A litter of new works

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had a HUGE spike in my musical output. I finally finished Only Air, then wrote three new choral works and a song cycle.

Part of the reason for the spike was the simple fact that four of the above-mentioned works were commissions and had fast-approaching deadlines. I’m a horrible procrastinator at times, so deadlines are happy things for me. And while I adore Douglas Adams, I try not to ascribe to his philosophy on finishing work: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

1) The double bar went on Only Air around the 1st of January. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the 1st of January. Apparently New Year’s Day hangovers can’t stop me from finishing a piece! Over the next month or so, I sought out critiques from friends and mentors, and continued to make some revisions, but the piece was effectively done.

2)After Only Air was finished and engraved, I turned my attention to They Lie at Rest for SATB choir (text by Christina Rossetti), which was commissioned by two choirs in Florida: East Ridge High School Concert Choir in Clermont, FL, and the Lake Minneola High School Choirs. The commission was instigated by East Ridge’s Gretchen Kemp, who’s a former classmate of mine from my Illinois State days, and with whom I sang in various choirs for several years. They Lie at Rest will be premiered on April 24 in Washington, D.C.

One of the fun and interesting parts of writing the piece was walking the schools through the commissioning process. For a lot of musicians, commissioning is something that only ensembles with huge budgets do, and it seems arcane and wildly expensive. It was enlightening for me to see how people outside of the new music world view commissioning. And it was wildly fun explaining the concept of a commissioning consortium and of co-commissioning to a newbie commissioner! (Definitely a reminder that what seems obvious and simple to me can be anything but that to others.)

3)Once They Lie at Rest was emailed to the choirs, I started in on Voices – the companion piece to When Music Sounds, which was premiered in December by the Illinois State University Madrigal Singers. I think I wrote the piece in three sittings. But when I got it into Sibelius, I realized that I didn’t quite like the ending. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to fix it right away because I had another deadline racing nearer and nearer.

4)In late December, I submitted some works to be considered for a commission by Providence Premieres, a new concert series in Providence, RI, and somehow I was awarded one of the commissions for the inaugural concert in April! This is actually the first time I’ve gotten something – other than residencies at artist colonies – that I’ve applied for. The commission was for a 7-9 minute piece using some combination of soprano, violin, and harp. I, of course, chose to use all three instruments.

For my texts, I chose three short poems by Elizabeth Morgan, who I met in 2009 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I was completely charmed by her reading one evening at the VCCA of her poem “Poetry Reading”, and ordered two of her books of poetry as soon as I got home, after whose arrival I fell in love with “Email from Odessa” from On Long Mountain. This cycle doesn’t use either text; instead it makes use of three contemplative poems that are, on the surface at least, about animals and insects: “Like Young Men”, “Gnat Facts on NPR”, and “Without a Philosophy”. The cycle, which takes its title from the last poem, clocks in around 10 minutes.

The crazy thing about the cycle (aside from my brief reference to The Orlons’ “Wah Watusi”) is that it was written and engraved, parts were extracted and formatted, and everything was sent off within 10 days of putting pencil to paper – while also holding down a full-time day job. (Yes, I sketch on paper first!) A few weeks later, and my head is still spinning from the frenzy of writing!

After finishing Without a Philosophy, I had a few days of relative down time before I packed my bags and ran off to Dallas for 5 days to be a little social butterfly at the American Choral Directors Association’s national conference. I’d never been to an ACDA conference before, so the whole experience was new and exciting. Aside from some travel difficulties getting to Dallas and the need for a better map of the area, it was a great time and I met some really great directors, as well as spent quality time with a few friends. I also learned quite a lot about some holes in the repertoire, as well as cemented some thoughts on a new business model I’ll be trying out with some other composers later this year.

After Dallas, I revisited Voices and finally got the ending right. And I banged out the parts to Only Air and sent them off so that rehearsals could start.

Blah blah blah, I quit my day job to go full-time freelance, blah blah, more on that later.

5)And this past weekend while staying with Darien and his parents at their house in Montauk, I composed a new 4 1/2 minute piece for SSA choir and piano – Sunset: St. Louis, text by Sara Teasdale. The intention was to send it off to a competition (with fantastic terms and no entry fee, mind you), but it turns out that when I printed out the guidelines, they hadn’t been updated for this year’s voicing, which was mixed choir – SSA was last year! Regardless, I now know that not only can I write a 10 minute song cycle in 10 days, but I can also write and fully engrave a 4 1/2 minute choral piece in just under 32 hours!

And since I can’t enter the piece into the competition, I’ve made it available on NewMusicShelf with a 40% discount through the 13th. So if you or a director you know with a women’s/treble choir are looking for some new material, send ’em over here and tell ’em to use the code STLOUIS.

Finally: the Only Air announcement

I got some great feedback from ISU Devo yesterday – they’ve got some grants that they can point me to, which is awesome. They’re researching them further, and will send me the info soon. Plus, they think the project is “highly fundable”, which makes me quite happy, and bolsters my optimism about the grant applications!

I got news this morning from the MAP Fund that the organization needs to have their 501(c)3 status at the time of the application, and must have had it for at least two years prior. So, I won’t be applying with ISU for that particular grant. Which means that I have to get back in good standing with The Field – I’m sure we never filled out our funds usage report at the end of last year. When the Tobenski-Algera Concert Series folded, Jeff canceled our domain name, which means that I lost the only email contact I had with The Field, as well as ALL of my T-A related correspondence, which is annoying. I’ve contacted them to find out what paperwork I still owe them.

In other news, I’ve started reading David Cutler’s The Savvy Musician, which is clearly going to exacerbate my entrepreneurial tendencies, and really light a fire under my ass when it comes to marketing this piece. I’m going to be trying to get some media attention soon, now that I’ve officially announced the commission in my August newsletter (which you can sign up to receive here). I originally didn’t plan to announce the commission until I had the contract in-hand, but the Letter of Commitment, and the School’s enthusiasm about the project, make me confident enough to announce it finally. Next comes the official blog post on my website. AND I can stop typing this blog into Google Docs, and actually publish it and backdate all of the previous entries.

In which Dennis calls upon arcane knowledge

Today the MAP Fund opened their website to letters of inquiry for their annual grant application process. I’ve done a bit of research into the grant already, and it’s a perfect fit. One of the requirements of the process is that artists have to apply with a non-profit organization. That organization can either be working with the artist on bringing the project to fruition or merely a fiscal sponsor (like The Field or Fractured Atlas). So before I set ISU to attack the initial Letter of Inquiry round of the application process, I checked one last thing: does ISU, in fact, have 501(c)3 status?

The answer is: at this moment, no.

They’ve applied for non-profit status so that they can apply for these sorts of grant opportunities, but they haven’t yet received the final approval from the government.

And this is where my status as a font of arcane knowledge kicked in. I suddenly remembered: when an organization applies for 501(c)3 status, once their application is approved, the status is retroactive to the date of application. Which means that provided that their application is approved (and I don’t really see how it would be rejected, but let’s not tempt fate here, people), they will be considered as having non-profit status from the time that they originally mailed in their application.

Of course, I’m a huge dork for knowing this off the top of my head. I know that. I revel in it. I take great pride in knowing these sorts of law/copyright/business/practical things, and go out of my way to learn more.

I’ve emailed the MAP Fund directly to ask a) may I apply as an independent artist under the sponsorship of The Field, and b) will ISU qualify as a collaborating organization since they have applied for 501(c)3 status, and upon approval (assuming that it will take past the MAP Fund’s October cut-off date for ISU to receive the approval), that status will be retroactive. I haven’t yet heard back on the latter point (I’m assuming that questions are being asked, and it’s entirely possible that lawyers are being called), but I definitely can apply on my own with The Field’s sponsorship. However, I suspect that the project would be much more likely to be funded if I were applying directly with ISU, so I’m going to press the point.

Fortunately, the ISU Development people have offered to help me find additional funding sources, which is great.


Well as of today, I can add another major project to my list of major projects for the coming year. Dr. Carlson, the Director of Choral Activities at ISU, is ready to proceed with recording a full disc of my choral music starting in the Spring! We’ve been talking about the project on and off since December, and now that she knows her choir for the year, and she knows what her other commitments will be, she’s ready to go ahead with the project. So amongst writing Only Air, raising money for it, planning the new concert series (which is finally starting to get off the ground), and hopefully recording my song cycles this Winter, I’ll be planning the choral disc as well.

Considerations for this project are:

a timeline for recording
my monetary commitments
the recording contract
how many pieces will be on the disc / how many new pieces I have to write to flesh out the disc

I’ve been considering these things for a while, and I haven’t come up with solutions for any of them quite yet. But now that the question is no longer academic, I can come up with a solution in no time.