Lowell Liebermann, this year’s guest composer for the Festival of Contemporary Art Music, gave WSU students and faculty advice on how to make it big as a composer.
Liebermann lectured about the labors young classical music composers often face on Friday in the Kimbrough Music Building. He had one major piece of advice to give: Go to medical school.
If someone is crazy enough to want to be a composer, Liebermann said, write the music you hear and want to write. Don’t let anybody else tell you what kind of music you should be writing. Liebermann launched into subjects such as publishing original compositions, copyright issues and contemporary classical music business trends.
“I came to be a composer because I was forced to take piano lessons at an early age, but started writing music almost as soon as I could play a little bit of piano music,” he said.
Liebermann began studying composition with an instructor at age 13. He created the first piece of his composition catalog, his Piano Sonata Op. 1, when he was 15. After graduating from high school he attended and earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees at Juilliard School of Music. By the time he graduated at age 27, he was receiving commissions for his pieces, which he said helped support him financially in addition to “creative credit card balancing.”
Liebermann said one of his teachers told him a composer’s life is horrible. She said he would be underappreciated, and his pieces would be underperformed.
“The only uses you’ll have for your music are to have pieces to play for yourself and to seduce women,” Liebermann said, quoting his former teacher and mimicking her accent.
Liebermann wrote his flute sonata shortly after graduating from Juilliard. The piece was commissioned by the Spoleto Festival for the artists Paula Robison and Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Robison played the piece at the National Flute Association Convention the same year. Liebermann’s publisher, who was managing a booth at the convention, sold all copies of the flute sonata the day of the performance.
Liebermann asked the audience how many chamber pieces per year is considered good enough for publishers to keep and print. One student guessed 500. Another suggested 1,000 and yet another said 100.
“Let’s try between five and 20 copies,” Liebermann said.
Liebermann’s flute sonata sells an average of 400 copies annually, a rarity in contemporary chamber music publication.
Gregory Yasinitsky, the WSU School of Music director, sat in on the lecture and reminded the music students of how copyright infringement hurts their prospects of making a living with music.
“Every one of you should look in (your) folders and see how many photocopies you have right now,” Yasinitsky said. “You’re part of the problem.”
Liebermann said contemporary classical composers earn most of their money from commission fees and performing rights. In addition to these outlets, Liebermann has occasionally involved himself with scoring music for films. Liebermann said his involvement with those projects is based on certain standards such as the quality of directing and the script.
The fact that Liebermann had considered scoring for films surprised junior music composition major Edward Mace, who hopes to eventually go to the University of Southern California to learn how to score music for film and television.
“I got the impression that film scoring and regular composition were two separate worlds,” Mace said. “From my experience with previous teachers I’ve felt they have been biased against that. Also, since I’m looking to get into film scoring myself, his thoughts on what was appropriate and reasons why he would do it or why he wouldn’t was interesting as well.”