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Composition Major Prep. Question

jaywalkjaywalk Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
edited June 2009 in Music Major

I am currently preparing to apply and audition for some music schools this fall for a composition major. I feel that I am heading in the right direction by studying theory and taking piano lessons at a local college.

The majority of my time spent is composing with my keyboard and a light version of Sibelius. I have completed (and still working on) various piano pieces as well as some smaller ensemble music.

My problem (which may not be a problem at all) is that I have not written any large ensemble orechestral or concert band pieces yet, mainly due to the limitations of the software I currently have. And, my budget will not allow me to purchase the professional version.

My question for you is: When i send in my prescreening materials in a couple of months, will the school expect there to be a large orecestra piece with twenty to thirty different parts? I'm not asking what they will be looking for in a piece but I want to know if other prospective composition students usually send in large works, and if the schools expect that.

Thank you for any feedback you might have.
Post edited by jaywalk on

Replies to: Composition Major Prep. Question

  • SpiritManagerSpiritManager Registered User Posts: 2,819 Senior Member
    Jaywalk - it will make a big difference which programs you're planning to apply to, in terms of their expectations. Very few will expect a full orchestra or large ensemble piece - that won't be a problem. However, there's no reason that not having the money for an upgrade of your software should stop you. Just print out the staff paper, or buy a pad, and write the music by hand. If you can submit work written by hand, that's an advantage, and even required by a few programs.

    What you will need, however, to get into a competitive program, are recordings of live performances, not midi, of some of your pieces - and preferably ensemble pieces, not solo piano. It has been suggested on this thread before that if you don't have friends who can play your pieces, and you haven't attended a summer program or similar program where there is a performance of your composition which is professionally recorded - it would be worth your while to hire some local musicians and make your own recording. As your budget is limited, perhaps there are some music students at the college you're studying at who would be happy to help you for a minimal fee.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,879 Senior Member
    It's great that you are taking piano and theory. Some conservatories have placement exams in theory as part of the application process, and having some background in it will make you more comfortable with the process. Many schools do not have these exams, but some do.

    You can buy large pads of manuscript paper at any music store. Also, there is a student rate for Finale, and maybe for Sibelius, so if you are taking college classes maybe you will qualify.

    Do you work with a composition teacher? This would really be helpful to you right now, in so many ways, including of course progressing with composition, but also contacts with musicians, recommendations, concert possibilities, and so on.

    One of my kids applied pretty successfully to some good conservatories, two years ago. She had to submit 3-4 pieces with scores and CD's to each school, for prescreening, and sometimes a couple more for the final cut/interview. Having some on paper instead of on Sibelius is a great idea- at least one anyway.

    Our daughter spent the 6 months before applying (and the fall while she was applying) getting pieces played by good musicians. It made a big difference, and reduced stress that fall. She was also lucky to have attended a summer program the summer before senior year, where one piece was played.

    She had a clarinet trio (maybe 7 minutes long), a string quartet (15+ minutes long), and a piece for string quartet plus flute and percussion (15 minutes long).

    A school like Curtis really likes applicants to have an orchestral piece, but even Juilliard does not ask for this.

    I have no idea what other students submit, but hope this is helpful. It is possible that the pieces I just listed exceed the requirements in some schools, but they also are not orchestral, as Curtis wanted, as I said before. So schools will vary in their requirements.

    Is your music "classical" ? Do you consider it "new music" ? Do you have an interest in technology and music? World music? Jazz or pop? From your post it seems as if you are more inclined to the classical, and are perhaps a pianist. All of these questions would make a big difference in your choices.

    I think it is too bad that money is such an issue for composers: hiring musicians, buying software, buying recording devices, and binding and copying costs for scores. Lessons are very costly. Sometimes, it takes money to make money: if you have it, the money spent on musicians or lessons can then bring scholarship money that is well in excess of what you have spent. But that means you have to have some money to spend in the first place.

    Conservatories are very costly also. Our daughter is in a college program, due to the cost, even though she did get some great scholarships at conservatories. Good for you to know in advance.

    Good luck!
  • stringkeymomstringkeymom Registered User Posts: 457 Member
    I second compmom, especially in the matter of manuscript paper! I believe handwritten scores (if they are legible) can support an application. That said, I think it might be more important to have obtained premieres of your compositions that you present in recordings (cds, or dvds) and that the quality of the work you present shows future promise. Not everyone has written symphonies when they apply to conservatory.

    About the expense of the software: Finale has a program for steeply discounted software for composition students. You can investigate this on their website; your piano teacher or theory/composition teacher can write a letter of recommendation for you. I'm not sure if Sibelius has a similar program, but I would imagine they would in order to compete with Finale.
  • jaywalkjaywalk Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Thank you so much for your response.

    I will definitley consider writing by hand, I think that's a great idea that I somehow overlooked. I am also glad to see how much cheaper the student discount is for the software. Maybe there is hope!

    I don't know if this is bad or not, but my style varies from piece to piece. I don't want my pieces to get "typical" of me. I have been classicaly trained but have incorporated modern styles into some of my pieces, including a jazz piece for my high school jazz band to play this year, hopefully.

    Now, I think it may be possible for me to get musicians to play and record my pieces. I am fortunate have access at my highschool to decent recording equipment. But there is absolutely no way I could ever afford to have a large ensemble/orchestra piece performed by live musicians. But it may be possible for me to get people to play some smaller works. So, would it be pointless to send in a large work without a recording? That would be the one they would want to hear. I think it is amazing that other students could afford to have this done. Music is expensive!

    I am the youngest of four kids in my family and I can't rely on my parents very much for money because they're already paying for my lessons, which aren't cheap. I am extremely grateful for there support.

    Also, In your opinion, is it in my best interest not to send in a piano score along with the other pieces? What about a piano duet?

    It's getting down to crunch time and I better try to get some pieces live recorded, I have just enough time if I get started now.
  • compmomcompmom Registered User Posts: 9,879 Senior Member
    If money is an issue, it is not worth it to stress too much. Maybe you can get volunteers, or play piano for someone who in turn can play violin for you. Maybe your school music department would be willing to play some of our pieces, in a concert that could be recorded, and would not cost anything. Maybe there are local musicians who like to help young people out. Etc.

    And, anyway, some, maybe even many, schools will accept MIDI recordings. If you have an idea of what schools you might want to apply to, you can check on their websites or with admissions. At NYU and Oberlin (my memory is fuzzy, so check on this), I seem to remember applicants who had only MIDI versions, which were allowed (they just did not convey the music quite as well).

    You would not be expected to have a "larger" orchestral work (except for Curtis, which is the most selective along with Juilliard). Many schools ask for pieces that are different in style, by the way. (But by that, they don't necessarily mean classical versus jazz, although that might work in some places). So you could have a piano piece as one, or a duet, and then maybe a trio or quartet, something like that, and then maybe one Midi piece if allowed that has a few more instruments. Or you might even be able to do 2 or 3 MIDI and one live piece, depending.

    My only other question for you is what type of composition you are really interested in. You mention jazz, for instance, as well as classical. This might affect which schools or programs you might want.

    You said that you do not want all your pieces to be "typical" of you, and it is great to try a lot of different things. But at the same time, in the composition world, people often talk about developing their "own voice," and some programs are proud of the fact that they allow composers to develop their "own voice." That can mean writing in one's own style, across many different genres, but many write "contemporary classical" (also known as "new music").

    It might be a great thing for you to listen to some composers whose "voice" is individual, and who represent "new music." Others can suggest composers to listen to (most libraries have CD's) but I will mention a few: George Crumb. Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, Elliot Carter, John Corigliano, August Read Thomas, Gyorgy Ligeti, Olivier Messiaen. Just so you can hear some of the music that has been written in the later 20th and even early 21st century.

    Our family would not have discovered some of this great music without the guidance of teachers, so I am passing it on...Maybe listening to these composers' works will help clarify what direction you might want to go in...and it is quite liberating to hear the incredible variety and individuality of these works.

    Good luck!
  • SpiritManagerSpiritManager Registered User Posts: 2,819 Senior Member
    No need to have a live recording of a large ensemble piece. That's not expected. A midi recording would be fine - or no recording at all - if it's handwritten. They will want to hear at least one live recording, but the others can be midi recordings. Also, a solo piano piece is fine. And if that were all you composed, even that might work - it's just as compmom said, they do request some variety to help evaluate your submission.

    You haven't mentioned where you intend to apply. As I said, the requirements and standards vary widely. I recommend starting to get in touch with the composition departments at the schools you're interested in.
  • stringkeymomstringkeymom Registered User Posts: 457 Member
    Actually, we know a composer who was accepted at Curtis without an orchestral composition--just chamber pieces. So anything is possible!

    I second the suggestion to approach the music teachers at your school for help in setting up readings and possibly recordings. It would also be great if you can get to any premieres of new music in your area and get to meet composers of new music. Unfortunately, private composition lessons tend to be expensive, but if your parents could help you take even two or three lessons to select your application portfolio and to help you polish and refine and present your work (probably might also be able to help with finding performers), it could be worth the investment. Good luck with everything!
  • Singersmom07Singersmom07 Registered User Posts: 4,076 Senior Member
    Our HS band and orchestras would play the compositions of students who were planning to major in composition. It was usually at one of the seasonal concerts. Sometimes the entire band, sometimes a small ensemble. It was fun to hear the new pieces. Of course there were not a lot of students majoring in composition at our school. And the work had to pass muster with the director first. But it could be someplace to try to see if you can get a piece performed.
  • RosieoftheCelloRosieoftheCello Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    Many kids who are trying to look like hot-shot composers send in huge, Hans Zimmer style, orchestral works in an attempt to look professional, but in my experience (I started my undergrad as a composition major and am still very active in the composition community today) the composition faculty sees right through that and would prefer well written pieces for smaller groups (that possibly include recordings?) than huge orchestral works that aren't as musically sound. My advice would be to stick to what you're comfortable with and just make sure you do a wide variety of small instrumentations.
  • RichardHKRichardHK Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    You can get an educational price for Sibelius, and worth getting for your future. Especially now with new version 6 available.

    And if you can find a few dollars more to buy 'Garritan Pocket Orchestra' (less than $200) and learn how to make good sounding MIDI recordings from your Sibelius, you could have some excellent demos to go along with live recordings. Much of the anti-MIDI sentiment is rightly based on poor sounding computer MIDI sounds that can sound awful. But a good grasp of Garritan, with a good score, can sound really impressive - and make you a star!. :).
This discussion has been closed.