Empowering Composers

A Canadian video artist once told me about an unusual mental exercise he performs annually; “Imagine it’s compulsory by law that you spend a three-million-dollar grant on a new art project within the next year. What project would you choose, and how would you plan it?” I have followed his example ever since. It’s a brilliant way to ask yourself what you would really like to do if money were no object; and perhaps a reminder of the kind of work you really should be doing, rather than the work you are given the opportunity to do.

Such thoughts were uppermost in my mind when I met Vanessa Reed, executive director of the PRSforMusic Foundation this week. Vanessa is currently re-thinking the way PRSF funds new music, and as a longtime friend to composers (she worked at the much-missed British Music Information Centre in earlier days) she’s genuinely interested in their input. I felt free to share with her my particular concern – that when music funding is given out, composers are lowest in the food chain. An extreme version of the process might be: 1. grant advertised; 2. orchestra (for instance) gains grant; 3. after aeon of administrator to-and-fro, lucky composer identified, and invited to write short piece in already-planned concert; 4. by now most of grant already spent; 5. composer subsidises everyone else by writing for miniscule payment, or none.

What Vanessa and I discussed was: how can composers become the beginning rather than the end of the funding chain? Because that’s where they should be – inputting their forward-looking ideas about making music for the benefit of all concerned. It could unlock creative energy throughout the profession, while empowering composers, who are often left feeling as if they are passive bystanders in the planning process.

If you are a composer, and have any brief thoughts about how you could best be involved in music funding – perhaps with a concrete example of what you would do if direct funding was available to you (though unlikely to be C$3m as in my opening paragraph) - please send them to me via the Contact form on this site, and I’ll forward them to PRSF. Avanti !

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer