Is There Room In The CBA For Composers?

Stemming from the Orchestra Summit 2006 discussion panel I moderated for New Music Box, the issue of including composers in the collective bargaining agreement became in intriguing topic. That topic will be explored in more detail at from June 19-23 during their June Virtual Discussion Panel, but in the meantime I wanted to find more out about what composers thought of the idea…

And if you want to find out what composers think without waiting for the pesky lag of email or phone calls, just head to Sequenza21, the online hotbed that touches on everything having to do with the new music scene.

I sent a note to Sequenza21 proprietor, Jerry Bowles, asking if they’ve ever had such a discussion there. As it turns out, this was an as of yet, un-discussed topic, so in the “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” style he’s known for, Jerry promptly started a discussion among the regulars at Sequenza21. The result is some good material there that’s worth your time.

What do you think, should orchestras retain a resident composer that is connected to the musicians in a closer way when compared to traditional composer-in-residence associations (much like orchestras which have music librarians as part of the CBA)? Is it just another artistic mouth to feed? Are they a creative artistic catalyst orchestras currently lack?

I certainly have my opinions on the topic but I’ll wait to put those out for general consumption until everyone else has an opportunity to express their thoughts. Then we’ll juxtapose everything against the positions expressed by the composers over at S21.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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4 thoughts on “Is There Room In The CBA For Composers?”

  1. OK, I thought there would be more written about this subject. Maybe this will help.

    First, there aren’t as many librarians under the CBA’s as you might think. In fact, I wonder if back in the late 80’s there weren’t more Composers-in-Residence with orchestras than there were Librarians attached to their respective CBA’s? Today I am sure it is just the opposite, but don’t get the idea that there are a lot of Librarians attached, because I don’t think this is the case. In fact, there are some Librarians who are no longer attached mainly because the orchestra committee caved to management during negotiations because the Librarian isn’t as important to them. Musicians find out later just how short-sighted they really are!

    My feeling is orchestras can’t afford a Composer in Residence. They might be able to get the grant money to support the venture, but isn’t it possible that money could be used in other ways to keep the orchestra afloat if the money isn’t specified only to the Composer?

    It is necessary to perform new music. I won’t argue this. However, if you aren’t in certain cities, the audience just doesn’t want to hear it, so you have to program it in such a way they have no choice.

    Recently a Music Director in his first concert programmed a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto in the first half with the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra in the second half. Guess what? The audience left at intermission. The better program would have been a solid overture, then the Lutoslawski with the Rachmaninoff in the second half. It isn’t that we must do a better job in programming, but the order of the program. We must place the new music BEFORE a war horse to insure the audience will listen. Isn’t it possible they would actually like what they hear?

  2. To make this a worthwhile investment the composer-in-residence’s contract should be very clear on expectations and duties. My feeling is that today’s (and yesterday’s) music schools are not preparing conductors, composers and performers for the reality of organizational collaboration, innovation in performance, community relations and education activities, which are the elements that can make partnerships such as orchestra-composer useful.

    It’s important that not only the organization is clear on why it wants or needs a composer-in-residence, but that also composers understand why an organization different than a university will be willing to provide good contractual deals.

  3. [Cross-posting from Sequenza21]: I think it’s a fantastic idea. Local orchestras may sometimes play new music, and might even commission something occasionally, but for the most part that sort of thing is considered a special event. Of course it’s special, but that doesn’t mean it should be rare!

    I’m trying to imagine how it would work with a collective bargaining agreement…it could work as a hybrid performer/administrative role (with some duties paid as an administrator and some as a composer). The position could be formulated so that the composer had a certain number of guaranteed premieres (one or two per season) as well as possibly writing arrangements or lighter works for children’s and pops concerts. Additional duties could include actively searching for new music and education. I’m a conductor as well, and can understand why a music director would not want someone else who had creative control over repetoire, but I do think it’d be possible and valuable to create a collaborative system with the music director to bring in new works. Education would not include just outreach, but actually creating composition workshops for children (and adults), such as the Native American Composer Apprentice Project that’s run by my good friend Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (

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