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Reflections on The Schubert Club’s Composer Mentorship Program by Isaac Blumfield

By Barry Kempton

The Schubert Club hosts a unique program for young composers called the Composer Mentorship Program. Each year, talented high-school student composers in the greater Twin Cities area apply to work with The Schubert Club’s composer-in-residence Edie Hill for the coming academic year. Chosen participants will benefit from bi-weekly lessons, roundtable sessions, career-building opportunities, tickets to performances, and a premiere of each students’ work on The Schubert Club’s Courtroom Concert Series. The program is offered free of charge to each selected composer and is sponsored in part by HRK Foundation.

In today’s blog post, past member from 2012-2015, Isaac Blumfield, shares about his experience in the program.

94d7cf19-94c5-46d0-bef5-d526837fb9ebAt the New England Conservatory, the school which I currently attend, the most common question to ask someone you’ve just met is: “What do you play?” As a composition major, I don’t quite fit into the syntax of this question. By my first night of school, it was clear that I was going to have to answer it quite frequently. While I initially answered by saying, “I study composition,” I realized that I was ready to start saying: “I’m a composer.”

This response hasn’t always felt immediate or natural. Calling yourself a composer implies a degree of self-assuredness, a confidence in the fact that writing music is your primary identity. Before I was a part of The Schubert Club Composer Mentorship Program, I simply ‘liked to compose.’ Now, three years later, although I still say it with a bit of hesitation, I can really say that I am a composer. 

When I think back to the beginning of my time in The Schubert Club Composer Mentorship Program, I am struck by how much trust was put in me from the start. I was certainly already a student of composition, but I had never worked with performers, written on a deadline, or run a rehearsal. The Schubert Club trusted that I would figure it out, and, with much assistance from composer-in-residence Edie Hill, my private teacher for three years through the Mentorship Program, I started to piece together the requirements for moving from a teenager who liked to compose to a young adult ready to assume the identity of composer. 

My first year, I planned an ambitious five-movement work for wind quintet. Having never written on a deadline before, I only gave the performers the last two movements weeks before the performance. While the Pavia Winds, our ensemble-in-residence that year, were able to put it together remarkably quickly, I learned my lesson. Furthermore, my piece was not written as idiomatically as it needed to be; I didn’t leave enough time for breaths, I didn’t have cues in my parts, and a host of other issues. While the Pavia Winds were patient with me, revisions were necessary. The experience of working with performers for the first time was truly formative. Without the Mentorship Program, I don’t know how I would have learned the practical, extra-musical skills that are vital for being a composer.

My experience in The Schubert Club has helped me have opportunities outside of the Mentorship Program that would never have been possible without it. The pieces that I have written for it have won awards, constituted much of my composition portfolio for college applications, and helped me apply to summer festivals. Through the roundtables run by Edie Hill, I have learned how to write a contract for a commission, apply to music schools, and map potential sources of revenue. The Mentorship Program empowered me to feel that it was possible for me to have a career in composition and become the composer I aspired to be. 

After completing three years in The Schubert Club Composer Mentorship Program, I realized that I needed to pursue composition on a professional level, using all of the tools The Schubert Club gave me. I currently attend the New England Conservatory, where I study composition with Kati Agócs. Attending a conservatory, where I have the opportunity to pursue music full-time, is a dream come-true for me that wouldn’t have been possible without The Schubert Club. Recently, I’ve been a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Awards and an honorable mention for the American Composers Forum NextNotes Award. My recent projects include a large work for solo piano commissioned by Stephen Self, whom I met through The Schubert Club, a work for amplified flute and electronics for flutist Carlos Aguilar, and my upcoming works include a new sextet and a work for violin and piano, both to be premiered in 2016. 

I am so fortunate to have had such a remarkable and unique organization like The Schubert Club push and empower me. Through their trust and encouragement, I have become not just a student of composition, but a composer. 

Learn more about the Composer Mentorship Program and download an application here: http://schubert.org/education/composer-mentorship/
The Deadline to apply is Wednesday, June 1, 2016.