The traditional way composers work with commissions has not felt right for me for a long time. You get your commission, hole up and months later the musicians get a piece they have never seen and may not like then have to perform it.
That doesn’t work for me and I’ll tell you why: you risk not having the spiritual involvement of the musician(s).
No singer in the world of pop music, country and even metal would perform music they don’t like and don’t believe in.
The process in pop music is different too. Songwriters write songs without being commissioned and submit them without knowing if it will be chosen.
Well, this is fine for a 3 minute song but I would never do that for a 15 minute orchestral piece!
The solution for me has been to approach commissioned work like I approach film scoring.
First I write a ton of ideas. From those I pick a few ideas I like and present them to the musician(s) to see what they connect with, what makes them excited, itching to play and wanting to hear more.
From there the writing of the piece is very much an isolated process, but I send progress reports, questions on technique and also ask for aesthetic opinions whenever I am in doubt.
This is what I did on my latest piece “Battling Boggarts” which was premiered Wednesday April 27th. I emailed ideas (always audio) to soloists Gene Ramsbottom and Tim Phillips and they chose their favourites.
After the performance, Tim told me he had never worked like that with a composer and he completely loved it. It was fun and gave him great insights into the process of composition as well!
I had also done the same thing for my previous piece, “Resisting Euphoria”, where I presented conductor Ken Hsieh with my various ideas. He loved so many of them and was getting excited that he is the one who suggested “write a suite!”
But I’ll be honest here, I don’t do it just for the players, it is for me as well. Knowing that a musician is liking the direction a piece is taking gives me confidence in the music, and that confidence allows my creativity to flow unrestrained.
Because for me, nothing kills creativity faster than wondering if it’s good and if people will like it.
And since my audience is the performer, getting them involved right away solved that issue for me and I’ll never go back to the old ways!