Over this summer, I put quite a few hours into compiling a list of competitions, festivals, and residencies for music composers. There are literally hundreds of competitions yearly. Some are highly reputable and others are simply ridiculous. Some offer thousands of dollars and others offer a performance in a remote place on the other side of the world without any travel or lodging support and will not award you unless you spend thousands of dollars to attend. Some have no entry fee, and others ask for $100 to apply, as if it were a college application (or, perhaps more accurately stated, an overpriced lottery ticket). Some are aimed towards specific audiences (high schoolers, professionals, Canadians, New Yorkers, females, Jews, UK residents, LDS, NYC residents, people who can make a slam dunk, people who live in the New York metropolitan area) and others are for everyone who has placed a note on paper. Some are looking for graphic scores, electronic works, or the avant-garde and others are looking for that one song you heard with your grandma at the park in the afternoon 17 years ago at the county 4H fair. And many of these competitions are actually a commission for the composer; in other words, your reward is to put in another 50+ composing hours only to have it performed by an orchestra who expects you to print out the parts yourself and send them across the world (postage costs are yours)in a remote place in the Philippines that can only be approached by veering off from a guided kayak tour, and the expenses are not covered (the location is trendy though and would pretty neat on your CV, right?). On the flip side, these commissions provide opportunities to write for some of the best ensembles in the world and often provide a nice commission stipend for the composer. In the end, it takes lots of time to figure out what a competition expects of a performer, if the composer is even allowed to participate, and what possible expenses will result. It is up to each composer to decide which competition fits their writing, level of accomplishment and musical finesse, and aspirations.
Festivals are similar. The entry fees range from free to $125 or more, they are often in remote places and do not offer travel expenses, and sometimes the tuition is thousands of dollars over the summer. Yet, there are some that pay for every dime of expenses involved, even providing a stipend and future opportunities for composers who make the cut. Some are for less than a week, while others are for an entire summer (which is great if paid for, but remember that you are sacrificing an income regardless!). Again, it takes planning and careful decision-making to apply for and attend festivals.
Now, why would anyone go through the hassle of applying to competitions and festivals? Well, my experience has been wonderful so far. Through competitions and festivals, I meet new people, collaborate with others (and learn how to successfully do so), receive good recordings of my music that will help in future applications (including schooling, employment, and more competitions!), and receive additional opportunities, including seeing different parts of the country or the world. Several of my pieces over the past three years have been written for performers I met at festivals and were excellent opportunities for me. Also, festivals in particular often provide musical training and seminars not typically covered in a college setting. The Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival focuses on musician entrepreneurship, in addition to working with performers on a woodwind quintet, and other festivals like the Atlantic Music Festival give composers the opportunity to meet a variety (like 10) of well-known composers, which helped me decide where I would and would not apply for doctoral programs. While I may have expended more money than I wish to admit (thanks student loans!), I believe in worthy investments, especially when the competition for teaching jobs and future professional gigs is fierce and requires a solid list of experiences.
Without further ado, this is the composer opportunity list. Please join me in creating the most efficient compilation there is of these competitions and festivals. Keep the format I have laid out (or make it neater without losing any info). Share it with friends, students, and teachers. I have designed this list to be available in Google Calendar, but you will have to contact me directly with a gmail account to be added to those lists. Thanks for being part of my network, where we can cooperate, rather than compete, for music's sake. May the odds ever be in your favor.