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Compose to Win
By Miriam Piilonen
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Original Content3/1/2011

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Entering a composition competition is a great way to gain exposure, practice professional printing and possibly win a performance or grant money. Competitions are usually judged by a panel of professionals who will assess your work for style, skill, innovation and playability. Assembling a flawless application package is as important as writing a great piece of music and an important skill for composers. Here are a few things to consider when assembling your competition package:
  1. Be sure you qualify. Before you even begin to assemble your application materials, be certain you’re eligible for the program and are ready to present your materials to an adjudication panel. Not sure? Check in with a member of your inner circle (teacher, fellow composer, mentor) for their advice.

  2. Read all the instructions. Make sure you include everything the application requires (i.e., a resume, cover letter, single-sided parts, CD recording, etc.). Many competitions receive a large number of entries and don’t have time for sloppy or incomplete applications.

  3. Only send what they ask for. If a competition specifies a 10-minute excerpt, don’t send them the entire 300-page opus. You worked hard but they don’t have time to listen to your work in its entirety, not to mention it is a waste of paper for you. Also, if the competition requests a high school level opera-oratorio, don’t send your four-hour musical rendition of Equus.

  4. Print impeccable scores and parts. Buy a notation manual and take it seriously. Pay attention to details. Make sure nothing overlaps and include rehearsal marks. Think about what a vocalist, conductor or instrumentalist would see on the page. There should be no distractions from the music itself.

  5. Label, label, label. Unless the competition is meant to be anonymous, always label your materials clearly and succinctly. CDs, scores and application forms can easily be separated in the administration process, so plan for it to happen. Generally, your name and the name of the piece will do. This goes for headers on paper submissions, labels on CDs and file names for digital submissions.

  6. Pull out all the stops. Bind your score. Use nice paper. Type your name on the CD cover. Professionalism is noticed and appreciated. (This said; always defer to point three and stay within the program guidelines!)

  7. Include a live recording if you have it. If you only have a MIDI version, consider getting a group together to read the piece, if only for a rough recording. This may be a more important step for you than the application if you have yet to hear your music played live.

  8. Include a SASE. You may enter 40 competitions before you win one, and it can get expensive. If it is within the program guidelines, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope and ask that your application be returned to you. This may allow you to repurpose the materials and submit them to another opportunity later on.

  9. Mail your application early. Know the deadlines and prepare your materials well in advance. Printing, binding, taping and double-checking take longer than you think, so be prepared.

  10. Try, try again. Don’t be discouraged if your piece is not selected. Assuming you have followed all of the above guidelines, consider it a constructive step for a panel to have listened to your music and seen your name. They may remember you in a positive light next year.

Good luck!
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