Tell Me About Your Score

Hi! This isn’t an interview, and you’re not really here (though where you’re reading this, technically you’re here and I’m not), so I can’t ask you to sit down or offer you a glass of water. You won’t be getting a job today, but you do care about this outcome. Maybe you paid money to be here, to put your work in front of me, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe I offered to look at it and consider it for free. Either way, you’ve left me alone with your work to decide if I’m going to use it or not.

So, now that we’re all settled: tell me about your score. What’s it called? How long is it? Does it meet the criteria I specified in my listing? I do hope you’ve noted that my group and I are looking for a very specific instrumentation. Ah, yes, I see you paid attention. Many folks didn’t. Unfortunately, I don’t have a French hornist readily available, which eliminates a lot of possibilities for our organization, but we make do.

I see your notation is very clean. That’s great! When did you write this? What was your inspiration, or your intention, with the piece? What are you hoping it does to your performers? To your audiences?

There’s a symbol here I don’t understand. Can I find an explanation of it in the first few pages? I might think I know what it’s asking, but because each composer is different, I like to be sure. And because you live on the other side of the country and can’t just pop into a rehearsal, I need to be sure.

I’m not altogether familiar with your body of creative work. Is there something about the aesthetic you’ve used in this passage that I should understand? This is highly unusual for our instruments. Was that intentional? How does it fit into your overall plan for the piece or expectations of a performance?

If I perform your piece, what should I put in the program? Do you want the audience to know anything about the piece before they dive in? Is there anything meaningful (or not) that you would like to share with them?

Thank you for your time. I just have one more question: is there anything you’d like me, as the ensemble director, or my colleagues, as the performers, to know or to keep in mind if we rehearse and perform your piece? Any concepts, stories, or ideas you want us to keep in mind? Are there any noteworthy priorities or requests you have that would help us fully, honestly realize the work you’ve created?

Thank you for your time. If your answers to these questions satisfied our concerns, my group and I will look forward to programming your piece. If there are still things we don’t understand, we hope to see more performance notes from you in the future.


During Phantom’s calls for scores and my own performance and composition studies, I’ve spent hours upon hours poring over scores and trying to find the right piece for me or my ensemble. Over the past year in particular, I’ve been reminded that MIDI mock-ups are frequently unkind to a piece—performers can be overly reliant on what they can hear, and when your recording leans toward craptastic, it can prejudice a group against your work. Though they suck, MIDI can be an essential part of your submission to a call for scores or commission competition; many performers and directors would rather hear a rough approximation of your piece than nothing at all. However, that shouldn’t be the end of your communicating how your piece should sound.

With that in mind, I wanted to dedicate a brief post to the importance of program and performance notes, but I wanted to do it differently than I might have opted for in the past. I’ve always seen these notes as a composer’s one chance to communicate clearly with a performer, director or ensemble: a golden opportunity to say everything you think someone needs to know to highlight the skill and hours you put into your work. In that way, it’s sort of like a virtual job interview.

Did this work for you guys? Do you want to see more posts like this in the future? Let me know!

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