“Competitions are for horses, not artists”

Blog post by Sandy Clark – Composer

“We’ve really enjoyed looking through all the entries…”, “we’re thrilled by the popularity of the competition”, “…unfortunately your composition was not selected this time…”.

These phrases are all too commonly emailed to any emerging composer applying for commissions and competitions. Not seeing your name on a shortlist of successful applicants can be exhaustingly demoralising, particularly when your blood, sweat, tears, and all important time has gone into your work. You may want to just throw the towel in and think “why do I bother if nobody understands or appreciates my work?”. But fret not!

As an emerging composer myself, and in the final stages of completing my PhD at the University of Hull, I am beginning to realise the importance of self-promotion and determination. Throughout our education, whether at music college or university, opportunities are in abundance to work with peers, write music for visiting artists in workshops, or even compose for large ensembles.

Unfortunately, the ease of these opportunities doesn’t carry on into the real world and we have to look for opportunities ourselves. While competitions do provide a great platform for composers, it is difficult to gauge how a judging panel will receive your music, and therefore whether its worth you putting in the hours of work required to write a new piece.

One distinct advantage to competitions is that they force us to create. In November/December 2019, I unsuccessfully applied for five competitions. Yes, I was very bitter about the “unsuccessful” part at the time, but once I had surfaced from my momentary despair, I realised that I had four new pieces in my repertoire that I didn’t have before (one submission was a pre-existing piece). Now those pieces are ripe for sending off to other ensembles to consider for future concerts!

Bartók famously said that competitions are for horses, not artists. I disagree. The support that competitions provide emerging artists is multitudinous. Firstly, there’s the financial aspect. While some competitions don’t offer prize money, some offer a lot of money, which can help form the bread and butter of any freelance or self-employed artist. If I had won all five of the competitions I applied for in winter 2019, I would be around £4000 richer!

This brings me on to the E-word. Exposure. The topic of many a meme centred on artists being paid with exposure rather than actual money; competitions usually do both for composers. Exposure shouldn’t be overlooked, though. The ensembles and organisations offering competitions are often some of the wealthier and better-attended ensembles. Therefore your music has the potential to reach quite a lot of the right people, and you never know who might be in the audience.

Exposure (and competitions in general) also has the potential to lead to repeat performances, recordings, publication and further commissions. Of the five competitions I entered, all were offering at least one public performance, two were offering a professional-quality recording, and one was offering publication.

From the perspective of an ensemble, competitions can also bring people into contact with new music. Making Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme was instrumental in connecting dozens of composers with dozens of amateur music groups around the UK, most of which likely consider Stravinsky and Shostakovich the pinnacle of contemporary music. Schemes and competitions such as these are an excellent way to connect music creators with music makers, and in turn, music listeners.

Usually when applying for competitions, residencies or schemes, a composer is asked to provide a CV including a list of awards and prizes. Generally, the longer your list of awards, the more impressive your application looks against others. This brings me back to my first point, which was that your chances of actually winning competitions might be quite slim. This probably doesn’t have anything to do with your talents, but more to do with personal taste. Generally, I like to write music that people enjoy playing and listening to. That’s what gives me satisfaction as a composer.

Some people (a few of whom have been fairly vocal about it) consider this to be “selling out” and “inartistic”. But what is art for if not to be listened to, seen, observed, or appreciated? But you can’t please everyone, and this is something that hits home when you put your artistic heart and soul on the line in applying for competitions. 99 times out of 100 a rejection will not be because they didn’t like your music, it will be because they liked someone else’s better. But that’s the crux. They liked it. The music itself isn’t necessarily better – it just suited the judges’ tastes better. Chances are, if you send it to somebody else, they’ll love it and want to perform it!

So when applying for competitions, residencies and schemes when you don’t have a massive list of prizes or awards under your belt, how can you possibly make your application stand out?! I believe the answer is in commendations. Just as I will later this year when winter comes back around, befriend a musical director of a choir, orchestra, brass band, you name it. Get them to perform your pieces, and then get them to write a testimonial for you about your work.

On your CV you can then replace the awards and prizes section with real words from real people about how fantastic they think your music is, or how great it is to work with you. Show them that your music spreads joy and connects with people. That kind of feedback can be just as powerful as the credentials of any competition.

Sandy Clark

Visit Sandy’s Website

“Never mind, maybe next time” — The Need of Closing the Gap between the Arts and Disabilities

By Graziana Presicce

My dad has Parkinson’s disease. It’s one of those things which, unfortunately, just happens. As with any disability, new circumstances inevitably bring some adaptations and new routines in one’s everyday life: whether involving medicines, more frequent visits to the toilet, or the need of taking into account how tired the body may feel on particular days, making walking more challenging than usual.

Through my work, being fully immersed in the arts, there are numerous events to which I wish to bring my parents along. Yet, there are often times where the answer eventually turns into a “never mind, maybe next time”. Being a classical pianist myself, my love for classical music, attentive audiences and concert halls is granted. Yet, the expectation of a still, quiet audience often does not make these concerts an ideal environment for people affected by Parkinson’s. It is unpredictable how strong the uncontrolled movements or shaking may be on certain days or times of the day. It is also unpredictable who is going to sit next to you: there might be the occasional glance on you; and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. Stress certainly does not help towards the effects of Parkinson’s, and such events should certainly not be a reason for stress—quite the opposite! Anyone, regardless of one’s condition, should have the chance to fully enjoy music, without having to think twice whether “it’s OK or not” to attend. 

It’s thrilling to see initiatives from the arts in taking a step closer towards disabilities; for instance, through relaxed performances. If you are in Hull and surroundings, we are excited to be hosting Hull Chamber Music’s very first relaxed concert ‘A Musical Journey’ at the Ferens Art Gallery, Friday 21st February 2020 at 11am! Carers and under 18s are welcome to attend for free (Standard Ticket: £10). Anyone attending will be free to move around, without any need of sitting still and quiet. The performance will also be BSL interpreted, as BBC Music Magazine’s Instrumental Award winner violinist Fenella Humphreys, alongside international pianist Nicola Eimer, will guide the audience through a musical journey around the world. Babies and toddlers are also most welcome to the event.

To book, visit: https://www.hullboxoffice.com/event/hull-chamber-music-and-culture-tots-present-a-musical-journey-around-the-world/

It would be lovely to see you there — do spread the word!

One final note: we recently launched a Crowdfunding campaign to give away tickets to those who cannot otherwise afford them. Tickets are distributed through local charities, including Parkinson’s and Mind, among others. We would be incredibly grateful if you could chip in to let us reach our new target; if this is not possible for you, simply sharing the link below and encourage your friends to do so would be immensely helpful (we have only 8 days left to achieve this!):

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/hullchambermusic

We have been overwhelmed by people’s generosity so far. We hope to reach our new target and making chamber music more accessible to all.

Thank you for reading. Now let’s make the difference together! 


Graziana

Our remote team is growing! What do teams mean to you?

Graziana Presicce, newest member of the Beardsworth Arts team

Beardsworth Arts has a new member of the team!

I am delighted to welcome Graziana Presicce to the Beardsworth Arts team. Graziana is a pianist, on her way to a PhD in Performance at the University of Hull. We have worked together before, on concerts held at the university, and I am delighted that she will bring her expertise to Beardsworth Arts!

She joins Veronica Colyer, professional oboist and piano teacher, who was the first person to join the team, and has been working with Beardsworth Arts for a few months. You can read more about Veronica and Graziana here.

I thought I would take this opportunity to write a post about what it means to me to have a team.

Veronica Colyer, the first member of the Beardsworth Arts team

Running your own business from home is wonderful in many ways, but it can be a lonely thing to do, at times – you don’t get that offer of a cuppa, that person to complain to when your computer decides to do updates at the wrong moment, or something is taking longer than it should… you can miss out on the energy that is created by having conversations with other people that understand what you’re doing and how it is making you feel. It is one of the things I miss the most about working in an office.

With a remote team, you still don’t have that daily contact, but you do have a whole new source of energy, ideas and inspiration.

When my business grows enough for me to need a new member of my team, I feel enormously proud – working with people really contributes to my energy, and makes me feel like together we can achieve anything!

New clients also make me feel like this, and I am excited to be announcing more new clients soon! However, welcoming someone new into my team, building that working relationship and seeing them form part of my work and take on and develop their own role as part of my business is a very special thing for me, so I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to Veronica and Graziana for their wonderful work and for being part of Beardsworth Arts!

Are you in a team? Office-based, or remote? What do you like most about your team?!

#team #teamwork #remoteteam #artsadmin #artsmanagement #freelance #freelanceteam

CLASSICAL MUSIC AND INCLUSIVITY: WHAT CAN WE DO BETTER?

I recently attended the IETM (international network for contemporary performing arts) plenary meeting, on a theme of inclusivity; specifically: do we all intend to produce art that includes everybody; do we succeed in doing this; if not, why not?

I attended with some misgivings; any time away from my desk is a risk for me, as I have limited work time alongside childcare and other commitments, and I hadn’t got childcare for the first session, which meant that – after some consideration and a lot of worry – I had decided to bring my two year old with me to the session.

This turned out to be absolutely fine; not my most impressive parenting moment, as my son spent two hours watching CBeebies on my phone and eating gingerbread men, but I was made to feel genuinely welcome and at ease, learned a lot, and afterwards had the pleasure of hearing a couple of the participants say that they felt it was entirely their job to make me and my son feel comfortable with the situation.

This, along with the excellent keynote speeches by Sade Brown of Sour Lemons and Jess Thom of Tourettes Hero, really set the tone for me; all my concerns vanished and I felt I was in for an enlightening couple of days.

I was not wrong. Inspiration, understanding, and new vocabulary to deal with difficult subjects, flowed out of every thought-provoking session. However, at the end of the first day I was left feeling that classical music didn’t feel as emphatically represented as other art forms, especially dance, theatre and spectacle events.

As time went on, I found the other classical music specialists attending – I was right that there were fewer, but they were there – and I also developed an idea that perhaps this was the case for a reason. Listening to the talks about inclusive theatre and dance projects, I realised that, with the exception of some outstanding projects, classical music has some catching up to do when it comes to inclusive performance. 

What are the barriers to inclusive performance in classical music?

Classical music, perhaps more than other art forms, is generally perceived to have a niche culture; that its audience is largely white, middle class, middle-aged to elderly, and educated. This perception is, I hope, far from the truth, but, as the Artistic Director of a chamber music society for whom all these things are true (despite our best efforts), I have been asking myself what the barriers are to inclusive performance in classical music.

The answers I can come up with are steeped in history; the idea that classical music must be enjoyed in silence is key, although this is an idea formed in the 19th century; 17thcentury audiences would famously have talked, eaten, drunk and gambled through performances.

This has led to a culture of ritual and, therefore, exclusion within classical music; woe betide any ill-informed person who accidentally claps between movements (again, so far removed from pop/rock/folk/jazz etc, where responding to the music as you hear it and are moved by it is the norm), or dares to open a cough sweet…

Something that has been enlightening for me as a result of considering these issues, is the fact that, despite being someone that considers themselves fully committed to inclusivity, my attempts to include new audiences from different backgrounds and abilities in my musical projects have been somewhat apologetic; I am always concerned about alienating existing audience members. Obviously, no-one wants to do that, but do I really think my existing audience would refuse to come to a concert if it was truly inclusive, and, say, a relaxed performance? And, if they would, why am I more concerned about upsetting the person who is not willing to embrace inclusivity, rather than the people that currently feel they are unwelcome at classical concerts?

How do we change the barriers to inclusivity in classical music?

Firstly, concert promoters/committees/boards etc need to get behind inclusivity, beyond just audiences. The boards of such organisations generally tend to represent the audiences I mentioned above. In order to have diverse audiences, we must have diverse leadership; we cannot expect audience trends to be changed if our decision makers, programmers and marketers do not understand the people they are trying to attract.

Secondly, we must talk to our audiences – both our existing audience, and the one we are trying to attract. Good, open lines of communication make all the difference in making people feel understood, catered for, and welcomed. I believe it is possible to take existing audiences with us on the journey to a more inclusive model.

On the other side, we must not assume that if we provide BSL interpretation we will suddenly attract the entire deaf community; we must connect with those potential audiences before we decide on what our changes will be, and make sure they are right, appealing, and carried out in a manner that makes people feel welcome.

Thirdly, we must not allow ourselves to be held back by the existing culture. We must be brave, well-informed, considerate, and in touch with our audiences and our sector. There is a great deal of press coverage on this issue at the moment, and I for one feel called to action!

What do you think? What enables or prevents you from going to concerts? What could concert venues, organisers and artists do to make you feel welcome?

BBC PROMS: WHY ARE ONLY SIX OUT OF 90+ CONCERTS ‘FOR ALL THE FAMILY’?

I love the BBC Proms. There is no more varied, high-quality festival of classical music. But, I was shocked to read the headline on the Royal Albert Hall’s website: ‘Six fantastic concerts for all the family’. Six?! Out of how many, I wondered. On checking – as I suspected – 75 concerts, and 90+ events listed in total.

Why does the Royal Albert Hall think that fewer than 5% of the Proms being ‘for all the family’ is a positive headline?

And, only one of those concerts actually listed as a relaxed event. The article says that this event will be ‘suitable for children and adults with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities, as well as individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and partially sighted. There is a relaxed attitude to movement and noise in the auditorium, plus ‘chill-out’ spaces outside the auditorium – you can move about, dance, sing or just listen. The Relaxed Prom also features audio description and British Sign Language interpretation.’  

Sounds absolutely wonderful. But why only one concert like this?

Is it so hard for the organisers of the Proms to believe that their audiences would like to hear more of their world-class performances in such circumstances?

As a mother of a toddler, and an advocate of inclusive performance, I certainly would.

I don’t mean to be critical of the Proms – as I said, I am a huge fan – but as I scan their list of events, my personal circumstances significantly limit the number I can go to. I’m sure if I looked at a list of classical concerts going on across the country, the percentage that would welcome my son, or other individuals mentioned above, would be even lower than 5%.

I am sure that the fact that the Proms can see six family-friendly concerts, only one of which is listed as fully inclusive, as a topic for a proud headline, is indicative of the mindset of… who? Classical music programmers and promoters? Audiences? Artists?

What do you think? What would make or break you going to a concert?