ARTS ORGANIZATIONS HAVE a life cycle like any organism—they are born, grow, wane, and finally die when they've outlived their usefulness. And it's not always money that's the driving force. When the Washington Composers Forum went into hibernation in 1995, it was just a matter of finding new blood to take over the organization of monthly composer presentations and new-music concerts after director Ron Fein decided to move on.
Last winter someone was found: At the suggestion of Cornish composer Janice Giteck, Fein approached Christopher Shainin, not only an active and skilled composer but a proven success at administration with the Seattle Creative Orchestra and the Contemporary Chamber Composers and Players. The forum's first monthly meeting in February started an ongoing discussion about the direction the WCF should take—specifically, whether or not to join the American (formerly Minnesota) Composers Forum, which in recent years has established regional chapters outside its home base of Minneapolis. These other chapters started from scratch, but the ACF's talks with the WCF mark the first time they've attempted to "colonize" a preexisting organization.
Generally speaking, the two options before the WCF are to be a presenting organization (directly generating opportunities for composers through concerts, reading sessions, the commissioning of projects, and the like) or an advocacy group (raising the composers' profiles in the community—in essence, persuading others to create opportunities for them). The question is which path to take—or, if energy and money allow, how to balance the two concerns. The ACF clearly focuses on the latter; projects they favor involve sending composers out to schools, churches, and other community groups to collaborate on artworks and events that engage listeners beyond the circle of traditional concertgoers.
Other questions involve financial autonomy. ACF chapter status will provide the WCF with access to nationwide funding sources it wouldn't otherwise have—but will the WCF also be allowed to raise funds independently for "unofficial" projects not paid for by the main office? Will WCF members be expected to raise money locally for the national organization and then turn around and apply for it to fund local programs? What are the pros and cons of the ACF being the WCF's "middleman"?
SHAININ IS TRYING to arrange for an ACF representative to come and answer such questions in a "town meeting" sometime this fall. For now, the monthly meetings will continue, offering composers a chance to air their concerns and share news. This was one of Shainin's priorities from the start—"to provide a network for composers to meet each other and know about each others' work. . . . There hasn't been an organization that really shows the full breadth of compositional activity in this city, and I think that's one of the most valuable things the forum can do." Composers have used the meetings (every second Tuesday at Jack Straw Studios) to introduce their own work and to speak on topics of particular expertise, such as the making and marketing of self-produced CDs or composing for non-Western instruments.
The ACF's courting of the WCF shows that it considers Seattle a city amenable to new music. Shainin agrees (for one thing, there's technology money to be tapped, he admits) but suggests areas for improvement. There's a lack of low-cost venues, "something that's affordable, something an ensemble can rehearse in. . . . Most of the compositional performances I do are in churches, [which] may not be optimum in all cases—more theatrical performances or those that use a lot of sound equipment." Shainin would also like to see more interaction and support between the large organizations and the smaller ones, though he cites Benaroya Hall's Day of Music as a great example of a central event that brings mainstream and fringe music groups (and their audiences) together.
The next WCF meeting will feature bassist/improviser Matthew Sperry at Jack Straw Studios, 4261 Roosevelt Way NE, 789-3628. 9/14 at 7:30. Six WCF composers will also present a program at the Benaroya Hall Day of Music, 9/19, at 4:15 in the Recital Hall.
Read our picks for the fall's best classical music.