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Composition Recitals are Dead

My friend Jonn Sokol will be having his DM recital this Sunday in Bloomington, IN. I wish him the best of luck, especially because composition recitals are so reliant on other musicians you ultimately have no control over. I will have to produce another one myself very shortly, but I believe this outdated degree requirement is completely dead: it stunts a student composer's growth to function as a real (money-making) composer.

I initially wondered why student composers had a recital requirement. I was told by one of my professors that a composition recital showed a student's compositional progression during their time spent completing a degree program. This person's right; it does. And, this argument was especially valid during the times when we didn't have digital recorders or the ability to burn CDs.

That was then; this is now: composers of my generation aren't making CDs anymore; we're posting our mp3 files onto our website, MySpace music accounts and uploading our music onto Pandora (or should be). If we want to sit and reflect on our compositional progression, we merely have to assemble the recordings we have collected during our time spent at university, upload them into iTunes, and set a filter to sift out the years we weren't in school. You can define perimeters such as file type, composer, and year created, then you can instantly burn a CD. To further enhance your reflection on your music, you could bring the CD to your lesson and discuss it with your composition professor. Or your friends. Or your cat can squawk at your use of glockenspiel.

What if a student composer doesn't have a recording of his/her own piece? Well, they should have a recording; there is no excuse for this anymore. These days you can record directly onto your computer. Of course, this doesn't produce the best sounding recording, but this will encourage a composer to make a good recording happen.

Student composers should be actively seeking out musicians to play AND PROGRAM their music as much as possible; they shouldn't wait until the recital deadline. I think this is a more practical approach of having our music performed.

So, let's say that, as a doctoral student, your recital needs to be 50 minutes long. Fine. How about asking other musicians and large ensembles to program 50 minutes of your music? Compile all the pieces on a CD and attach concert programs. Students will learn to take two programs with them - one for their requirement and one to submit to ASCAP/BMI. This way, a student's large ensemble pieces will count. Has anyone attempted to program a wind ensemble piece on their student recital? Impossible. Why not ask your clarinet friend of yours to program your piece on THEIR recital? And, here's another question: are non-student composers actively programming their own recitals, or are they approaching chamber groups, friends, and conductors to perform their music? Think about this.

This procedure would encourage student composers to approach musicians AND conductors to program and perform their music. Heck, they might even commission a new work if a student is financially savvy. Furthermore, if a student feels the need to write a large ensemble piece, they will not worry about the extra instrumental duets they will have to compose frantically to fulfill this impractical degree requirement.

Anyway, this is my two cents. Any better reasons for keeping the obsolete recital requirement? Maybe I'm missing something, and I'd like to hear them.

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