Seeking the Living: Why Composers Have a Responsibility to Be Accessible to the World

By Nowakowski, Mark | Sacred Music, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Seeking the Living: Why Composers Have a Responsibility to Be Accessible to the World


Nowakowski, Mark, Sacred Music


It is a sad fact that during nine years of primary school music education and almost ten years of higher education in composition, it never once occurred to me that I could function as a composer within the Catholic Church. Despite being a cradle Catholic, I never was given the idea that the church either needed or wanted new music to add to her liturgy. Frankly speaking, such information was poorly advertised, and the academic establishment was not entirely keen on encouraging careers in sacred music.

In my current work as Music Curator for the Foundation for Sacred Arts (thesacredarts.org), one of my responsibilities is to locate and support new compositional talent with the church. I remember the great excitement I first brought to this task, figuring that only some well-placed Google searches stood between me and the organization of the church's greatest compositional talent. Yet modern sacred composers, I have found, are notoriously secluded. I often have names of "great" or "very promising" composers dropped my way, only to find that they have virtually no public profile. I have found this to be a worldwide phenomenon, among both lay and ordained composers.

In his call for a new evangelization, Pope John Paul the Great cited the new media landscape as prime real-estate in the battle for souls. If this is truly the case, the lack of public presence among modern composers is most unfortunate. The problem becomes increasingly baffling when one considers that the Foundation for Sacred Arts has no such problem with established visual artists; in the absence of support in established art journals and magazines, they tend to be rather savvy about using available technologies to promote their work. Amongst performers and conductors, the internet has become a valuable tool for disseminating music while building an international community for liturgical reform. Given the well-developed artistic and musical communities worldwide, why are composers so absent from the internet? The very act of creating art as a vocation implies a public presence; art is not strictly a private matter. Certain creative personalities may be reclusive, yet work inspired by God and written for his liturgy cannot be allowed to remain hidden or underutilized.

Thankfully there exist many free (or highly affordable) services that can provide an online presence. For instance: free music profiles--with sound samples--can be created via services such as Lastfm, Myspace, and Facebook. Serious composers should join professional organizations such as the American Composers Forum and the American Music Center. The ACF offers personal websites which potential performers and commissioning parties frequently browse, as well as listings of numerous compositional contests and professional opportunities worldwide. The AMC allows members to upload pdf scores and mp3 sound samples into a cross-referenced musical database. If there is indeed somebody in the world who is looking for your sacred work for soprano, baroque organ, and amplified bass clarinet, this is the probably the best place to find such an original musical combination.

It is also highly desirable for composers to create and host a website. Free websites can be obtained through services such as Yahoo Geocities (geocities. …

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