Click to Download Scores by New American Composers
October 9, 2002
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
In March 1939 Aaron Copland convened a meeting of activist
New York composers at his studio on West 63rd Street in
Manhattan to discuss challenges facing American music and
strategize. Like his colleagues at that gathering (Otto
Luening, Harrison Kerr, Marion Bauer, Quincy Porter and
Howard Hanson), Copland believed that after decades of
struggle, American music was finally overcoming the
widespread assumption that composers of concert music by
definition must be European.
Publishers and recording companies had at long last begun
to take on American composers. Still, composers had trouble
bringing their music to wider attention, or getting scores,
recordings and information to one another.
What came out of that meeting was the founding of the
American Music Center, an organization to aid in the
distribution of music and serve as an information
clearinghouse. When the center opened an office on West
42nd Street later that year, it quickly became a command
post and drop-in site. In 1990 the center moved to airy
offices on West 26th Street. In the last few years the kind
of networking the center was founded for has been shifting
to its Web site (amc.net), which includes an online
magazine called New Music Box.
This afternoon the American Music Center takes a bold leap
into the Internet future when it formally introduces New
Music Jukebox (newmusicjukebox.org) in a briefing at Avery
Fisher Hall. This free site promises to be a powerful Web
portal for contemporary American music and the composers
who create it, as well as performers, professionals in the
larger field and the musically curious.
New Music Jukebox offers a 24-hour "virtual" listening room
with streaming and downloadable sound files, as well as
extensive composer biographies, works lists, publishers,
performance data and other information, all
cross-referenced. If things go well, browsing through New
Music Jukebox may give today's online users some sense of
what it was like to hang out at the center's bustling,
ramshackle office some 60 years ago, to talk shop and trade
scores with other people in the field.
But legal thickets could slow down the process. Besides
using sound files from commercial recordings, which are
protected by copyright, New Music Jukebox will also include
scores online, either excerpted or complete, which users
will be able to view and in many cases print out or
download for free. To date, printed scores have been
strictly protected; photocopying them is illegal. In order
to include scores online, the American Music Center has
been engaged in case-by-case negotiations with composers,
publishers and record producers. Their success could
represent a breakthrough in copyright law.
With the rising costs of printing and with fewer houses
taking on fewer composers, the system of distributing and
promoting new works has languished. Composers have
increasingly turned to self-publishing. The Internet offers
an alternative way to distribute scores, yet there are
legal complications, as Richard Kessler, 43, the center's
executive director since 1997, acknowledges.
"At its core, New Music Jukebox is based on the idea that
everyone is struggling with in the music field, namely,
that technology provides access to information and music in
ways we have never experienced before," Mr. Kessler said in
a recent interview. "But that great potential is being
wrestled to the ground by intellectual-property-rights
Comparable wrestling matches are going on in all fields
that involve the exchange of creative work and information,
notably pop music, which was made clear by the legal ruckus
provoked free file-sharing Web sites.
Mr. Kessler, an accomplished trombonist and a firebrand on
behalf of contemporary American music, and his colleagues
at the center have proven better at bringing about
cooperation between publishers, recording companies and
composers. Paradoxically, because the field of contemporary
classical music involves vastly fewer people, products and
dollars, they had an advantage of sorts. Still, their
success may serve as a model to other fields of how to
bridge conflicting interests.
In every case involving the inclusion of a score on
Jukebox, Mr. Kessler said, "the copyright holder determines
how people will access it." A particular composer or
publisher might only want the score listed as a
bibliographical entry with information on how to obtain it,
as well as listings of past performances and reviews. Some
scores will be available only in excerpted form, as an
inducement for later purchase. But other scores, especially
shorter works, will be available complete. For larger
chamber works, interested users must still rent individual
parts to perform them, and pay appropriate fees to Ascap
and B.M.I. (Broadcast Music Inc.), the organizations that
regulate the performances and broadcast of music.
Still, isn't New Music Jukebox inviting trouble by posting
manuscripts on the Web?
"We're not that worried," Mr. Kessler said. In many cases
scores are posted in nonperformable formats. For example, a
chamber work for eight instruments might appear only in a
miniature-size full score. To perform the work, individual
parts would still have to be rented. Some scores, a solo
piano work, for example, could be downloaded in usable
formats. But Mr. Kessler said: "Are musicians who are going
to the trouble of performing these works in concert likely
to avoid the royalty process? We don't think so."
Besides, as all parties to the negotiations acknowledge, no
one in classical music makes much money from the sales of
printed scores. Even a score by a living master like
Elliott Carter, who is published by Boosey & Hawkes, rarely
exceeds $50 and might sell only a couple of hundred of
copies a year, a significant sales figure in this field.
As Jennifer Bilfield, the general manager of Boosey &
Hawkes, explained recently, a printed score should be seen
more as "a testimony to a publisher's and composer's mutual
commitment to a work." It is like a composition's "calling
card," she added.
A publishing house spends the bulk of its time on the
complex task of making music available by promoting a work,
maintaining rental parts, and fostering performances over
the long term. In this effort a service like New Music
Jukebox could actually be a help, which is why Boosey &
Hawkes has been cooperative, despite the potential
"It's at the discretion of the composer and the publisher
to decide how much or how little to participate," Ms.
Bilfield said, while everyone continues to grapple step by
step with "the more gnarly elements of the matter."
There are 142 composers taking part in New Music Jukebox,
with 237 sound files and 242 score files. In a year's time,
the program is expected to offer a round-the-clock Web
radio station and an online marketplace that will connect
users to potentially thousands of composers and their
"Absolutely," Mr. Kessler said. "Of the American Music
Center's 2,500 official members, some 2,000 are composers."
And, he added, Ascap estimates that there might be as many
as 40,000 American composers working in the concert music
His hope is that a wide variety of users will rely on the
center's services, particularly New Music Jukebox. A
concertgoer could find out more about a composer online and
even see a score or listen to a sound file. A filmmaker
looking for a composer could review potential
collaborators. A flutist who learns that a work for flute
and marimba was given its premiere but doesn't know who
wrote it or where it was performed, could find it online
using the search terms "flute" or "marimba."
Over the years the center has introduced many programs to
support the publication and recording of music, including
pragmatic workshops on topics like "Every Composer's
Business" and "Self-Produced CD's." The center has a staff
of 14 and a budget of $4.8 million derived from
fund-raising, foundation awards, and fees for administering
grant programs for other agencies.
Earlier this year the center transferred its historic
collection of more than 60,000 scores and recordings of
works by American composers (including a vast quantity of
unpublished scores and private recordings) to the New York
Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center,
which can do a better job of maintaining them while still
Moving the collection was a tacit acknowledgment that the
center's essential work can no longer be confined to its
office. Whether the New Music Jukebox site accomplishes its
goals and grows exponentially the way its planners hope
will depend on whether officials at the center can continue
to wrestle with the legal complications and forge
compromises with publishers and recording companies. Their
counterparts in other fields will likely be paying
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