Webinar Archive: S1W6
Writing and Publishing
Maximizing “home time” to further your career
10 April 2020 — Compiled by DR. MARK NABOLZ, Chief Editor of Publications
Maximizing “home time” to further your career
This archival item is a work in progress. The following items are not yet added or completed:
- Editor’s Summary
- Moderator’s Review
- Video for all Parts
- Integration of Attendee Contributions
- Essential Resources exported
About the Webinar
Our normal routines have been disrupted by stay-at-home orders, and unstructured time can easily go to waste. Why not use some of that time to finish the article, chapter, or choral arrangement you couldn’t find time for before, and send it off to a publisher? Join our panel and your colleagues to discuss and share resources in another discussion in the NCCO Webinar Series, “Writing and Publishing: Maximizing ‘home time’ to further your career.”
Mark Nabholz, moderator
Chief Editor, NCCO
Director of Choral Activities & Associate Professor
Editor, Choral Journal
American Choral Directors Association
Former Chief Editor of Publications
National Collegiate Choral Organization
J. Brooks Kuykendall
Musicologist & Music Department Chair & Professor
University of Mary Washington
ECS Publishing Group
Summary, Resources, & Video
Our goal today is to offer ideas for our colleagues who need to finish a writing or composition project for tenure or promotion.
Dale, can you describe your pre-covid-19 work rituals as a composer? And then briefly describe how that has changed under these new circumstances, and how you have managed to continue to be productive as a result?
Dale Trumbore: The best time for me is the afternoon. I keep 2:00-4:00 p.m. sacred for composing. I schedule everything having to do with the business of composing, skype rehearsals, sending emails, in the morning. My next deadline for a commission is June 15. Deadlines work like magic for me – when I have a deadline I get things done, because that’s how I earn my living.
What’s been working for me is thinking about what is relevant and meaningful right now; and going back and looking at other things like updating my website, editing a past piece of music, editing articles in progress, or working on my second book. Those adjustments to existing work have felt like things that I can do no matter how anxious or stressed out about what’s been going on – I can always get editing work done. So that’s been working well for me right now.
Brooks, how has the rhythm of your research and writing changed since your campus closed?
Brooks: I’m homeschooling three children now, so all of my university work has moved into the evenings, which is when I used to do everything else. My musicological work has been the hardest to keep in the schedule, due to my online teaching and continuing administrative work. I’m teaching my classes asynchronously because I can’t depend on my students ability to meet at regular times, so the space between an assignment being uploaded and when they turn in their work is when I am able to pursue my musicological work, mostly late at night.
Dale, you interact with the musicians for whom you are writing pieces. Has that interaction been disrupted?
Dale: Absolutely. Lots of premieres moved to next year, travelling to work with choirs, all of that has been completely disrupted. But a lot of conductors are inviting people in as guest speakers over Zoom. I love doing question-and-answer sessions, and most composers do. Conductors, reach out to composers and have them come talk to your class.
Brooks, could you talk to us about the value of blogging, and why you’ve made time to continue it considering all of the other demands made upon your time?
Brooks: I came to blogging late, but it came about because I had ideas that would never become a book or a journal article. I started with 15-20 topics on my list, but that rapidly grew. I still make time for it because it is the most satisfying thing I have done professionally, and I miss the twice-per-month schedule. One reason I enjoy it is how many people across the profession (not just musicologists) have contacted me – I’ve met so many interesting people. More people read the blog then would ever read my peer-review articles. That connection with the readership is very fulfilling. And I have total control of it – an editor doesn’t effect my style. I send each post out to a few people to read in advance of posting.
What resources are available for research with all the libraries closed?
Amanda, what advice do you have for writers who have an article that has been on the back burner because they’ve just been too busy? How can you help them get started?
Amanda: Go back to thesis, introduction, conclusion: what do you want to write about? I see people trying to take their dissertations and pare them down into an article, and they’re unfocused – trying to write about everything and end up with nothing. What are you wanting to say? Some articles arrive at the end and have a “so what?” situation. Why did I read this? Why is this important? Consider what you want the reader to get out of it. What insight or new thinking are you offering? Let the outline flow from that. If you have an idea but aren’t sure what direction to take it, email me. The CJ Editorial Board is willing to help point you in a direction and narrow your topic.
Follow-up: Can you walk us through what takes place in your office once an article is submitted?
All articles come to me; 3–5 reviewers are chosen based on expertise and interest; they send back comments; these comments are shared with the author for revisions.
Sean, what advice do you offer to a newly minted DMA who is working toward employment or tenure and needs to use this time wisely to get something published?
Sean: Publication is an outcome of meaningful inquiry, not a goal unto itself. Find a topic that you are passionate about, and then find an appropriate venue. Your first publication probably shouldn’t be your magnum opus – start with something concise. If you can find opportunities to review recordings, books, concerts, or repertoire, that’s very useful, and a good discipline. It’s very important that we don’t produce something for the sake of a line on your CV. That’s the worst part of academic bureaucracy. Mine your doctoral research, including papers you wrote for classes; an historical edition produced for a recital.
Follow-up: As you look back at your publication record, what practice or commitment helped you most in achieving such consistent acceptance with academic journals? How would you help someone else achieve similar success?
Sean: Keep in touch with your mentors. Inner drive and competition can help fuel success, but what matters is this: when you have something to say, are you willing to share it? Go forth and do it – don’t hold back.
Dale, you’ve just completed two short pieces specifically for Zoom choir, and yesterday you mentioned that you plan to write more. Tell us a little about what you’ve discovered in the process.
This platform was not designed for music, and any piece written for Zoom is inherently aleatoric, and there is going to be lag. As a composer, I need to expect that everyone is going to be singing at their own pace. It brings up all sorts of questions: what is the role of an audience? Is there an audience, or are we singing just to make music among ourselves? As a composer that’s an interesting question. Thinking of this as a new, albeit flawed and imperfect, instrument that has nothing written for it, that’s a challenge and I love that. These two pieces, I don’t know that they’re successful, but my goal was to give choral singers something to do that brings us together as a community to make music. In that regard, I think they are a success.
Mark, What would you say to a composer who may hesitate to submit a manuscript because they fear rejection?
Mark: 1) Every publisher has a different process for consideration. Do your homework: which publisher matches most closely what you are writing? It may be perfectly fine, but not a match for what that company publishes. 2) If you have a mentor, or someone who has done your music, approach through them, so it doesn’t come quite so cold. We bet over 1,000 manuscripts a year, and we look at everything.
A question from an audience member: Is COVID-19 precipitating any changes in what choral publishers look for in terms of text topics / musical styles? Is this a time when searching for hope in midst of phenomenal change and fear is important in determining immediate choral repertoire to be published, going forward?
Mark: We have already published everything that will be released through Christmas, and are now getting ready to work on January/February looking toward ACDA next year. Immediate publications are tough for standard publishers. We don’t know what the [pandemic] impact will be for fall; we may be spreading out some of the fall issues because the music issued this spring has not sold. We may do fewer releases for a little while.
We have seen a trend of social message pieces: how we interact with others, what we want the world to be, the crisis of relationship, etc. What I’m seeing people post [on social media] right now has to do with music from the past about beauty and comfort, as a balm to help through this time. That may shift what we see from composers going forward.
A follow-up from that audience member: Knowing the publisher’s repertoire emphases may be misleading because that bulk may be a matter of saturation rather than indicating what they currently are looking for. For instance of publisher who has a lot of TTBB music in their catalog may need no more of that. Would you give advice as to how to read the patterns and a publisher's catalog.
Mark: We go through cycles. One year I may have 20 SSA pieces, and the next year none. Publishers have to balance. The best judge is to ask yourself, “what am I having trouble finding?” If you’re a composer, connect with conductors. One of the thing that is happening with self-publishing is that composers don’t have to worry about what the market needs. They write what they want, post it, and it might find an audience. Whereas publishers need to sell thousands of copies, and need to make it worthwhile for the money that goes into the process.
Mark, when a manuscript comes to you, what is your process?
Mark: We have three companies: Morningstar, Galaxy, and EC Schirmer. First, we read the text to determine if it’s something we want to consider, and acknowledge receipt. Second, we determine which company with it would fit best. Third, the piece goes through a team review process, which is different for each company.
Another question from a viewer for Brooks: I was an externally hired chair for nine years at a new institution, and by personal choice taught too much each semester. When I concluded the position and moved to a four-year endowed chair appointment, I realized how much my research, publication, and presentation skills have declined. What suggestions do you have to update my skills during this time?
Brooks: There are all sorts of ways to do research, and publication is just one end of that research. You can publish the same research in very different ways to different audiences. Part of it is finding what form of communication are you most comfortable in, and then do it. Practice, and looking for the right venue effects the way you communicate your content. Write the abstract, call a colleague and get their feedback. Have a number of people look at it before you submit – that’s part of the practice.
Dale, how have you learned to handle the fear of rejection that is nearly universal among artists? We’ve all felt it – how do you overcome it?
Dale: Overcoming rejection is a muscle that gets stronger as you use it. I used to submit to choral composition contests as often as possible, and the more rejection I got the less meaning each rejection has. The same is true of learning to speak on stage – if you do it over and over, even if rejection still stings, it means less and less each time.
Dale’s book: “Staying Composed: Overcoming Anxiety and Self-Doubt Within a Creative Life” (2019)
A question from a viewer: Do we think the possibility of long-term social distancing will impact composer output in regards to types of ensembles?
Mark: There is no shortage of difficult, collegiate-level pieces. A good middle- or high school piece is very difficult to find. We need good composers to write accessible music with beauty. We publish Randall Thompson’s music. He didn’t mind writing accessible pieces. His Requiem for double choir is an hour long – very difficult, but he also wrote simple pieces that are sung by choirs all over the world.
A follow-up question from a viewer for Mark: Thank you for these practical tips about submission of compositions. Do you require live recordings to be submitted with the score?
Mark: If they’re good, it’s great. If it’s not good, you’re better off not sending it. On a related topic, we don’t require that the score be engraved (Finale/Sebelius) – handwritten manuscripts are fine, we just ask that the score be legible.
Amanda and Sean, as editors what are the positive characteristics of a submission that make you want to publish it, and what are the characteristics that cause you to decline to publish?
Amanda: One pitfall is that often the introduction is “blah” and what is in the conclusion should be in the introduction. You need to capture the reader’s attention. Don’t write for a Music Ed 101 class – nobody cares about birth and death dates. Hook the reader with something new and interesting.
Sean: I always looked for something new, but not just for the sake of new, but an idea expressed passionately and then back it up with analysis. What is the meat of this topic? Pitfalls? Avoid the verb “to be” in all its forms! Avoid passive voice, contractions, extreme flowery writing. Also, look at the guidelines and follow them. Finally, on the topic of interviews, you would be surprised how willing famous people are to be interviewed, but interviews are tough for the author. Your job is to make the subject’s life as easy as possible.
A question from a viewer for Mark: Would it help to have piano reduction in the score?
Mark: We’re going to go back and put one in anyway, so yes.
The seeds of future discussions have been planted here today, and we may need to come back together and keep going on these topics. Thank you all very much!