A New Model for “Emerging” in Classical Music

| July 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

With an increase in entrepreneurial education programs for conservatory students, it would make sense that today’s emerging classical artists are better prepared to quickly make an impact in today’s world of music. And, fun fact: that world requires only four conservatories to meet the staffing requirements of the country’s orchestras. Thus, the need for student empowerment towards creative career development should follow their empowerment towards creative music making. But can such creativity truly be inspired in a setting that seeks to preserve certain traditions?

BU D.M.A. student Alexander Thomas | Photo credit: Nicholas Quigley

BU D.M.A. student Alexander Thomas | Photo credit: Nicholas Quigley

I wrote this brief article in response to nearly falling asleep at the recitals of many hard-working musicians, and to my own artistic endeavors as a performer and composer of classical music. After realizing that many traditions such as the no-frills recital that is often times not authentic to the performer or audience may not be worthy of conservation, I started to critically explore how I should make my music available to the world. What follows is an overview of one of my major projects from this year, and how taking a critical lens to my vision led to an end I am more satisfied with. My example should not be seen as a good one for everybody, but as one that I think has worked well for me as an emerging composer.

Interventions 1–5 is a concept album that presents music as a gallery exhibition. The ‘interventions’ are composed to make statements as efficiently as possible, with three works for solo instruments, and multiple ‘episodes’ lasting no more than two minutes in time. The experience includes works for strings, solo piano, guitar and voice, solo celesta, solo viola, and a trio of bassoon, marimba, and viola. From this kaleidoscope of instruments and ensembles I originally thought to present a small recital either in a gallery, or in some space outfitted to feel like one. The different performers would be set up in a circle so the audience could follow performances as the piece unfolds.

Clearly this would have been something a little more than a usual recital, but even then, it would prescribe the entire experience for the audience. Furthermore, the time and effort it would have taken to produce such a recital—hiring musicians, contracting a venue, marketing—would have a one-time-only effect. And because I wanted to make some sort of lasting impact rather than a one-time splash, I decided to direct all of that time and energy into producing an album. A professional recording would still require that I hire musicians, contract a venue (recording studio), and promote the product, but we now have something that people can experience years from now. And I will not delusionally say the album will be a commercial success, but if I were to get 100 people to a single event or 100 people to hit “play” throughout my lifetime, would there be much of a difference in impact? Such a difference would exist in the economic margins of the business surrounding this album. With each person listening, there is a chance they will like the music and share it with a friend. Meanwhile at the recital, everyone who is in a seat is already in a seat.

Now let’s turn back to the topic of conservatory and entrepreneurial training. Conservatories are inherently conservative—as the name would imply—but should this thinking permeate throughout a curriculum? Of course for those who love classical music and seek to build their world around classical music, they should seek an education that includes the historical and sociological backgrounds of classical music. But why do so many educational leaders fail to reach beyond these goals? Even in some composition programs where the goal for students is to create new music, their education does not empower them to do so in ways that are truly meaningful to them. Perhaps this is why those who do not find orchestral gigs or residencies end up working at coffee shops rather than starting their own venture of some kind. Even if their education provides tools and training, it takes something beyond this to empower musicians to make art that is meaningful to them. Without this, anything below certain learned expectations is on the same artistic level as brewing a cup of good morning America.


“Dream out loud.”


my upcoming debut of original compositions and songs, Interventions 1 – 5 | Photo credit: Nicholas Quigley

my upcoming debut of original compositions and songs, Interventions 1 – 5 | Photo credit: Nicholas Quigley

Thus, the model I ended up creating and pursuing for Interventions 1 – 5 should not be an aim for all artists. It is only what worked for me, specifically for this project, and specifically at this point in my career. After months of composing, planning, and recording, the album is available globally, and I am proud of what the final product is. Even if only 100 people—or just my mother and sister—throughout my lifetime enjoy it, I know that throwing out my original plan was worth the extra effort. So in your own planning, I encourage you to take a critical lens to your visions and question the relevance of your projects. For whom shall this exist? Why should I do this in this way? Why should I do this in this way? In the short term this may only provide another layer to cut through, but in the long term you—and perhaps more importantly, your audience(s)—will be thankful for taking the critical lens to your work.


Nicholas Patrick Quigley is a music educator, composer, and cultural entrepreneur based in Boston, MA. He seeks to connect artists with the business practices and laws that allow them to live off of their art, and serves as a creative consultant to artists of various backgrounds through Q Music & Arts Management. More online at qmusicandarts.com (management website) and nicholaspquigley.com (artistic website).

Tags: , ,

Category: featured, Music

About the Author ()

Leave a Reply