Like many other groups that play pieces by living composers, the American Modern Ensemble receives a lot of materials from composers who want us to play their music. Here are some suggestions for how to get our attention, and probably the attention of other groups as well. We usually review materials once a year, during the first week of January.
If you submit something in late January, we probably won't review it until the following January. If you want a guarantee of a quick turn-around, your best bet is to submit something to us by December 15 each year.
We gladly accept carefully chosen unsolicited materials, and we look forward to them. You don't have to ask first before submitting something.
Although it might initially get our attention if you email or call first, it's not necessary. We definitely look at and listen to everything we receive, even though it may take a while. We receive a lot of material, and so far we are able to find time to review submissions, but if we get to a point where it becomes too much, we will change our policy and not accept unsolicited materials.
What do I mean by the phrase carefully chosen? If you send us a piece that is outside the group's instrumentation, or you only send us large works even though we are currently focusing on smaller works, then we will probably not be able to program your music, no matter how brilliantly written. It is mostly about quality programming, but time and money are also issues. If you send us a piece that takes up half a program (or even a whole program), the chance of us playing it is slim to none. However, if it is an amazing work, and you really believe it will work on one of our programs, perhaps it will have a shot.
When submitting materials, follow the directions. If we say we do not accept works outside our instrumentation, we mean it. Also, read between the lines: if we are mostly doing concerts of smaller works, there's a reason for this. It is amazing how many huge works we receive.
A Few Words on Legibility and Presentation
This should be obvious, but make sure your sheet music is readable, bound nicely, clear and mistake-free. A mistake-ridden, sloppy score sends us a message that you do not value our time or the performer's time. Every minute we need to stop and correct mistakes is more money down the drain. Of course, some mistakes are difficult to spot, and that is to be expected with new music, but there are reasonable limits.
Send the best recordings you have, but if they are not representative, do not send them. We are all musicians and can read scores, and even though it is more time-consuming, sometimes that's best. Any musician worth their salt should be able to interpret a work without a recording.
How do we program our concerts?
All of our concerts have themes. Our policy is to not divulge our future programs to anyone outside the core membership. Why? Because on more than one occasion, other groups have taken one of our ideas and run with it, scheduling the same type of concert before ours in NYC, and this almost derailed our season. Of course, there is always the chance that two groups will have the same idea anyway—especially when it comes to composer's birthdays—but we are willing to take that risk.
Spreading the Word: Why this is Important
This should be obvious: getting the word out is everyone's job. We cannot do it alone. One of the most effective ways of filling the house is for the composers and performers involved with the group to spread the word about the concerts. Typically, composers who run their own groups or performers who are in other groups are somewhat sympathetic to this and know to email, write and call anyone they know who might be interested in attending the concert, but we have found that most composers and even some of the performers (especially "guests" who only occasionally play with our group) are apathetic or even lazy when it comes to spreading the word. Why does this matter? Because each ticket sale and season subscription means more income for the group, and this is turn will help fund AME for future concerts and seasons. If we oversell the house, this can only be a good thing and will not only mean that we will get good press, but that we will also have to move to a bigger venue and/or increase the amount of concerts we do for each program.
If a composer does not care about our well-being, it is hard for us to care about him or her. If we offer some postcards and the composer does not want them, or they do not email everyone they know who might be interested, that tells us that they could care less if we have an audience. You can be sure that we will not program his or her music again. Almost all American composers have email accounts and most have mailing lists or have an agent who sends press releases. Not spreading the word hurts everyone involved, including you if your work is programmed or you are playing with us. It is a simple equation: a big audience means more ticket sales. More tickets sold means we can continue the group. Continuing the group means we might play your music. If the New York Philharmonic has a problem selling out, it should be obvious that chamber groups like ours need all the help they can get.
If you live in NYC or have a chance to visit, we'd love to see you at our concerts. It is amazing to us that some NYC composers have never been to one of our concerts, yet they want us to program their music. If you cannot support your peers and find time or the small amount of money to purchase a ticket, that sends a negative message, and also sends us the message that you really do not care about the group.
By the way: if you think we are lining our pockets, you are mistaken. Currently, neither Victoria nor I pay ourselves a salary. In fact, we invest some of our own money in the group—a labor of love. This ensures that we can pay the performers as much as possible, which currently is not enough by a long shot, but we are all working together to do the best we can do.
There is nothing more exciting than receiving interesting music from composers, especially music we are not familiar with. If you have something interesting, by all means—send it along. You never know...