“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