Commissions: Part 1 (Text)

There are many ways to go through a commission process with a representative.  I have developed a process over time, and for the most part, I have found that it works quite well.  This process was developed out of my own experiences, and I am delighted to share it with you.

A commission is a piece written specifically for a person or group, based on the desires of a representative.  I have had representatives contact me in very busy times, so I’ve sent them to other composer friends whom I respect and trust.  Most of the time, we negotiate a compatible time for completion, and then I begin thinking about the commission.

In my experience, commissioned choral works are difficult to publish.  They are for a specific group and purpose, and sometimes the purpose is so specific, the general market does not respond very well.  The first step is to establish a commissioning fee.  The commissioning representative is not purchasing the piece, but the fee is purchasing the FIRST PERFORMANCE RIGHTS.  In my earlier commission process, I have had representatives who have not understood that concept.  I have developed a contract for clarity.  It only takes one negative experience, and one learns to officially establish expectations and policies.  I have had no problem with understanding since the contract was developed over a decade ago.  Here is a sample of the contract I use for commissions:

Commission Contract Page 1

Commission Contract Page 2

Personal theory:  “If a person is paying me to do a project, then I should make them part of the process.   “Whatever works” is the best way I have of describing my journey through this facet of composition and arranging.  Clarity is the most important aspect of preparation in writing the commission.  You will also note that I require “up front” payment.  The check is held until the work is completed, but I have learned through past experience that it is a wise thing to do.

Am I always successful in this process?  No.  Just recently I was forced to terminate a commission process, when I realized that my style was likely not a style that was compatible with a choral group’s preferences.  I was delighted to submit other names as possibilities for the representative, but my mental focus was a bit “cluttered” after our discussions to be able to come up with creative material I loved…I was uncertain about what might be desired, and I wanted the choral group to enjoy the music they sang.  It was clear that the representative needed to go in another direction.  My musical style may or may not fit some ensembles, and  other experiences have been wonderful for me.  You will know when it is time to suggest re-direction.


As a choral music writer, the text is everything.  I have enjoyed creating texts for commissions, and I have followed many processes.  Sometimes the representatives have no idea as to where they want to begin, so I ask a few questions.  For a youth choir, I heard a statement such as, “Well…they really seem to do well with nature themes.”  So…I wrote a piece with original material based on God’s Grandeur (poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins), incorporating the hymn This is My Father’s World, but respected gender sensitivity with “This is God’s wondrous world.”  I then found that I could put the two melodies on top of each other.  The piece became The Grandeur and Glory of God, and it was totally fun for me!!  It took some “thinking”….it took some “time”….but….the product was one that “spoke.”  Find a text that speaks to all….including the composer!  I must stay interested and engaged throughout a commissioned project, and it generally takes a while…so…make the text interesting.

In another project, a poem was requested from a church member, and coupled with My Faith Looks Up to Thee, became a 25th Anniversary anthem.  In yet another situation, a celebration of “being,” when a church sold its property, and moved to a new church…in a new location….with a new pastor…it just seemed fitting to “sing a new song”….and the title of the piece was Psalm of New Beginnings.  I was also delighted when Don Neuen’s Hour of Power Choir sang this piece for the first service in their new location as well… when they moved to Shepherd’s Grove.  The piece eventually came around to congregation participation in the familiar hymn tune Come, Thou Fount.  The congregation had submitted poetry and “ideas”…phrases of who they wanted to be in this new place.  The first verse consisted of a combination of their words and my words, based on the information I had gleaned  as I spoke to the representative and other church members.  Most of the text centered around the “new” theme.  I selected most of their phrases, and created the second verse.  Lastly, my husband was a former pastor of the church, so I had him put the last verse together about future directions and moving forward with energy and passion.

For public schools, the task is a bit more difficult.  Some choir directors want choral arrangements based on favorite folk songs…or they may find a poem based on a certain characteristic of an individual they are honoring…or….in both sacred and school commissions, the representative may have no idea as to what text they would like.  So…I may make suggestions.  I keep a notebook of texts.  Some people suggest copyrighted poetry, and the hoops through which they must “jump” are outrageous at times.  If you know someone who might make it easier (a poet’s spouse/friend of the poet), life is good.  Sometimes you  have an entire Foundation in control.  So….I prefer to set public domain material.  It is just easier to make it happen.

Hopefully, this blog entry has assisted you in thinking about future commissioning possibilities.  Find the composer whose style appeals to you….then….find a good text. Then write the publisher or composer via websites, and communication can begin.  The publisher contact the composer, and it goes from there.

Enjoy your day!!  Find a text!  Find two!!