Applying for Competitions…

…is something that many of us composers feel compelled to do.  The plus side is that you get your piece performed (usually), the opportunity to take home some cash (less frequently), and worst-case scenario, you at least get something to pad your résumé with.

For the uninitiated, the process of applying to competitions goes a little something like this:

  1. You find out about the competition from some board, a friend, colleague, frenemy, or by reading some random poster on the wall of your music building.  It will usually give you a submission date some six months away.  You will take down the info, and put it in your calendar.  You will then forget about the competition until about three days before it is due, when you see the random entry and wonder what the hell was that you scribbled in.
  2. Finally figuring out what you scribbled in, you will then proceed to comb through your work to see if you have any music that could qualify you to enter the competition.  Nine times out of ten, you don’t.  Three times out of ten, you give serious thought to composing something in those three days you have until the submission date.  You find whatever meets the demands of the competition most closely.
  3. Once you’ve chosen the piece (or pieces) that you’re going to submit, you have to give your score a minor face lift, fixing glaring notation errors (No score on earth is without notation errors; look hard enough, and you’ll find them, just like allllll the germs multiplying on your skin, invisibly!  Quick, clean them!  Clean them!), and removing anything that might identify yourself as the composer.
  4. This is generally the time where you start to look at the formatting requirements of the competition.  This is where competitions eliminate 85% of their entrants.  If your score is on tabloid, TOO BAD!  It has to be on letter.  Heartfelt dedication to the performers?  SCRAP IT.  Once you rid the score of your stink, your job is to fill in random information about the piece that usually never makes it onto the score to begin with.  How long is this piece?  Put that right under the title, but don’t use double-space.  Tell the percussionists every single mallet they’ll want to consider (and then disregard), along with what brand of drum head you prefer.  If you don’t comply with these, your score won’t get looked at.
  5. You’re going to want to include something to listen to.  Most of the time, this piece that you’re submitting has never been performed, so you’re forced to tuck your tail between your legs and beg the gods of Garritan Performance Orchestra to bleep and blorp through your score.  You’ll end up putting something on the recording reading, “Electronic mock-up: I swear to God it sounds better on real instruments, and those are supposed to be glissandi in measure 47!  Oh, and percussion doesn’t play back.”
  6. Gather all these materials together, and proceed to start putting them in a complicated series of sealed envelopes, nested in one another.  It helps if you have a unicorn to lick these envelopes.  The judges can tell.
  7. Write a check for $35.  Just do it.  These things cost money, you know.  It’s probably to pay off  some Composer Mafia.
  8. Put this sucker in the mail.  Remember to overnight it, because wherever you live, the competition is taking place on the opposite side of the country.
  9. Wait.
Of all the hoops to jump through, waiting is the hardest.  It’s here that applying for competitions takes on a creepy, desperate vibe.  Sometimes, you even break down and email the contact person on the poster, asking about what happens.  It’ll end up sounding like a phone call from a date that doesn’t know it isn’t going to work out:
Hey, it’s me, Jason.  I hadn’t heard from you in a while so…I just wanted to see what you were up to.  I didn’t know if you had lost my number or anything.  So…I had a really great time with you the other night…so, um…I was wondering if I can see you again sometime?  Uh…yeah, gimme a call.  My number hasn’t changed or anything…yeah, just wondering if you’re around.
In general, composers are taught to handle competitions the same way people are taught to date.  “Don’t worry about one competition; go out for a lot of them.”  “Enter them, then forget about them.”  “Don’t worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea!  You’ll see.”  And they’re right.  Competitions don’t matter, until they do.  Your ego is fragile, and competitions are one of the few things you can do that feel like tangible success.  Most of the time, though, you’re gonna lose.  Half the time, you won’t even know you’ve lost until you see your buddy blog about it (yeah, that guy you know who keeps winning these things?  He won.  Again.)  But your job is to develop a thick skin for rejection, because that’s really the best thing that competitions can teach you: how to hear the word “no” and bounce back.  Just like getting told to buzz off by the most beautiful woman in the bar, you need to shake it off, have a beer, and get right back out there.  Because just like dating, it’s better to go out and try than to stay at home and never put yourself out there.

  2 comments for “Applying for Competitions…

  1. 10/11/2011 at 11:41 am

    Love it – great post, Jason!

  2. 10/11/2011 at 11:47 am


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