Epilogue to the “Parade of Losers” Series

Several months ago, I wrote a series of posts with advice about sending music to the annual submissions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I did this by featuring my losing entries.  This is the series, in case you missed it:

  1. I Am His Son
  2. Baptism
  3. Sonnet on Endurance
  4. Series Summary

I mentioned that I finished the series before results were announced.  Now the 2013 results have been out for awhile, and I’m not going to spoil any secrets by talking about it here.

My submission for 2013, Like Sunlight Gleams Thy Grace, O Lord, has a long and strange history.  My good friend David Macfarlane wrote the hymn, and he submitted it in the hymn category a few years ago.

No award.

When that happens with my own work, I usually shrug and pick something else to send the next year.  But I really liked the message and melody of this particular hymn, so I asked David if I could arrange it as an anthem.  We submitted it.

No award.

At this point, I was pretty disappointed.  It was not because I just wanted an award and didn’t get one; I received a different award in the cultural arts submissions that year, so I certainly didn’t qualify for any pity.  I just knew that David’s hymn was beautiful and powerful (and honestly better than some of the anthems I’ve heard at previous Church Music Festivals), and I wanted people to hear it.

So I did something I’ve never done, something I wouldn’t recommend.  I revised the anthem arrangement and resubmitted it.  I worked hard to make it look good on the page.  I made some of the divisi optional in order to make it more accessible for ward or stake choirs.  I also included a digital recording (which is allowed only for orchestral works and multi-voice anthems).  I stuffed it in a manila envelope, mailed it off, and tried not to get my hopes up.

Award of Merit.

Did my edits change the substance or suitability of the piece?  Not really.  But according to one musician “in the know,” judges for the annual submissions can change from year to year.  As I said, I would never recommend that a musician should resubmit a piece to the same competition two years in a row, but I had an exceptional motivation and desire regarding this piece, so I submitted it against my better logical judgment.

I’m not sure if there is a moral to this particular story, but I do know that David’s hymn is awesome.  You can hear it at this year’s Church Music Festival on Temple Square.  It’s on Valentine’s Day this year – February 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm.  I’ll be there (weather permitting), so catch me and say hello if you attend.

And remember that this year’s submissions close March 31.  Let’s make some more great new music for use in the Church.

Next on Parade: Baptism

If you haven’t read my first post about this month’s parade of losers, start there first.

To review the big lessons learned from the first featured piece, I Am His Son:

  1. Follow the guidelines, including ease of performance for amateur musicians in the Church.
  2. Submit a song that will be flexible enough for use by a broad range of Church members.  (One exception might be the Relief Society Music category: you don’t have to write men’s parts to be inclusive).

Let’s explore a little more.  Today’s entry that didn’t quite make the cut is called Baptism.  It received a Special Recognition in 2008, which is similar to a runner-up.

I’ll be honest about this piece: when I submitted it, it wasn’t ready for prime time.  The sheet music I released today is not the same sheet music I submitted to the Church.  Some changes include:

  • Improved handling of repeats (yes, the repeats in this piece were even more confusing in my earlier drafts)
  • Dynamic and expressive markings
  • Fixing typographical errors

This piece was certainly not polished when I submitted it.  Additionally, as I look at the writing nearly six years later, some things could be improved.  The intro/interlude figure is nice, but it may be used too much during the piece.  The verses’ mixed metaphors may also become confusing.  And the piece just doesn’t look great on paper when compared with how I imagined it.

This brings up a big point: the committee that judges these pieces only sees your score.  If they heard you perform your song, their opinions might be different, but recordings are not accepted (except for complex multi-voice anthems and instrumental works).  That means that a submitted piece is only as good as its notation.

Still, I liked the song.  I still do.  The bigger lesson from this piece is simple: sometimes others will submit great music in the category you choose.  I’m glad to lose to excellent music.  It gives me a reason to work harder the next year.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.  At the end of the series, I’ll post a full list of my recommendations for musicians who are thinking about submitting their music.  The Church really does need more great music, and I hope that this series will help that to happen.

The next installment is here.

Let the Parade of Losers begin!

Wasn’t that a catchy title?  It’s true.  I’ve decided to post some songs in the next couple of weeks that have lost (i.e. not received an award) in the annual Church Music Submissions.

This is also my backhanded way to give advice on how to win an award in the Church Music Submissions.  No, I don’t have a magical formula, but I can give some solid advice based on success and failure.

I need to say up front that I’m not a sore loser.  In this competition, I’ve won my share of awards, and I’m grateful when I do.  But in the past few years I’ve submitted some pieces that are a bit outside the box, hoping that I can in some small way elevate the musical culture of the Church.  I expect that some of those risks will not pay off in the competition.  But when they do, I’m thrilled.

Generally, my losing entries are perfectly good songs.  But they didn’t win for a variety of valid reasons.  Of course, since the committee does not give the submitters any critiques, these reasons are just guesses.  But I think they are pretty educated guesses since I’ve had the privilege of hearing so many of the winners over the past several years.

The losing entry I’ve posted today is I Am His Son.  I submitted it in the Primary Song division of the General Music category.  Why do I think it didn’t win?  Triplets.

There may be other reasons, too, but I think the triplets were the biggest drawback to this piece.  A lot of people think triplets are hard to sing and play.  Remember that one criterion for these submissions is ease of performance, especially Primary music.  I decided to take a risk by submitting a primary song that had a whopping 5 sets of quarter-note triplets in the refrain.

Add that to the fact that the song is written specifically for boys (so the whole Primary wouldn’t be able to participate in performing it), and it was just not a winner for this competition.

That said, the song fulfills the purpose for which it was written.  And for the record, the triplets in this piece are remarkably easy for kids to sing (my 3- and 5-year-old boys can do it).  It’s just not what the committee wanted.

Click for the next loser in this potentially fascinating series!