In October, 2011 a competition was announced inviting “classes at Milwaukee Public Schools ... to submit selections of original music to the Milwaukee Art Museum for a potential opportunity to be played on the opening or closing of the Burke Brise Soleil.
“The winning schools and students will receive recognition for their achievement through press, marketing, and web-related materials …. Submissions are due by Saturday, December 19, 2011.”
Fast forward to May, 2012. With the school year ending, MPS teacher Adam Murphy wondered why he hadn’t heard anything about the results of the competition. Murphy is the Band, Composition and International Baccalaureate Music Teacher at Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School.
His 16-year old student, Derrick Hahn, had made an entry, after all, and would like to hear something.
After three attempts at contact were made without success, Murphy finally wrote a letter last week to the museum’s PR manager, Kristin Settle, “to express my disappointment that there has been no communication as to the outcome or status of the MAM Composition Contest.
“Derrick Hahn spent two months composing the music and creating parts to be performed by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Junior Wind Ensemble. Under the baton of UWM Professor Emeritus Thomas Dvorak, the youth musicians recorded a performance ... Yet the nearly 100 participants in this project have heard nothing from the board of directors.”
But Murphy was told there would be no winner of the 2011 Milwaukee Art Museum Composition Contest for the simple reason that there had been only one entrant – Murphy’s student Derrick Hahn.
As Settle told Plenty of Horne in an email, “The Museum received only one submission for the contest. At this time, there are no plans to use the piece.”
When asked why no award was given, Settle responded:
“It was made clear to MPS that any student composition submitted would be considered for use during the opening or closing of the Burke Brise Soleil at some point in the future. There was no specific award offered, and no date set for the piece or pieces to be played.”
Never mind that a 16-year-old had composed an original piece of program music, spent months scoring it for an orchestra and managed to get it performed and recorded by the 70-member Junior Wind Ensemble of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. (Motto: “Instrumental in Changing Young Lives.”)
In Murphy’s response to Settle, he suggested that future competitions state on the entry form that no winner might be chosen, select a qualified panel (rather than public relations staff) to judge competitions, set a date by which winners would (or would not) be announced, and give students more than two months time to compose a piece, assemble an orchestra, etc.
“Six months to a year is pretty standard for a composition contest,” he wrote.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has already seen its share of criticism for what is perceived to be a lack of involvement with the community.
The museum’s move is unfortunate since it would have been an exceedingly simple matter to invite Derrick, his classmates, teachers and MYSO colleagues to the museum to play the recording, give the Brise Soleil a flap and send everybody home with good feelings and even better press.
The museum’s use of technicalities as the rationale for mooting the competition leads to one other observation:
Does Derrick Hahn still own the rights to his original composition? I hope so, and I hope it’s a million seller.
Unfortunately, rule number 8 of the entry form reads, “All music submitted becomes the property of the Milwaukee Art Museum.”
(MAM photo by Adrian Palomo)