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Classical 101

Composition by Committee

Stephen Taylor
Cellist Ashley Bathgate is constantly exploring new musical horizons

  "That place looks like it was built by a committee."

"A camel is a horse designed by a committee."

"This committee has decided we need to hire a consultant."

"If you want something done right, do it yourself."

While most composers tend to work alone, there seems to be a growing trend of composing consortiums. Orchestras regularly for consortiums to COMMISSION works, but to have a GROUP try to compose a piece of music seems about as likely as getting consensus at a political debate.

Not too long ago, cellist Ashley Bathgate premiered a new piece called Ash, which came out of a composers’ collective known as Sleeping Giant. When she beckoned for the composer(s) to come onstage, SIX people lined up next to her. Heck, half the time I don't even agree with myself, much less get a consensus from six people.

Here, Ashley Bathgate plays with Bang on a Can...cheating, lying, stealing, by David Lang.


In a conversation with New York Times writer  Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, one member of the collective, Jacob Cooper, said, “It does mean that it takes longer, because we’ll e-mail each other back and forth a hundred times a day. But it really is wonderful to not be in a vacuum when you are composing.”

In a separate conversation, Ted Hearne, another member of the group, said, “Not only do we argue with each other, but we also consider different opinions far more than we should.”

Comedians have done this forever. Groups of writers sit around the room bouncing ideas off of one another until a joke or scene gels. 

While I don't see collectives replacing individual composers, it does add an intriguing approach to what is usually a solitary pursuit. 

Read Composers' Collectives Offer Creativity and Challenges