It can be easy to believe that musical talent will rise to the top regardless of circumstance, but in a field as fiercely competitive as composing, sometimes you need to actively ensure that your work reaches its audience.
We’ve already discussed some of the ways you can promote your music as part of our Path to Professionalism series, but here we’ll be exploring in more depth the art of putting together a professional-looking portfolio. From selecting the work that best exhibits your talent, to using scoring software in order to ensure your engraving is up to scratch, here’s how to create a musical portfolio that will truly impress.
Selecting Your Work to Include
When exhibiting your work to others, it’s often tempting to try and include as much of your own material as possible. In fact, it is usually far more useful to submit a carefully curated selection of your composing work, rather than everything that you’ve ever worked on. It is important to strike a delicate balance between submitting enough work that your talent and consistency are clearly demonstrated, but not so much that it overwhelms your intended audience.
If you think that your talent as a composer is best displayed by the piece you’re currently working on, there is no reason that this can’t be submitted as well, as an example of a work-in-progress. While it will be incomplete, it can still be used to illustrate your creative process and your understanding of composition.
Demonstrating Your Diversity
As a part of your selection process, it can be a good idea to choose examples that highlight your versatility as a composer. Submitting works exclusively in one style might well be necessary for certain specialist roles, but often it is far more important to demonstrate that you have a broad, extensive understanding of music composition – one that allows you to turn your hand to multiple requirements.
If your work has been performed live, then including recordings of these performances can help to paint a much more nuanced, three-dimensional portrait of your music when interpreted by players. Similarly, if you have composed music for media, such as short films, including examples of your score alongside this media, wherever possible, will have a similar effect.
Presenting Your Work
Naturally, ensuring that your work is presented with the utmost care and attention is a crucial part of creating any portfolio, but it is especially important for music portfolios which contain written scores.
For your scores, the detail and quality of your engraving is essential, but so is ensuring that these qualities remain consistent across your work. Before the advent of music notation software, this would have been a highly complex, costly task available only to those with the time, money and resources to access it. Now, modern composing software has placed high-quality engraving into the hands of musicians.
For Dorico’s engraving capabilities, we conducted years of research with experts to ensure that it delivers scores with style and clarity, while still allowing for limitless adjustments and refinement. This allows Dorico to produce scores of great balance and proportion, with the warmth of pages produced by skilled human hands.
If the quality of your engraving is up to a high standard, it will demonstrate not only professionalism and a keen eye for detail, but also a thorough understanding of the complexities and intricacies of written music.
In many ways, putting together a professional portfolio as a composer is much the same as it is for a number of other fields – a varied selection of your best and most representative work, presented in as clear, accomplished a manner as possible. When you truly believe in the music you are composing, your portfolio is your opportunity to share that belief with others.
Help! I’m the mother of an aspiring composer. We are looking at colleges now with his hope to study music composition. He has some original pieces written, and lots of stuff “started”. He says almost 200 pieces in his note flight. He has two pieces that he’s premiered (brass ensemble piece and piano piece). But what does he put in his portfolio??? “Parts” of the many pieces he’s working on? And how is a portfolio submitted to colleges? Help!!!
@Margaret: Most colleges will set out quite clearly what information they expect to see in applicants’ portfolios, so start by looking at the guidelines posted by the admissions department at the college. If you find that the information is not clear, don’t be afraid to contact the admissions secretary or officer at the college: they are there to help answer questions like that, and will be pleased to help you. If you really can’t get specific advice from the institution to which your son is applying, then good advice would be to pick no more than half a dozen pieces that are representative of his work, if possible showing contrasting styles, techniques and instrumentation, and submit that. If you have recordings or other performances of any of the pieces hosted on YouTube or Soundcloud, then include those links as well. Good luck!
Would you recommend using a manilla folder to present the portfolio? If not, how would you?