Job as a composer

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Pauline Roper is a composer of classical music, working in her own home on a self-employed basis. She has composed a wide variety of music including works for orchestras, choirs, religious and educational use.

What is your role?

I compose classical music for concert situations such as opera and ballet. I also compose music for professional and amateur players to perform together.

How do you compose your music?

Performers or music organisations approach me to commission work, sometimes two years before the work is to be performed. The first stage is to research the concept for the music. I recently composed a ballet score, for which I researched Ancient Greek music and dance forms as the story is based on Greek mythology.

After this, I sketch out some thoughts, rhythms, structure, form, melodies and harmonies on the piano. Once these ideas are more concrete, I input the music into my computer which turns this into a musical score, using a specialist notation program.

When do you work with the musicians?

I regularly meet with the commissioning musicians so that they can listen to the work I have already done. They ensure that it is technically possible to play the music I have composed. I have to bear in mind the pitch ranges and balance of sound between various instruments, and their physical limits, such as how far they can stretch their fingers or play without breathing.

What is your daily routine?

I compose in the mornings, and during the afternoons I attend meetings, rehearsals or deal with correspondence. I set myself minideadlines, to ensure all the work is completed on time. It takes me about a month to produce five minutes of my best music.

What skills and qualities are necessary for this job?

You need to have lots of ideas, which must be channelled and structured. A high level of concentration is essential, along with self-discipline and organisational skills. You will also need a musical knowledge and training, and a love of composing.

What attracted you to this work?

My father was a composer, so I was brought up in a musical environment, playing various instruments. I started to learn the violin, and began playing my own music. Later, I applied to study composition at a conservatoire (music college).

What do you like about the job as a composer?

I love sharing a musical goal with other musicians and working together to bring these ideas to life.Working with children in schools is very enjoyable, as they provide a different audience for my work.

Pauline's steps to becoming a composer

  • Professional examinations in guitar, piano, harp, and flute.
  • Conservatoire (music college).
  • Degree at the Royal Academy of Music.
  • Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music.
  • Television researcher – music programmes.
  • Composer.

Pauline's tips

  • Study at a musical institution, even if this is part-time.
  • Try to obtain work in a related field, such as music education or media, for an all-round perspective.
  • Be able to write clear and persuasive letters and CVs, and be coherent and concise on the telephone.

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Salary of a composer

  • Composers are generally self-employed and often supplement their income with other jobs such as teaching.
  • The British Academy of Composers & Songwriters publishes fee guidelines for composers.
  • A solo work will attract a fee of £240 for each minute of composition, rising to £685 a minute for a full orchestral score.

Gettting in

  • Training in music, ideally from a conservatoire (music college) or a university is the first step. Some undergraduate courses emphasise composition. Postgraduate courses are also available.
  • Join organisations such as the Society for Promotion of New Music. You may be able to put on a production of your own music.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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