#52: Friday, July 5, 2019
Commissioning a new piece of music is a wonderful way to participate in the life cycle of our choral art. This endeavor directly supports composers, and it furthers the expansion of our current field of repertoire. One way to commission new works is to be a part of a commissioning consortium.
A commissioning consortium is where multiple schools, choirs, or groups buy-in to a larger project. Every commissioning consortium is a little bit different, but here are some things to know:
Generally, you pay a preset fee, and get a PDF of the music when it is finished, along with the rights to make as many copies as you need for your ensemble. In a consortium, you lose the exclusivity that you would have by directly commissioning a piece only for your own ensemble, but the price tag is much smaller, since you are sharing it amongst many groups.
Sometimes there are levels of participation. For example, a “major” contributor may be $500, while a “participating” contributor may be $250. Each level receives the same music in the end, but the higher level of participation might come with a Skype session with the composer, or “commissioned by” naming rights for one movement of a multi-movement piece.
There are two general types of commissioning consortiums. The first kind of consortium is usually driven an event or a conductor/coordinator. This might be a conference or festival event, or may be a conductor who sees the need for a particular kind of piece and wants to make it a reality. Often these consortiums are geared towards a certain level of skill or size of group. There may be one whose texts are geared for middle school choirs, or one that would fit intermediate-level ensembles of all ages, or one ideal for advanced groups with heavy divisi.
In the fall of 2019, North Carolina ACDA put together a commissioning consortium for a multi-movement work for women’s/treble voices. This was spearheaded by Nana Wolfe-Hill at Wingate University, and included colleges and schools from all over North Carolina, along with some from Virginia. Composer Linda Tutas Haugen was commissioned to create this work. The premiere of this work happened during the fall 2019 North Carolina ACDA conference.
Currently, mirabai, a professional women’s choir led by Dr. Sandra Snow, and mirabai member Dr. Meredith Bowen of Radford University are currently working on a commissioning consortium for women’s/treble voices with composer Andrea Clearfield. This is a multi-movement, multi-year project. mirabai will have first recording rights, and the first performance of each piece will be with the National Concerts series at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Dr. Snow. All other groups who are part of the consortium will have the right to perform the work after the premiere has been made. My Hollins Choirs are planning to be a part of this project.
The ACDA Women’s Choir Consortium has been supporting the music for women’s/treble choirs for over a decade. A list of the exceptional composers and their past compositions can be found here.
Groups of all levels have participated in these consortiums, from middle school to high school to colleges to churches to community and adult ensembles. The pieces are often premiered at ACDA regional or national conferences, and then are available for performance by participating ensembles shortly thereafter.
To find out about these and other commissioning consortiums led by individual conductors or conference groups, reach out to your state and regional ACDA and NAfME/MEA leaders. They will often have information about these sorts of opportunities to share.
The second kind of connection and consortium is composer-driven. This is often where a composer, or a composer and poet, have an idea for a piece and then look for participating ensembles to join the endeavor. In the past, these opportunities have perhaps been more difficult to identify, as the composers themselves were doing both the creating and the coordinating, whereas consortiums run by events or organizations have a separate administrator or organizer to make the legwork go faster. With the advent of facebook, online forums, composer-driven publishing companies, and composer websites, these composer-driven consortiums are much more readily available.
Graphite Publishing, a composer-driven publishing company, has coordinated multiple consortiums over the years. She Tore A Map, by Timothy Takach, (blog post #22), was commissioned by the Graphite Publishing 2015-16 Women’s Choir Commissioning Consortium, a group of twelve ensembles, ranging from middle school and high school to college.
Individual composers may also run their own consortiums. Michael Bussewitz-Quarm is currently leading a few for his compositions, including The Radium Girl project, about the young women who toiled painting glow in the dark watch faces and eventually suffered or died from radium exposure. My choirs at Hollins are planning to be a part of this endeavor as well.
You can often find out about these composer-driven projects by publicity from the composers themselves, including their web presence, and forum posts. The recently-released website Consortio is another way for composers to publicize these types of opportunities to potential choirs. You can search by composer, voicing, topic, cost, etc.
Another side benefit to being in a consortium is the connection with like-minded or like-skilled groups. For the NC-ACDA commission, with composer Linda Tutas Haugen, there were three Virginia colleges that joined – Hollins, Longwood University, and Radford University. Because our three schools all had access to the music, we were able to have a Virginia premiere after the North Carolina one. Our three schools gathered and had a joint concert, including performances by each individual school as well as the combined work. It was a great shared experience for our students.
As you are planning your repertoire for a future season or school year, I would encourage you to search for consortium opportunities – either conference- or association-led, or composer-led. Consortiums are an exceptional chance to be directly involved in the creation of new music, and to be an active participant in the continuing evolution of our choral art. Join a group – you and your ensemble will not regret it!
Until next time!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.
Email: Bio: https://www.hollins.edu/directory/shelbie-wahl-fouts/