On the Scoring Notes podcast, we have spoken before about music preparation and the technology we all use to create musical compositions and get them in front of players and an audience.
But how do those compositions begin in the first place?
We’re not talking about the magical moment when a composer wakes up and decides that they are going to create their magnum opus. It’s when the phone rings (or maybe these days it’s a text message or an email), and when the composer picks up, on the other end of the line there is someone inviting them — commissioning them — to write a new piece of music.
Melissa Smey is the person who has been on the other end of that line many times. She tells us all about what that process is like. Melissa is the Associate Dean and Executive Director at Columbia University School of the Arts, where she leads the Arts Initiative, Miller Theatre, and oversees the Lenfest Center for the Arts.
Melissa has commissioned over 40 new works from leading international composers and is the co-creator and host of the acclaimed podcast Mission: Commission, which demystifies the process of how classical music gets made.
We talk about the particular role a university arts presenter has in campus life and the larger community, and how Miller Theatre’s Composer Portraits have been particularly successful in building an audience that will come out to hear a wide variety of music.
We also discuss the “road trip” of commissioning a new work and the nature of music preparation in bringing a piece to life, with special attention on the performers who will ultimately be tasked with interpreting the music, whether it’s notated on paper spanning three music stands or is beamed from the latest music tablet devices.