The Unexpected Benefits of Commissioning New Music
By NAfME Member Aaron Given
When my students and I first commissioned a composer, the opportunity basically fell into my lap. I wasn’t sure exactly how to get started, but I knew I wanted to figure it out. After all, it was bound to be a good learning experience for my students! I hoped it would help them realize that composers are not just dead guys in silly wigs, but real people whom they can get to know and understand. I thought maybe they would get to peek into the creative process and see how someone goes about writing something brand new from scratch. All of this was true, but it turned out to be only a part of what has made commissioning one of my favorite educational experiences for my students. I really didn’t anticipate all of the incredible ways that a commission would allow my students to take ownership of their learning and allow our school community to take ownership of our program.
I really didn’t anticipate all of the incredible ways that a commission would allow my students to take ownership of their learning and allow our school community to take ownership of our program.
Commissioning a new work from a composer is probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a music educator. The chance for my students to make a connection with a living, breathing composer, to engage in the process of creating a new piece of art, and present the sum of those experiences to our audience at a world premiere performance is one that I can’t get enough of. I love to see the pride on the faces of my students when they say, “This piece is OURS.” I never see them prepare their parts more thoroughly or ask better questions about the music than I do when they are learning music that has been written just for them. They are equally proud to present the finished work as partners with the composer, and to offer it as a gift to the future students who will have a chance to perform it themselves—thanks to us!
Hiring a composer to write a piece of music is a big task, and it comes with a certain amount of cost built in. The actual dollar amount can vary a lot depending on who you are working with and what you are asking for, but regardless of the actual expense, I would encourage you to frame it not as a necessary evil, but as an opportunity for your students and your school community to literally “buy in” to your program and its success. Even if you are somehow flush with cash, it’s worth asking your students to raise a portion of the funds themselves. Don’t deny your students the feeling of ownership they will get from washing the cars, selling the fruit, or wrapping the gifts that make the music happen!
It’s equally important to seek out financial support from other members of your school’s learning community. Parent organizations, building administrators and local businesses will all be more invested in your project’s (and your program’s) success if they are helping to fund it.
Undertaking a commission is a big task, but my NAfME Academy webinar, “The Music Belongs to All of Us: Taking Music Education beyond the Rehearsal Room by Engaging your Learning Community in the Commissioning Process” will walk you through the process: from finding a composer, to funding the project, rewarding the people who helped you fund it, and creating an experience that your students—and your community partners—will never forget.
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About the author:
NAfME member Aaron Given is a music educator, conductor, and clinician based in Columbus, Ohio. He teaches band in the Olentangy Local Schools and serves as Instructor of Horn at the Interlochen Arts Camp. A passionate advocate for new music in the classroom, Aaron’s bands have collaborated with composers including Scott McAllister, Erika Svanoe, and Garrett Hope. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Music Education from the University of Northern Colorado and a master’s degree in Wind Conducting from The Ohio State University. He can be reached at www.aaronjgiven.com or on Twitter @aaronjgiven.
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