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A guide to commissioning from Making Music

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Francesca Tortora | 16:27 UK time, Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Grants of up to £10,000 are currently on offer via our Community Music scheme to help groups looking to take on a more ambitious project that includes the commission of a new piece of music.

Groups applying under the scheme may have undertaken a commission in the past, but many groups will be looking to go through the process for the very first time. With this in mind, we asked Making Music to give us some tips on the process.

If you’re from a music group that wants to have creative input in the music it performs, while also experiencing the thrill of staging a world premiere, then commissioning a new piece of music might be for you. And with the BBC Performing Arts Fund offering extensive funding opportunities to community music groups, there’s never been a better time to give it a try.

As the UK’s number one organisation for voluntary music, Making Music has extensive experience in commissioning new music to be performed by our member groups (such as Jubilate! Jubilee! which Paul Mealor is writing for Making Music choirs in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee). We also provide our members with guidance and assistance when they want to commission new music themselves.

We wanted to share some of our expertise with you, and have provided a few pointers to help make sure your commission goes off with a bang.

Write a clear brief
Start by deciding what it is you want from the piece – the more clearly your brief reflects what you want, the more likely it is you’ll be happy with the finished piece. This may involve making decisions about things like what instruments are required, the duration of the piece, or whether soloists should be used. Should you specify a theme (particularly if your piece is being commissioned to mark a specific occasion)? Remember, some composers will be more open to suggestions than others.

Choose the right composer
Unless you already have someone in mind, selecting your composer can be the most difficult part of the process, and it’s worth spending time to make sure you choose the right person.

The first decision is whether you want to work with an experienced composer, who will have a track record but is likely to cost more, or someone less established, who may well be able to commit more time and effort to your project. Try contacting BASCA or Sound and Music for a list of potential composers. Alternatively, you could stage a competition for local composers to write a piece for your group, or advertise in a conservatoire or university music department.

Once you’ve got a composer in mind, be sure to invite them to a rehearsal or one of your concerts. Discuss with them exactly what you want from the piece, and don't commit yourself until you have agreed what both sides want out of the commissioning process and have established a good relationship with the composer.

Have a contract in place
It is very important that you have a formal contract or exchange of letters
with the composer whom you are commissioning. If you are working via a publisher, they will almost certainly issue you with a contract, which you may want to ask a lawyer to examine. If not, make sure your contract includes clauses about the deadline and fees, as well as who will possess the rights to the new piece.

Market your premiere concert

Drumming up interest in your premiere concert is a crucial part of the commissioning process, and there are some simple steps to ensuring you have a good turnout:

• Think about the whole programme. Including a well-known work alongside your new one is a good way of encouraging audiences to attend.
• Produce engaging publicity materials, stressing the uniqueness of the event and avoiding overly technical language.
• Try listing your concert in other publications.
• Making Music members can also promote their concerts on our events calendar.

What next?
It unfortunately happens that, when a group has commissioned an exciting new piece of music, it often fades into obscurity after its first performance. There are a few easy ways to ensure a piece has a life after its premiere:

• Providing the work is a success, plan repeat performances yourself, which will help to establish it in the repertoire.
• You could also hire it out to other groups using Making Music’s Music Bank.
• If the rights are held by the composer or publisher, you could encourage other groups to hire it from them.
• If the work is particularly exciting and spectacular, ensure that the composer and publisher are aware of your enthusiasm, as they will be able to use your quotations and comments in their marketing literature.

If you’d like some inspiration from other groups that have successfully commissioned new music, check out the blog for our Adopt a Composer scheme, which pairs member groups with up-and-coming composers (run in partnership with the PRS Foundation and Sound and Music).

Taken from the Making Music information sheet, ‘How to Commission New Music’, available only to Making Music members. To find out more, visit their website.

Dancing with balletLORENT

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Francesca Tortora | 13:39 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2012

John Kendall –2011 Dance Fellow with balletLORENT – has been working with the company on tours of two distinctly different shows. Over the duration of the Fellowship, John will be involved with the creation of new work and performing on tour while also delivering an education programme.

John tells us what life on the Fellowship has been like so far.

"My first involvement with balletLORENT was as a dancer in the reproduction of La Nuit intime which was toured in Newcastle and throughout Scotland. The show itself is set in nightclubs and music venues where the audience are invited to drink and relax and lose themselves in the dance. La Nuit was such a brilliant show to be involved in as a new dancer with the company as it was definitely a steep initiation and at times felt as if I had really been thrown in at the deep end. I think this was due to the nature of the work which demands a great deal of emotional and physical commitment from the performer as they bear all under the close scrutiny and proximity of a watching audience. The effect this creates is a beautiful sense of vulnerability that surrounds the performer. This sort of commitment is common in Liv’s (Liv Lorent – Artistic Director) work.

I was also involved in ‘Esmerine’, which was a section in La Nuit that contained some nudity. I had to approach a turn table, stand on it and undress. I was then met by another dancer who did the same; we then both lowered to our side and curled into a sort of Ying Yang position. Now, while I knew from the beginning of the rehearsal period that I would be involved in this scene, it was still something that I found fairly daunting even though I was fully committed to doing it. It was to be the first time I had been naked on stage so it was pretty big deal. In the end though I actually really enjoyed doing it and found it very liberating. I also had huge faith in Liv’s artistic vision and knew that it would be done in good taste and be totally in keeping with the intention of La Nuit.

John Kendall dancing with a woman in La Nuit intime


Another interesting part of La Nuit that makes it so special is its live element. Each show is never exactly the same and you never really know what to expect before you begin. As a performer this is such an amazing experience as it makes it so real, true and uncontrived. 

Following La Nuit I was an understudy for Underneath the Floorboards. Underneath the Floorboards is a children’s show for the under 5’s that tells the story of a young boy called John who, when moving house, finds himself lost in a magical world underneath his floorboards. While down there he meets his trusty companions Fawn, Guffy and Mimic who help and guide him back to his bedroom. The show is very similar to La Nuit in the sense that it is totally interactive. The children in the audience are allowed to wander the space amongst the performers and really immerse themselves in the story and the magical world created by Liv.

I worked as an understudy on this tour having to learn both the roles of John and Guffy – who I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to perform as in Bath. I realised when watching the show and then performing it that it’s so much more complicated and skilled than you’d first expect. The energy has to be maintained throughout and nothing can be faked as you quickly realise that if it drops then the illusion of a magical world drops with it and you quickly become people moving around in funny suits as opposed to embodying this mythical creature or being.

The children are also in the space throughout so you have to concentrate extra hard and be careful not to bump or bang into any of them. In the same vein, the size of the movement is important. If it becomes too big or sharp then there’s a danger that it could frighten the children and put them off coming into the space; it has to be more detailed and considered.

My experience with balletLORENT so far then has been one of two extremes starting with the emotional rollercoaster that is La Nuit to the charming magic of Underneath the Floorboards. I’ve learnt so much so far and hope to carry on with the company for as long as possible. It really is a special place to work and a special bunch of people to spend time with."

Community Music - the scheme from a Trustee's perspective

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Francesca Tortora | 15:53 UK time, Thursday, 10 May 2012

In just a couple of weeks’ time we will be launching our first funding scheme of the year – Community Music – to fund grass roots music making and performing groups. Kate Danielson (BBC PAF Trustee) is part of our Grant Giving Committee, which will be giving the green light to successful applications once the scheme closes in June.

We asked her to tell us more about what she’s hoping to find:

Tell us about the Community Music scheme in the time it takes us to find the BBC Performing Arts Fund website

It’s a funding scheme for groups of eight or more music making individuals to apply for money to run a project. We want to help make things happen that they possibly wouldn’t otherwise get off the ground – did I do it?

Yes! On the website it says that the Community Music scheme wants to support projects that have a benefit to the wider community. What do you mean by that?

Projects that will not only include and inspire its group members but also include and inspire others in some way too. For example, a group who meet in someone’s garage to jam once a week might have a great time together; but we want them to step out of their comfort zone, throw open the garage doors and perform to the whole street!

We encourage applicants to look at partnerships, training, performing and encouraging greater participation from its members and audiences.


Kate Danielson smiling in a white hat

Why do you want to fund Community Groups? Wouldn’t it be more fun to fund the next big solo talent?

Big solo talent has to start somewhere and amateur groups are the breeding ground for all types of music. Group participation in music is a really fun way of bringing people together to have a go no matter what experience or skill they have.  We want to challenge those groups to turn their ambition buttons up to 11 and push beyond their comfort zone!

We will be funding talented individuals through our Music Fellowships scheme  later on in the year.

How much can groups apply for through the Community Music scheme?

There are two options, the first is to apply for up to £5,000 for a development project and the second is to apply for up to £10,000 for a development project which includes the commission and performance of a new piece of music.

That’s a lot of money.

Yes, but we don’t expect people to apply only for £5,000 or 10,000 – each application will involve a project with its own thought through budget. Applicants could apply for just £500 if that’s what they need to do their project.

What project can you think of that might only need £500?

Sometimes all a group needs is a bit of specialist training to get them started on something new.  Our funding could pay for a vocal coach to come and work with a choir to try out a new technique.  It might not pay for Gareth Malone but there are many other experienced coaches out there they could afford.  Or perhaps a group wants to rent a recording studio for an afternoon to capture something which sounds a bit more professional to load onto YouTube.

When you say ‘music’ what do you mean?

Anything that involves making a tune! That could be bell ringing or a recorder group or a group of Irish fiddlers! Music means so many things to so many people – it’s up to the group to make their case in their application to us. We will only fund music making and performing groups though, not music appreciation societies or fan clubs, that’s not what we’re about.

What if a group have never performed before, would they be able to apply? What if they are really terrible!?

It doesn’t matter what level you are at now – what we want to see is that you have the ambition to do something different and you know how you want to do it.  As long as the group has been in existence for at least 2 years, all that matters is that you and your group are planning to improve yourselves in some way, and go on to the next level. 

Tell us how the application process works.

Applications for the scheme will open at 10am on 21st May 2012, and close either at 5pm on

29th June 2012 or when we have received the first 500 eligible applications whichever is the soonest. This is because the BBC Performing Arts Fund is a small team and we have a limited amount of funding to offer, so we can’t throw open the doors for too long.

Describe your dream application; what do you want to see?

What I’m really looking forward to is seeing a variety of clever, developmental applications for projects that will take place across the country and result in larger music making groups performing more and creating lots of new music together. 

We have run schemes like this before and you can’t imagine the range of creative and wonderful projects that people out there come up with, it’s amazing. I do however want to encourage applicants to give us as much information as possible though, so that when our assessors read their application they really understand the project and can get a real flavour of it from what’s described in the form.

On a personal level and as I come from a jazz background,  I would like to see more groups try out jazz improvisation because I think it is really fun, and very challenging. I suppose I would love to see a community big band apply to bring in a professional jazz musician to work with them and create a new piece of music especially for them, their instruments, and their standard. They would perform their debut to the public, perhaps joining forces with another jazz band for the occasion with the hope that this could lead to more joint projects in future.

Remind us, when can applicants apply?

From Monday 21st May! Put it in your diary and remember to apply without delay, as we’ll close applications either at 5pm on 29th June 2012 or when we have received the first 500 eligible applications, whichever is the soonest.

Thanks Kate!

Life as a BBC PAF Dance Producer Fellow

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Francesca Tortora | 10:43 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Yassmin Foster – one of our 2011 Dance Fellows – is working with the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD) on producing a three day conference. Yassmin answers that very first hurdle: where do you even begin?

“I am well into my Dance Producer Fellowship at ADAD. There is a buzz of dance throughout the office and the building (we sit next to Dance UK and the Urdang Academy), as the hallways are usually full of students stretching, warming their vocal chords, or teachers and visitors of musical theatre.

As the Assistant Producer, my main role is to support the planning of a project called Re:Generation 2012  – a major gathering of artists, academics and students focused on shaping the future of dance of the African Diaspora. The three day event, which will be hosted at The Place in London, will include performances, talks, discussions and dance workshops. With delegate numbers likely to reach 100, and with such an enlightening, informative and interesting programme, I have had to ensure that ADAD is moving towards the same goal as any other potential partners.


Yassmin Foster smiling in a BBC Performing Arts Fund t-shirt


To manage this, I have had to pull apart the three day schedule, and rebuild the programme under prioritised headings. The planning so far has consisted of firming up the programme, sending out invitations and applying for funding which we’re currently awaiting a decision for.

I have a big red file that sits on the desk which houses the beginnings of;

1.    The programme
          a.    Proposed schedule
          b.    Breakdown of activity
2.    Finances
          a.    Budget
          b.    Questions on funding / income
3.    Logistics
          a.    Notes on the venue
4.    Marketing
          a.    Notes on branding
          b.    Merchandise
5.    Data analysis
          a.    Previous attendance reports
          b.    Notes on performance indicators
6.    Planning / meeting notes
7.    AOB

This has led to me thinking about the best advice I would offer to other producers: work with a budget that is transparent, self-explanatory and does not shy away from where savings can be made, but instead shows a complete picture of what the project will cost. 

My motto is that you need to be aware of your funding sources and any restrictions on spend, monitoring and follow up reporting. Monies such as donations and in-kind support which can be quantified should be regarded as an added bonus and nothing but, for they cannot always be guaranteed!

Cultural influences from Gran Canaria

Outside of my work in the office, my enthusiasm for dance jetted me away to the sunnier climes of Gran Canaria and the festivities of the Las Palmas carnival in late February.

From the outset I thought it was bonkers!  The costumes had no consistency and I soon noticed that people wore their costumes for the entire day. I would see people dressed as animals, flamenco dancers, action heroes and Grimm’s Brothers fairy-tale characters casually walking down the street. Gradually it all began to make sense; the carnival is inclusive and moves with the times. It is dripping with tradition but allows for media, migrant cultures and global influences to be celebrated.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Las Palmas carnival. The welcoming environment, enthusiasm and vibrancy of the people created an infectious atmosphere, especially the live Afro Cuban Salsa and Afro Brazilian Samba music and dance of the day that so easily transcended into popular, digitally composed music by night.

It was amazing to see how the whole island got involved, from the youngest to the eldest member of the family. Such inclusivity is a particular memory that I have taken away. To me, this experience has reinforced the mission for Re:Generations – The Next Generation.

The event is still developing in size, reach and significance for 2012 and I can’t wait to see what it brings next."

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