As I try to interact with and encourage other musicians, I often get questions about how to be successful in the annual Church Music Submissions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have had a few successes in that competition, and I have also had several failures. This month, I chose to highlight a few of my losing entries as a creative way to give my best advice for entering the annual competition. See those posts here:
- I Am His Son
- Sonnet on Endurance
- (Edit: After reading this post, check out this Epilogue that completes the story)
After all that, here is my big list of advice for those who are thinking about entering music in the annual submissions. I am not associated with the competition (except as a competitor), and these are my own opinions – not official rules. But they have served me well when I have followed them:
- Follow the guidelines, including ease of performance for amateur musicians in the Church.
- Submit a song that will be flexible enough for a broad range of Church purposes.
- Polish your work before submitting. This includes lyrics, melody, harmony, and the way all of these aspects are notated.
- Plan ahead. Don’t count on a last-minute flash of inspiration to write the song that wins an award. (There’s a reason I’m posting this series with 9 months until the next submission deadline.)
- Teach pure and correct doctrine in an understandable way. Speculative or false doctrine is almost a guaranteed way to get a song passed over. But even if you teach something true, it won’t be effective if the audience doesn’t get the message.
- Submit in the right category. Also, to increase your chances, submit something in each category that you can enter in a given year:
- Composers may enter once per year in the General Music Category (including songs, anthems, hymns, children’s songs, hymn arrangements, etc.).
- A composer may also serve as an arranger for one other submitter’s work.
- Additionally, each person may submit one entry in the hymn text category each year.
- For women, you may also submit a piece in the Relief Society Music category each year.
(Of course, rules can change from year to year, so always check the official rules for the year before submitting.)
- Don’t give up. Submit, submit, submit. Even legends in the LDS music world (like Janice Kapp Perry, Sally Deford, and Rachel Mohlman) don’t win with every submission. Don’t be discouraged if a particular song isn’t selected for an award. A wide range of factors go into the decision. The judges surely have to turn away several good pieces each year.
- This last one is a bit controversial: The song you love may not be the right song to submit. I have a few songs that I would love to hear in the Church Music Festival. They teach the right lessons, and the music is just like I want it. But I don’t submit them because they are not right for this competition. Each composer must decide for himself or herself, but your best work may not be the right work to submit, especially if it’s overly complicated.
I am finishing this series about two weeks before the results of this year’s Church Music Submissions are released. All the best to those who entered, and for those who didn’t, consider it for next year. The Church constantly needs improved music, and more Latter-Day Saints need to create and promote great artistry through lyrics and composition.