Yao Chen

Yao Chen

The music of Yao Chen strikes audiences with its innovative ways of bringing the musical traditions of East and West together and its poetic telling of the composer’s innermost thoughts. His many works not only manifest his talent in navigating wide expressional and dramaturgical elements in music writing, but also shine his versatility in structuring musical forms that embrace mixed instruments, musical languages and styles.

Yuan Peiying

Yuan Peiying

Peiying Yuan is a young Singaporean composer who is currently pursuing doctoral studies at Cornell University. Her music has been performed most notably by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Argento Ensemble, and the ensemble at Wellesley College Composers Conference. This summer, she has enjoyed exploring music from a sociological perspective while composing a piece for mixed traditional Chinese instruments.

We’re very, very honored to be working with these composers. Writing a piece is always a huge investment of energy and time, and writing a piece for a brand new ensemble is an act of faith to which we hope we’ll do justice. Over the next few months, as they work on their pieces with us, we’ll tell you more about these artists and hear from some of them as well. Stay tuned!

The Wild Rumpus Starts

The idea for Wild Rumpus got started one summer at a music festival, a three-week summer camp for composers and performers of new music hosted at a museum for contemporary art. Every day, we had master classes or rehearsals, put on three concerts a day, and kept on playing/writing/hanging out late into the night.

I loved the abandon of the whole project: you’d sign up on a clipboard for a recital you’d hold three days later, in any of the galleries in that incredible space. You could write a piece (feverishly, in the middle of the night) for the first couple weeks and have it performed in the third. You’d be making music outside the neighborhood bar at midnight, or in the hallways at the gallery, or on your way to dinner. And not all the music was great, not all of it was even good, but the message was unmistakable: Try it out. See if it works. Try something else. Don’t be afraid. Do it do it do it.

It was exactly what I needed to hear right at that moment. It had been a rough couple of years since I’d gotten my masters, and I’d been feeling really uncertain of my next step. The sort of subterranean doubts that can accompany composing—nobody cares about your music, there’s no way for you to make a living—had grown worse since leaving school. I didn’t know any musicians where I was, and I didn’t have any performances lined up. I developed writer’s block for a year and a half. And then personal stuff came up, huge personal stuff, that ground life to a halt for a while. I don’t even remember why I thought of applying to that festival. When I got in, I couldn’t believe it. It was like something wonderful had happened to this composer who was really an elaborate fiction, this composer who happened to look like me and share my name.

But I went. I sang Meredith Monk. I played gamelan and samba. I went to three concerts a day. I sketched stuff and got feedback from my friends. I sketched some more. I talked about my music and that of my friends. I stayed up late. And my life was different. I was different. By the time we were having our workshop on starting your own new music group, I sat there and thought: Hm. I was making music again, and I started dreaming about ways to keep that momentum, ways to keep experimenting and discovering with other people who love new music. It stayed in my head for a long time. Until now, specifically, five years later, having lucked into meeting brilliant performers and composers who wanted to do this, too.

Wild Rumpus is a new music group dedicated to work by young/emerging composers, composers who are developing their craft and their careers. More importantly, it’s about developing music in collaboration with composers. We want to be an experimental laboratory for new music, a space to play and try stuff out and see what happens.

As a composer, I think there are practical reasons why this is a good thing. They go something like this:

  • It’s an inspiration thing. When composers write for somebody specific, that person’s personality and style of playing inspire them. And when they get to exchange ideas with a performer, that dialogue usually leads to totally different discoveries that they might not have found alone.
  • It’s a skill thing. When composers try stuff out with players while they write, they can quickly and easily figure out what works and what doesn’t in terms of practicality. Testing before you ship is a good idea in any discipline.
  • Taken together, I believe that this kind of work can help support early-career composers not just by giving them a performance and a recording, but by giving them a chance to learn and grow while they write for us.

There’s another way of putting it. When I first started thinking about the thing that’s now Wild Rumpus, I was thinking of this:
Try it out. See if it works. Try something else. Don’t be afraid. Do it do it do it.

We hope to help with that. I hope you’ll come check us out.