October 2001

Composer Associations

Patrick Harrex, spnm shortlisted composer and member of New Music Brighton, outlines the activities and benefits of membership of local composer associations.


Over recent years several local composer associations have been established across Great Britain. Many composers will now find one in their area or region. The interest being shown by spnm in publicising the activities of these associations will, I hope, encourage more composers to join one and also, perhaps, provide the basis of a network through which we can share information and ideas, something begun by the Composers' Guild, but which fell by the wayside on its amalgamation into the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.

Why have local groups been formed? A common thread, unsurprisingly, is a recognition that composers work in isolation and, therefore, there is a place for an organisation that provides mutual support and encouragement. New Music Brighton's membership policy is inclusive, so any composer living or working in Sussex, whatever their background, experience, genre or compositional style, may join. Other groups take a similar line. For example, David Penri-Evans, who established the Portsmouth District Composers' Alliance in 1989, expresses the view that 'if someone thinks they are a composer, or wants to support our activities, they should be allowed to join. Whatever their level of experience and ability, any composer will learn and benefit from their membership.'

What do we do? Like other of the associations, NMB has always focused on putting on concerts of members' works, although not exclusively: in October we will host a student workshop. The pooling of resources to put on concerts is, I think, the greatest benefit of the local group. For new composers there is nothing more helpful to your development than to hear your works performed, and established composers need as much exposure as they can get! Our selection policy has been very open. Generally, if a member submits a work and can provide or identify performers then it is included. The outcome of this policy has been remarkably well-balanced events and a consistently high standard, thanks also to support by excellent and sympathetic local performers. Of course, if a particular ensemble is engaged, the selection process must recognise the performers' right to choose what they play. Some other groups have adopted more structured approaches to selection and to promoting their members' music. For example, Nottingham Composers have focused on collaborative projects with local organisations and musicians, culminating in chamber orchestra and concerto concerts.

The spnm Guide to Composer Associations is now available - click here for details.

Some associations even publish members' works, in addition to putting on concerts and workshops, and many can offer a wide range of practical support. One such group is Composers of Wales, which gives information to composers about performing groups and distributes information to other musicians about what composers can offer. Members' scores, are displayed whenever possible, and a comprehensive newsletter is published three times a year. They recently published a handbook 'So you want to commission a composer?' aimed at first-time commissioners. Enid Luff tells me that they 'have only just begun'!

Of course, the range of activities offered will depend on demand from members, available resources - people and financial - and perhaps most of all on the imagination, enthusiasm and involvement of us, the members.

The views expressed by Patrick Harrex are his own. He is grateful for comments given to him by members of a number of composers' associations in the course of preparing this article.

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Previous articles:

September 2001
Private Commissioning

July 2001
Joined-up Commissioning

May 2001
The Martland Interview

April 2001
Looking Four-wards

March 2001
Chamber Made

February 2001
Publishing, Promotion and Profitability

January 2001
From the World to the Warehouse

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
Composing for dance
from start to finish

October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
Joanna MacGregor

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
Word of mouse

April 2000
Child's Play

March 2000
tables turned

February 2000
the ENO Studio

January 2000
a challenge from Michael Oliva

December 1999
into the next century...

November 1999
Joanna MacGregor writes

October 1999
obsessed with consuming?

September 1999
spnm welcomes Joanna MacGregor.

July/August 1999
Spectrum 2 - miniatures for piano.

June 1999
Hoxton Hall New Music Days.

May 1999
Bath International Music Festival is 50.

April 1999
Who is Georges Aperghis?

March 1999
On frost, birth and death

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!