Emerging Composers and Age Limits (Newsflash: That’s Not A Thing)

There’s this idea among musicians and arts organizations that there’s a deadline for being an “emerging composer.” The age in question can vary, but because we commonly associate emerging composers with youth and being newly educated, the cap is rarely over forty. Sometimes it’s thirty or thirty-five. And while that’s great for folks like me, who found composition very early and have been able to capitalize on a college education in the subject, it’s not so ideal for . . . well, lots of other folks.

I recently came across a composition competition run by the National Women’s Music Festival. They were soliciting scores from “emerging women composers” (their words), but I was surprised and pleased to read that there was no age limit (lower or upper) for their call. To be fair, it is less surprising that this is coming from an organization dedicated to women, because of one crucial thing: childbirth.

As we all know, bringing a kid into the world frequently bears a disproportionate impact on the parent who gestates the child. In heteronormative relationships, women are often (not always, but often) also saddled with the majority of the child-rearing responsibility. For many moms, birthing parents, and primary caregivers, this is fulfilling and absolutely something they want to take part in. However, it can mean pressing pause on a career—no matter the field—and in a profession like music where gigs frequently come up on short notice and run inconvenient hours for a caregiver, sometimes it is years or decades before a primary caregiver can return to composing. In those situations, I’d argue it’s even more important that these creatives receive support and opportunities from the musical community at large.

Please note I’ve tried to avoid gendering the primary caregiver here. In today’s world, where folks are more free to express their gender identities, we’ve got a lot of parents who don’t necessarily fit into being a mom or a dad (both in terms of identity and associated gender roles and responsibilities). And that’s important! This support I’m advocating for should be something offered across the board, including—especially—by organizations whose opportunities are open to all genders. This isn’t only to allow greater accessibility to women and the LGBTQ+ community; it’s also to take care of men who are primary caregivers, to help disabled artists, and to reach musicians whose race, nationality, or income level may have limited their opportunities as a composer earlier in life. On a fundamental level, this isn’t complicated—it’s simply acknowledging that there isn’t a single age range in which someone can check that “emerging composer” box.

Because life comes at you fast, especially in your twenties. If you’d asked me six years ago where I expected to be at this point, my first answer probably would have been “engaged or married.” I would’ve told you I definitely wanted kids, whereas now I don’t know. So much of how I expected my life to play out has been fundamentally altered by my music career and the people and experiences it’s led me to. I fully expect this to continue into my thirties (and, probably, for the rest of my life). Music—and my professional career—isn’t going to stop changing my world. The same goes for everyone else on this crazy adventure.

I just think our competitions and opportunities should honor that. ♦

Thanks for reading! I blog a lot about the intersections of music, feminism, misogyny, and sexual assault. Blog uploads are every Saturday at 8pm MST. To follow my ramblings and creative process in real time, or to support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram. Thanks again for being here!