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07.02.2019 – From ‘Rejected’ to ‘Published’

This year I have been blessed to see a lifelong dream become reality. After many years of hard work I’ve had two of my works picked up by publishers!

Unless you are one of those rare prodigies, as a composer you quickly learn to live with rejection. Many of you will perhaps remember applying for university and receiving rejection letters. While it can be devastating, you eventually move on in one way or another. Imagine, if you will, a lifestyle in which you receive a steady stream of these rejection letters. Composers regularly submit their works for publication, festivals, and competitions. And the funny part is because of long evaluation periods you’ll often forget you even sent out a piece until you receive a surprise downer in the form of an email or form-letter. It’s daunting but, as I said, you move on in one way or another.

For many years I made a go at self-publishing. And not just listing items on my website and crossing my fingers, but attempting to reach out, cold call, and send colorful mailers. I bought a spiral binding machine and a printer that could handle tabloid size paper. I even sourced the perfect off-white paper stock from a local supplier. Sadly, perhaps due to my weak professional networking, it went nowhere. The first piece I ever sent to a publisher was a percussion duet called “Infringement”. I had programmed it for an alumni concert at Oklahoma City University and had been so pleased with it that I decided to try my luck in 2015. Rejected. As were a couple of sacred choral works I shopped around.

My first success was with Carl Fischer, a company I’ve always considered one of the most prestigious publishers in the market. They agreed to pick up one of my pieces for young string orchestra, but the process was not quite what I had expected. I submitted the piece I thought had the best chance of getting picked in the Spring of last year. There was a batch of about five pieces for string orchestra grades 1-2 that I had started the winter before and felt very strongly about. I should pause here to point out that it took me several years before I really understood what makes a good piece for young string orchestra. With my two degrees, I thought I had enough understanding that surely I could easily get something as simple as a beginner orchestra piece published. As it turns out, that was not at all the case. There are a number of nuances that come into play that define the type of piece that an orchestra director will be willing to try out on his or her group. And it goes well beyond simply knowing the correct keys to write in and the ranges for beginner instruments. I didn’t wrap my head around these things until I had been an orchestra teacher for about six years. It was then that I could look and see which pieces I tended to pick for my orchestra, and which pieces my colleagues seemed to favor, and could therefore hone in on what made those pieces as appealing as they are. With that knowledge in hand, I sat down one night and started work on about seven pieces.

In October of last year, I received a response from the strings editor at Carl Fischer. Another rejection letter. I had received one the week before from another publisher. So it goes. In my reply, I thanked him and said that I would be happy to send him more of my work if he was willing to receive it. An hour later, 9pm on a school night, I got a response inviting me to go ahead and send him more. Waaaaaaaaaaat. I immediately went back to my studio and started going through the pieces I had been working on. Three of them were ready to send, one of them which I quite liked still needed a bit of editorial cleaning-up. So I worked until after midnight to get everything ready. Eventually I sent four more pieces. A couple of (very long) days later, he wrote back with the good news that he wanted to publish one of them, Siberian Hunt. There was the usual give-and-take of editorial requests, and he was patient enough to answer all my naive first-timer questions. Not long after that, I also found a publisher for the percussion duet I had sent out a few years ago. So I went from ‘zero’ to ‘two’ in the blink of an eye.

2019 has unquestionably been one of my best years. I have so much to be thankful for in my professional and personal life. My advice to those wanting to be published is to keep working hard and be persistent. As saturated as the market is for beginner music, one can’t really expect success without putting in the time to understand what makes a piece appealing to the director you wish to sell to.



Links to the pieces:
Siberian Hunt String Orchestra grade 1.5
Infringement Percussion Duet grade 4-6

01.18.2019 – MuseScore 3

Years ago when I started into composing, my weapon of choice was Sibelius. Actually, to be totally accurate, I spent quite a lot of time fiddling around in an old program called Cakewalk before sticking with Sibelius at the encouragement of my first composition professor.

Pedantry aside, what finally drove me away from Sibelius after years and years of loyal service was the total overhaul of the interface after version 6. Far too many of the tools were moved from one menu location to another and I ended up spending a frustrating amount of time searching for them again. I also became aware of some unfortunate staff changes at Sibelius headquarters, and that was enough for me to return to MuseScore. At some point, I had given it a try, but the first version of the program was not refined enough to serve my needs. By the time I was ready to abandon the Sibelius ship, MuseScore was well into version 2. And what I experienced was a totally different program than version 1. Notation and layout tools were easy to find in the menus and note entry was a breeze. Since then, it’s been my tool of choice. The obvious bonus here is that MuseScore is a free piece of software. I have used it for a fairly diverse range of applications. I have written solos, string orchestra pieces, choral pieces, and I’m even finishing up a piece for full orchestra. While I have from time to time encountered challenges with no obvious solution or workaround (piano pedaling doesn’t work the way I wish it would and the options for measure numbering and time signature don’t quite meet my needs for my full orch score), it has been a real pleasure to use.

This takes us to the present. Version 3 of MuseScore has just been released. While I would love to jump in and offer my unequivocal support, my advice for now is to wait, especially if you have already been using version 2. Right now there appear to be some compatibility issues between version 2 scores and MuseScore 3. Scores created in v3 are also not compatible with v2. For now there don’t appear to be enough features to really warrant moving up from 2 to 3. And finally – and this may just be a glitch on my part – when I installed v3 on my home desktop, MIDI input stopped working for BOTH v2 and v3 (ironically I can still use MIDI input in Sibelius on that machine…)

If you have not used MuseScore before, I would say go ahead and get v3. Aside from the issues I mentioned above, it seems to be a slight improvement on 2, particularly in terms of automatic layout adjustment. But if you have scores from v2 and have projects you need a stable engraver for, give v3 a little time to work out the bugs. That’s my plan, anyway.



01.02.2019 – Happy 2019!

Greetings, and Happy New Year!

If you are just coming to this site for the first time, welcome! My name is Aaron and I am a composer, educator, and music minister living in the Dallas area. Though this blog may appear a little sparse for now, there are two things I have planned to remedy that: first, I intend to regularly keep this page stocked with insights and information relating to my work as a composer; and second, I will be taking some of my favorite blog posts from before my WordPress was hacked and reposting them here for posterity and amusement.

I hope, wherever you are, your 2018 ended well and you were able to carry joyful experiences and lessons learned into the new year. 2018 was a good year for me professionally, and I will be working hard to make sure 2019 is better yet.