2021 Wrap-Up

I decided this year to write a blog post summarizing the musical work I did during 2021. In writing this, I am reminding myself of the effort I put in, but I also hope that it can inspire, encourage, or give insight to my readers.

On January 1, 2021 my piece Daughter of the Stars was released on Ablaze Records’ Orchestral Masters Volume 7. It had been recorded by the Brno Philharmonic. In this agreement, I paid for the recording, but Ablaze Records’ took care of everything else from hiring the musicians to recording and mastering the track to packaging. I own the master. I signed the agreement with Ablaze in April 2018, so it had been a long wait. The cost of the track was steep (but not as much as it could have been) and paying for it wiped out our savings at the time. It was worth doing.

During the first week of January, my piece Meditation No.1: Sustenance and Praise was included in the online Psalm Gallery of 2021 Calvin Symposium of Worship. I was also voted in as VP of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers (CFAMC) and added that to my work as the secretary.

Since I was still out of work in January 2021 (my accompanying work had dried up and the number of students I had dropped from thirteen pre-pandemic down to two) and my schedule was quite open, I continued what I had started during the summer of 2020, taking various online courses and attending online conferences whenever I could.

During the second week of January, I attended the Online Music Business Summit, founded and organized by Garrett Hope. It is an online conference, full of many pre-made videos by speakers on various topics, and a few live Zoom sessions. Some topics were specific to music; others were more general about starting and building a small business. There were so many speakers and good ideas that I have been able to implement very few. Thankfully, I purchased the “lifetime access” so I can revisit them at any time. I’ve already signed up for the next one. I won’t be able to attend this coming January since I am teaching, so I bought the lifetime access to watch later in my free time (whenever that might be.)

I also took an online course called The Entrepreneurial Composer with Jamie Leigh Sampson. We had class online once a week for eight or ten weeks. I learned a tremendous amount and have been able to put much of this course into practice. I refined the look of my published scores and made some decisions about how to run my self-publishing business, Every Generation Music. I had come to the conclusion that dealing with printers, ink, and paper cutters was too much for me since I don’t have loads of space, and a baby grand takes priority in the space I have. However, due to a recent snag just this last week showing me that I may have difficulty getting something printed by the local print shop, due to staffing shortages and other issues, I’ve decided it’s worth making the space to print at home. Stuff more in! (When you see the piano pic below you will see that I am cramming necessary things into my house.)

During January and February, I was feeling pretty down and overwhelmed. I skipped entering a number of competitions and calls for scores, and missed the deadlines for the few I did want to enter. The Online Music Summit and Jamie’s class helped me to get q re-focused and re-motivated.

Jamie’s class, in particular, helped me to understand that my experience of constant rejections was totally normal and that a 3% success rate, or even a 1% success rate, was actually good. This isn’t like school where one needs to achieve a score of 90 or above to receive an “A.” Jamie told a story about a writer she knows who was trying to get one hundred rejections a year. One can only do that by entering at least one hundred competitions. It’s impossible for me to enter one hundred competitions. Maybe someday, when my catalog of scores is large enough, I might be able to. (But that means there has to be enough competitions where I qualify age, race, and gender-wise. Not likely.) I set a goal of entering fifty competitions/calls in one year. I made it to thirty-five.

A review of the Ablaze Records’ Album, and Daughter of the Stars, came out in the Fanfare Magazine April issue. Also in April, DotS was featured on Classical Discoveries, a radio program hosted by Marvin Rosen on WPRB in New Jersey.

In May, DotS was included in the (online, this year) national conference of the Society of Composers, Inc. Also in May, my piece Mirage for soprano and piano received the first honorable mention in Canadian vocal ensemble Arcady’s international art song competition for emerging composers.

In June, the Encontro Internacional de Cordas in Brazil, where my Impromptu No.1 for Solo Double Bass was supposed to be performed, was postponed. I’m not sure if my piece will get performed when the festival does take place. These postponements change many things.

In July I received news that my piece for TTBB chorus Let Us Sing, which I had written in the spring, was among the top four finalists in Cantus Vocal Ensemble’s 2021 competition for young and emerging composers.

At some point, I was informed that my Three Short Pieces for Unaccompanied Saxophone was accepted for inclusion in the Texas “Prescribed Music List” which is used by music educators and students to find level-appropriate pieces for performances and auditions. I had sent a few pieces in fall 2020, hoping to be included. This inclusion has resulted in a very significant increase in searches and views of my piece on Youtube. Hopefully, it will also lead to score sales and performances!

Over the summer, we were stressed and burnt-out by politics, by the pandemic, by the lack of my income, by the work that needs to be done around the house, and by other more personal things. Staying where we are without my income wasn’t sustainable long-term, so we were trying to figure out how to make changes to our living situation. In the end, we decided to stay put in our house and hope that things would improve quickly enough.

I got very little composing done over the summer, because we were focused on trying to get our house ready to sell. I didn’t get my garden going, either. I looked harder for additional work. Another problem we had to overcome was making room for a very small baby grand piano. Leaving the house and going to the church to practice wasn’t working for me anymore. Since one of our grown kids moved out in the spring we had an extra bedroom, but we had to rearrange three rooms in order to turn a first-floor room into my music room.

In August, I took a job at a private Catholic school teaching general music to grades PreK-8. The work itself is something I have mostly done before, but the schedule is quite different. I am now teaching three full days a week at the school. It took about six weeks just to not crash at the end of the day.

In September, my work with the North Kingstown and Greater Tiverton community choruses started back up again. I was so thankful!

I can’t come home from a day of teaching and expect to compose; I have to do that when I am “fresh.” But teaching privately doesn’t take as much effort, so I decided to spend the after school hours giving lessons and earning a little extra money.

A few students who had taken time off during all the chaos of 2020 started taking piano lessons with me again. I attended a meeting of the Rhode Island Music Educators Association and ran into an acquaintance who convinced me to start teaching with her at a local place that offers lessons, where I had taught back in college. I had become weary of trying to find my own students, so I contacted the owner and had seven more students within a month. My income from lessons is going into my “music account” which will fund future performances and/or recordings of my work.

In August and September, I missed several deadlines for competitions/calls because I was a bit overwhelmed adjusting to my new schedule. I also missed a few online meetings and put a wrench in other people’s schedules. Whoops!

I finally found a piano and brought it home in late September. It’s 4’9″. See how it is stuffed in there?

Around this time, I also got a check in the mail for a small amount of royalties – just enough to keep my publishing business in the black!

In October, I attended the 2nd annual CFAMC virtual conference, which I helped to organize.

In November, I received my first-ever order for a set of score and parts. A high-school orchestra director ordered DotS and then hired me to write a harp part for it. This was my first commission from someone I’ve never met! I finished the harp part in November, amidst preparing for upcoming concerts. The piano was also finally tuned, and the humidifier was installed.

In November and December, I learned my piece Nocturne No.1 for Double Bass and Piano reached the finals for two other competitions, but ultimately was not chosen for performance.

In November, I bought more gear: a new, portable Yamaha digital piano, a good “table” stand (I need one more stable than the regular “X” stands), an upgraded pedal, and a hard case. Every dollar I made teaching at the school during the fall went into buying instruments and various equipment. The shocking part isn’t in how much money I spent, but in how much I needed and how long I waited to get it. I am thankful I finally could.

In December, I had two school concerts and three chorus concerts, plus all the dress rehearsals that go with them. I thought during the first week of the winter break from school I would decorate my house for Christmas. I didn’t. Instead, I wrote a piece: Meditation No.4: Be Near Me, Lord Jesus, inspired by Away in a Manger. I performed it at my church’s Christmas Eve Service. DotS was also included in a Classical Discoveries year-end twenty-four hour music marathon featuring 21st Century music, hosted by Marvin Rosen. What a nice surprise! I also wrote a short article for Deus ex musica and another for Charlotte New Music. I finished preparing the updated DotS score for the school in Texas and got that sent out.

The biggest news is that The Greater Tiverton Community Chorus premiered the piece they commissioned from me in 2020, O Holy Night, O Glorious Light. They performed it beautifully, along with Robbie LePage on trumpet, and myself on piano. COVID had made the wait long, and there was some nail-biting wondering if it would actually take place. I was also nervous about how it would be received by the audience. The piece isn’t “out there” harmonically, but I did take some risks. I wasn’t sure how effective those spots would be in real life. The audience gave me a standing ovation the first night, so apparently they liked it! The director and chorus members loved it, and that is most important.

All-in-all, in 2021 I entered thirty-five competitions/calls. My work was presented in one (not a performance, but a streamed recording.) I also got word last week that one of my pieces was accepted for an upcoming performance in March 2022. That makes an almost-six percent “success rate.” I made the finals and/or top four in at least four other competitions. A commissioned piece was premiered. I wrote thirty-one blog posts (including this one) and had almost 1,400 visitors and over 2,200 views on my website. Two of my blog posts had over one hundred views this year, even though I wrote them in 2020! I had one sale on my website. I completed four small pieces. I now have fifteen private students, and I have my work at the school and with the choruses. Things are definitely moving in the right direction.

My time for teaching and accompanying is close to maxed-out given my current schedule. Next year, I hope to finish at least six pieces that have been fermenting in my mind. I am resetting my goal to enter fifty competitions/calls. I expect to have at least two performances of my work and travel to those, and I hope to get at least one more. I am also considering setting up my own concert for next summer.

My main concern is making sure I have sufficient time to compose on the days I am not teaching, now that I am better adjusted to the schedule. It’s a good sign that I was able to write quickly in the days right before Christmas. Perhaps there is a level of desperation in the need to compose that will help it to flow more easily when those precious moments are available.

What are your goals for the next year? Tell me below, if you’d like.

Here’s to looking forward to what 2022 brings! Have a Happy New Year!

I write a new blog post about once a week. I send out a newsletter once every quarter. Subscribe to get these updates and receive a free download of the recording of Daughter of the Stars performed by the Brno Philharmonic.

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2 thoughts on “2021 Wrap-Up”

  1. Someday Heather will collect all these blogs and they will birth an autobiography that I believe will give Clara Schumann’s biographies a run for the money. I consider this a marvelous year indeed.

    1. Thanks, Walter! Interestingly, before COVID-19 shut everything down in 2020, I was in the process of planning a concert of, half my work and half Clara Schumann’s. It would have included song cycles and violin-piano pieces by both composers, plus my string quartet. I’m considering trying again this coming summer.

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