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.

Liberty and Integrity

Earlier today, I tweeted:

A few people asked me where I got the quote.  I am unaware of anybody else who has said it in those exact words, although the idea is very old.  The freedom of our nation and the morality of our choices are bound together.

For me, this sentiment is a matter of faith as well.  An ancient prophet was told by the Lord:

Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.

(2 Nephi 4:4)

The Book of Mormon is filled with stories about groups of people who either lived with integrity and enjoyed freedom and prosperity, or else they turned away from their promises to God and suffered in bondage.  It’s one of the main themes of the book.

For me, those stories are even more poignant because they took place in North and South America.  This is a promised land, a place that has been blessed by the hand of God.

Many of us in America like to argue about the best ways to fix our nation.  We like to blame current and former political leaders, corporations, media executives, and others.  We spend so much time arguing that we don’t accomplish much.  Perhaps we should go back to the basics, beginning with this promise about our land:

And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them.

(Ether 2:9)

I’m not a doomsday type of guy, and I don’t think the United States will be destroyed next week.  After all, the Bible tells that God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous souls.  (Genesis 18:32)  The backbone of America is a core group of good people who follow their convictions and live according to the light they have.  But if we’re wondering how to really fix the country, this is still the fundamental answer: we have to serve God.

So on this Independence Day, I hope we can all do a little more in this one nation under God to live up to our motto – In God We Trust.  Most often, we can serve him best by serving His children.  He has entrusted to us a land that is choice above all others.  We can entrust our future to Him.

May we maintain our liberty by maintaining our integrity, and may we save our nation with the goodness of our lives.

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.

Free Music?

On the discussion board at KZION LDS Internet Radio, John Hesch asked me:

“…Nate, can you please explain why you think that spiritual music should be given away for free? Why should an LDS artist like yourself give away your music just because you song is about our faith? I don’t understand that way of thinking and you’re not the first person I have heard this from. LDS authors don’t give away their books, LDS movie producers don’t give away their movies, LDS artists don’t give away their paintings. As an LDS consumer I expect to pay for your music, art, books, etc. What I don’t want to do is pay more for your music, art or books just because it is about our faith.”

This is a question I get often, and a question with which I continue to struggle. I am posting my answer here as a statement of my current feeling on the subject.

Good question. I don’t think all music of a spiritual nature should be just given away, but I do think that it should be accessible. At this point I choose to give mine away because I have reasonably low overhead and I can afford to do so. But any way you slice it, 17 to 20 bucks for a CD with one good song is highway robbery (pardon the pun). Sometimes the ones who really need to hear it are those who can’t afford it.

I suppose it depends on the nature of the music and the goal of the artist. For fun songs or songs mostly for entertainment purposes rather than spiritual teaching, I have no problem charging whatever the market will bear. However, if I actually believe the concepts about which I sing in my so-called spiritual songs, I should share that testimony freely to all who would benefit from it. If I claim any degree of divine inspiration in writing a song, it should be primarily for the building up of God’s kingdom.

There are production costs. There are administrative costs. I don’t generally give away or sell my copyrights or place much music in the public domain. Music is still a business. I just feel that by allowing free access to the music and asking for donations, in time those with more resources will pick up the tab for those who cannot afford to pay. Call me a hippie public radio tote-carrying idealist fool. Maybe I am. At the moment, we are doing better than breaking even on web hosting costs, so I have no real complaints.

This is not to knock artists who use different business models. When I go into the studio to do session work, or when I teach private lessons, do I turn down my rightful payment? Of course not. I also encourage donations when people download my music, I do occasional commissions, and if I was offered a good job making LDS music, I would seriously consider the offer. If I decide to release a CD, I will certainly charge for it. But I will do my best to make it affordable, and I will always offer a good amount of spiritual music for free.