Score calls and competitions

Hello all!

After a hiatus that allowed me to recharge, I am diving back into the world of Composer’s Toolbox for the theme of February ‘s posts: score calls and competitions!  Score calls and competitions will be the main focus of this month’s output, so stay tuned for each installment.

For now, let’s give an overview of the material at hand.

Score calls and competitions

What is a score call?

A score call, or call for scores, is an invitation by a performer, ensemble, organization, or institution for composers to submit works.  These works can be pre-written or written specifically for the call.

For example, I had a piece for youth orchestra that I submitted to a score call in Massachusetts.  The score call did not require that submitting composers write an original work specifically for the call, so my submitted work was able to be submitted (and was actually accepted!).

On the other hand, it is very common for choirs to open up submissions for works newly written for religious holidays, seasons, and other themes.  In those cases, composers would have to write an entirely new piece for the call.  In this case, if your score is not selected then you should still find a way to get it performed another way!

What is a competition?

A competition is, as the title indicates, a call for scores whose selected composer(s) are awarded a merit, cash prize, performance, or other benefit.  It is worth noting here that there is oftentimes an overlap between score calls and competitions, but they are different things at their cores.

What goes into a submission to a score call or competition?

The first item to consider and to adhere to explicitly is the exact requirements of that particular score call.  If you do not submit every material, every fee, and format things precisely as directed, you are likely to not even be glanced at.

Here are some common elements required.  Please note that proofreading, having others review your materials, and polish are requirements to getting far along in the selection process.


Your score is your best work, that fits within the given instrumentation, engraved as professionally as you can.  Be very careful that your percussion and auxiliary instrument requests are feasible given the ensemble  to which you are submitting.  Be sure that any text you have is either in the public domain or has rights granted to you.  Provide proof in either case, either with information indicating public domain or written, express permission to use the text from the author and publisher of the text.

Sometimes you will be asked to provide a sample single instrumental part (or a set of parts), to demonstrate that your music can be learned and read quickly by the potential performers.

Also, never forget program notes and technical notes, which may be called for separately from the score (even if you have them as part of the score, which you should have in the  score regardless).

Recording/MIDI Realization/Mockup

When possible, use recordings of works that have professional, polished musicians in good audio quality.  It is best to take uncompressed audio and compress it to high-quality mp3 files, so that the judges can hear the music clearly without having to wrestle with large file sizes.  If you do not have a recording, a mockup of either a reading of the work (in one or multiple takes compiled into one track) or a MIDI file may be acceptable.  Please note that many calls will discourage MIDI realizations.  Be sure to divide the movements either into tracks or keep them as one file, depending on the score call requirements.

If the work submitted must not have a performance history (some calls will indicate that the work cannot have been performed prior to use by the organization), you will likely have to use a MIDI realization or a mockup.


A resume or curriculum vitae is your chance to showcase your experience, education, past projects, awards, and skills–as well as attention to detail–to the judges.  Have your peers, professors, mentors, and non-musician contacts review it for accuracy, cogency, and a sense that it showcases your strengths while remaining honest and true to who you are.

A biography may be asked for in conjunction with or in place of a resume/c.v.  Showcase real achievements, excessive flowery language, excessive terseness, and anything that makes you seem self-aggrandizing.  There is a lot of balance required in writing a clear, thoughtful, impressive, but not narcissistic biography.

List of Works

This may also be asked for; be sure to have a system of organizing your works.  My working list of works can be found here: Dan Lis Composer List of Works for Composers Toolbox. It needs better organization, but provides a simple way of organizing your catalog for others to review.  I have chosen to organize my list by instrumentation, then by date of composition, with performance details and work information in each entry.  The purposes of a list of works include showing your breadth and depth of work, time to output works, continued activity over the years, and performance history.

Letters of Reference

Many competitions for younger composers will ask for a list of teachers, references, or even letters written by references.  Be sure that you ask references before listing them (and if you asked them a while ago, be sure to re-ask them close to the time of application–or at least let them know you are applying to a new opportunity and that they may receive a phone call or email).  If you need letters of reference, ask for those from authority figures and mentors whom you know know you well, who can speak eloquently, and who have a bit of clout/status (if possible).  Always give your letter writers as much lead time to write the letters as possible.  (And buying chocolate for those who need to turn things around on a dime can help!)

Statement of Intent

Similar to a cover letter or a grant application, this letter will have to address specifically the items called for in the score call or competition.  Common items that will be addressed include:

  • Who are you, what experience do you have, and why does that make you the ideal candidate to receive this honor?
  • What are your intentions behind applying?  Why did you bother to submit?
  • If selected, how would you participate?  (E.g. if the award is to be commissioned for a string quartet piece, what would you propose to write about, for, with what techniques, with what philosophy, etc.?)
  • If this is for an event, are you able to travel and attend the performance, festival, conference, symposium, seminar, etc.?
  • If this is a cash prize or a grant, how would you use the funding?  How would you keep an accounting of the funds spent?

Application Itself

This may be a PDF or a Google Form; be sure to complete it entirely, truthfully, and with great attention to detail (no mistakes–this is the easy part!).

File Naming Conventions and Anonymity

Follow file naming conventions exactly.  If a call requires your files to be names ComposerLast.ComposerFirst.Workname_Festivalname I would submit my files for my piece “of one, strength” as “Lis.Daniel.ofonestrength_TheFanatsticFestival2018.pdf” (or .mp3 for the recording).  If the application requires anonymity, be sure to make all references anonymous that the application requests.  This may include your name, your publisher (including self-publisher), copyright information, performance rights organization (PRO, for example ASCAP or BMI), dedication, date/location of composition, performance history, subtitle, mp3 metadata, or anything else that could identify you.

Other Items

These my include a headshot/press photo, video recording, software demo, paper abstract, etc.

The Application Fee

Now comes the elephant in the room: the application fee.  I have previously railed against these, indicating that they often fund the entire process and are thereby making money off of composers they never wanted to give a chance to.  (These things unfortunately are subject to nepotism.)  So, if the fee is large (anything over $20 or $25), I would consider not applying to it unless you think you have a real chance of winning, or if you think your work would get seen by an amazing panel of judges.  If the fee is small (eg. $5) then I think it is best to set a “fee budget”, allotting a certain amount of your yearly income to application fees.  You can then track how much you have paid in application fees against your budget.  If you pay more fees than your budget (eg. spending $150 on fees with a $100 budget) then you have to reevaluate your approach.

One option that I was really excited about was a small donation (I believe $5) to the Hartford New Music Festival a few years ago.  There was no application fee, but with a $5 donation you would get a first look (but everyone was considered regardless, if I remember correctly).  If Composer’s Toolbox ever does a score call with an application fee, it will likely be done this way.


The key aspect in any score call is that no matter what is required, submit it, submit it completely, and submit it correctly.  That means that every requirement is submitted, it is done exactly as asked, and there are no discrepancies, typos, omissions, or other mistakes.  The requirements of each score call are different.  Be sure to read every single rule and regulation, both on the post you see and on the organization’s website.  Sometimes the website clarifies the details of the posting, adds extra requirements, or has different requirements.  Ask questions of the organizers before you submit, to ensure you are doing things correctly.  Always put your best foot forward, and always look out for new opportunities for submitting your materials.

Happy composing,


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3 thoughts on “Score calls and competitions

  1. Pingback: Best Music Notation Software – Composer's Toolbox

  2. Pingback: Where to find score calls and competitions – Composer's Toolbox

  3. Pingback: Hartford Opera Theater New in November 9 – Score Call is Live! – Composer's Toolbox

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