If you know where to look, there are no end to the contests and other challenges offered to composers by way of the Internet.
My current interest is in the three miniaturist ensembles — New York, Vancouver and Chicago — that have Websites and an open call to write pieces for them. The trick is that each piece must be no more than 100 notes. It’s fascinating to see how fast you can use up that quantity of notes when you’re not really paying attention.
I’ve written a couple things under this stricture, and I find it liberating. It forces you to think very carefully about every single note, and exactly what kind of effect you’re trying to create. Many of the pieces that have been posted on the sites are slow and atmospheric, with lots of silences. If you’re going to get only 100 notes, you might as well hang on to the stage as long as they’ll let you have it.
The ensembles also ask you to write for specific combinations of instruments, which makes things even more interesting. But it gets you back to the let’s-put-on-a-show mentality that it’s good for music to reconnect to. You’re away from home, you find some odd instruments in the attic, and you try to put together a band.
Some of the pieces on these sites are quite imaginative, and it’s interesting to just troll through them and see with what kind of infinite riches composers have been able to stock their little rooms. I think the goal is to make as much good music as you can in the tiny space, which reminds me of the old apercu of Georges Sand that there was more music in the C minor Prelude of Chopin than in all the pages of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.
She wasn’t exactly a disinterested witness, and there is some decent music in the Meyerbeer opera, but her point still stands: A piece of music, as long as it’s real music, doesn’t have to be long and elaborate to make an impact.