Commissioning new choral music

Have you ever thought about commissioning a new piece of choral music for your full choir, a small ensemble, a trio/quartet or perhaps a feature piece for solo voice?

To commission new choral music is a unique, exciting and potentially highly rewarding process. It gives you, as the person commissioning the new work, the opportunity to be an integral part of the creative process, working with a living composer, whilst your singers will inevitably be caught up in the excitement of bringing to life, for the very first time, a never-before-heard composition that has been created especially for them.

There are many circumstances and situations that may suggest that now is an excellent time to consider commissioning a new piece of choral music. These include:

  • a newly-discovered text;
  • a special occasion such as a milestone event, wedding, anniversary, retirement;
  • honouring or memorialising a special person;
  • a school, team or organisation anthem;
  • opening an event or new facility;
  • commemorating an historical event;
  • providing a piece that is the focus of a concert, festival or worship experience;
  • a concert tour;
  • showcasing an ensemble or soloist; or
  • liking the work of a particular composer and having him/her create a piece that is uniquely yours.

As the person responsible for commissioning a piece of new choral music, you (and your singers) will be seen as people of vision, responsible for bringing to the contemporary cultural scene a new musical experience that has the potential to be adopted and performed by others around the world. And it will always carry with it, at the top of the printed page, the dedication to those who commissioned it.

I am always happy to discuss proposals and possibilities for commissions, as well as the process involved. Whilst the primary focus of my writing is for choir and solo voice, I am also able to write instrumental music or add instrumental accompaniment to choral/solo pieces.

As a published composer, I submit all my commissioned works to my publishers, Edition Peters, for their consideration. Whilst there can be no guarantees, there is a real possibility that your commissioned work will be published at the end of the agreed period during which you have sole performing rights.

I would welcome the opportunity to write a new work for you and your choir. Please contact me if you would like to discuss a possible commission.

The Commissioning Process

Perhaps you have thought about commissioning a new piece of choral music, but are somewhat daunted by, or unsure of, the process and costs involved. That’s quite understandable, but let me assure you that the process is not complicated and need not be prohibitively expensive.

Included below is a set of guidelines to help get you started and to address some of the questions that you may have.

How to Commission New Choral Music

The text for a new piece of music is probably the most critical element of the creative process. For me, as a composer, it is the text that drives the musical ideas and themes that will make up the piece. The search for an appropriate set of words can therefore take a considerable amount of time, for the text needs to lend itself to being set to music and needs to trigger, within me, a creative urge. To assist with choosing a text, consider the following:

  • Provide the context for the piece – the purpose or occasion
  • For a sacred work, suggest a passage from the Bible or other sacred writing; a part or parts of the Latin mass; a classical Latin or Greek text.
  • Nominate a favourite poet or poem. If the material is not in the public domain, it will be your responsibility to secure permission to use the text and to pay any related fees.
  • Suggest a theme that will guide me in searching out suitable texts that resonate with me.
Take some time to prepare a comprehensive brief that clearly outlines what you are looking for in your commissioned work and what resources you have to work with. Consider the following for inclusion in your brief:

  • Theme – purpose, occasion
  • Style – classical, gospel, popular, sacred, secular
  • Voicing, use of divisi
  • Soloist(s)
  • Accompanied or a cappella
  • If accompanied, number and type of instruments
  • Duration
  • Level of difficulty / musical ability of the performers
  • Size and age range of your choir
  • Distribution of parts
  • Optimum vocal ranges
  • A recent recording of your choir
  • Intended date of the first performance and the length of rehearsal lead time required.
Each commissioned work will carry a dedication, which will appear on the first page, usually directly above the title. The dedication can then also be used in programs and program notes.

The exact wording of the dedication can be worked out as part of the collaborative process.

As composer of the piece I will retain the copyright. If the piece is accepted for publication by Edition Peters, the worldwide copyright will then be vested with them.

As composer, I will also register the commissioned work with the Australian Performing Rights Association.

As the commissioner of the work, you will:

  • have the right to the premiere performance;
  • have the right to make the first recording of the work;
  • be able to request sole performing rights for a specified period of time (usually six to twelve months) before the piece is released for public sale.

I would appreciate a recording of the premiere (or subsequent) performance of the work for my personal use and also for inclusion (in part or in whole) for promotional purposes on my website.

Before commencing work on a commission I will prepare a draft Contract for your consideration and agreement prior to signing. The contract will outline our mutual expectations and obligations and will include items such as:

  • Commissioning party and Composer
  • Title and description of the work
  • Delivery date
  • Agreed fee and payment schedule
  • Composer’s rights and obligations
  • Commissioner’s rights and obligations
The time required from signing of the contract to delivery of the finished work can vary substantially from a few weeks to a year or more, so plan your commission with as much lead time as possible.

Several factors come into play in determining the length of time required, including:

  • Time for initial consultation, planning and research
  • Obtaining permission for use of copyright texts
  • Length of the piece
  • Complexity
  • Number of instruments
  • Writing, editing and creation of the final printed score
  • My existing commitments – composing and other
To the greatest extent possible, the commissioning process will be a collaborative one between me, as composer, and the person or persons who have commissioned the new work.

The collaborative process will include:

  • Agreeing on the final text
  • Developing a shared understanding of all elements contained in the Brief
  • Finalising the draft contract
  • Providing, for feedback, sketches of the work in progress

The collaborative process could also include:

  • Involvement in rehearsals
  • Working with the conductor and choir in preparation for the premiere performance
  • Attendance at the premiere performance

Such collaboration would be dependent on a range of factors including geographic location, travel time, availability etc. Costs associated with this level of collaboration (travel, accommodation, stipend) are not included in the commission fee.

Fees for a commissioned work can vary substantially, depending on a number of factors, the most important of which are:

  • duration of the work;
  • the number of vocal / instrumental parts;
  • the timeframe.

Fees are generally payable in two instalments – 50% at the time of signing the contract and 50% on completion.

Some indicative fees are:

  • Choral work in four parts, accompanied (eg piano) – AUD700 (USD550) per minute
  • Choral work in four parts, unaccompanied – AUD625 (USD500) per minute
  • Choral work in four parts, with chamber ensemble – AUD1000 (USD800) per minute
  • Solo/duo with piano accompaniment – AUD450 (USD350) per minute

All fees are negotiable

Perhaps you or the organisation to which you belong have access to sufficient resources to cover the cost of a commission. If not, you could consider the following options:

  • Apply for a grant from government bodies or arts organisations
  • Seek sponsorship from business
  • Consider a joint initiative with another choir
  • Establish a consortium to share the costs.
Commission new choral music


Previous Commissions

A selection of my previous commissions includes: