Thursday, May 29, 2014

Rejections, and No Response is the new No

Musicians and artists, especially composers, are used to the fact that a part of our lives, often a big part, is devoted to applying to Stuff and getting mainly Rejections. We apply to fellowships, residencies, competitions, grants, travel opportunities, performance opportunities...and of course, employment opportunities.

Since January 2014, I've sent in 23 applications for things (teaching opportunities, performances, residencies, etc), and a ten were 'no responses', which outweighs the official 'nos', at 8. I've also gotten one 'no' but with a caveat: I was in the top 14% of 166 applicants, which was kind of nice to hear (a "soft no" if you will). The good news: I got the one 'yes' to a competition (for a choral work), and three performance opportunities in other cities for works I've sent over email (i.e. from lengthy 'cold emailing').

My beef is that lately it seems like getting no response at all is the contemporary form of rejection. Certainly it leaves the artist wondering if their application even really reached its recipient. Isn't it a fairly easy thing to make a form rejection letter and copy/paste names and emails into it? At the very least you could tell applicants that the process has concluded, and sorry 'bout all your time but better luck next time blah blah blah.

Sometimes the 'no response' seems bureacratically motivated: I applied to a position at a university that seemed too perfect: they wanted a teacher for both Aural Skills and Music Technology, both of which I've taught before. But no response, not even a real 'no'; perhaps the institution had to put out a call for legality's sake, only to hire from within.

Sometimes, you do hear the results, and you're a bit humbled. I applied for the McKnight Foundation Visiting Composers Fellowship this year, and didn't get it, but one of the two winners was Pamela Z, an amazingly talented composer and performer who I met last year and she blew me away. I'd like to think our applications were in good company together.

One way to a "yes" that I have found works better for me is simply by making good friends and colleagues, which leads to commissions down the road. I've had amazing experiences so far this way. These performers and ensembles have taken a moment of their busy time to look at my work and decide they want to know more about it. And a player who cares about a piece I wrote for them is a million times more gratifying than winning a begrudged performance and a tiny slice of rehearsal time.

Thankfully getting a lot of rejections, or even non-responses, doesn't make me want to change my work or make me disappointed about it. I'll keep applying to opportunities that I think I would be great for in hopes that other people will recognize that too. One day the "yes" will outnumber the "no", and politeness will rule the day. So I hope.