I was happy to be a part of the Barlow Competition, hosted at Snowbird resort, and I’d like to first thank the Barlow family for making the event possible, and for their funding to host the interns and judges and other guests and administrators. I felt well taken care of and privileged to be able to participate in the inner workings of this great event.
I learned so much by just being able to observe the proceedings of the competition. I listened to the judges’ discussions of the pieces that we were hearing and it was interesting to hear how they agreed or disagreed, and the predominant criteria that each judge had for measuring, and the process whereby they came to a consensus. I learned that a prevailing criterion was to find music that is well crafted, and produces a sense of motion and direction toward a goal, and music that moves the listener. Another important consideration was how well they wrote or would seemingly be able to write for their proposed commission if they won the prize.
I took my own notes on some of the pieces, and it was interesting to see how my notes lined up with what the judges later commented on the pieces, and also where we differed. The combined meetings to decide the winners were also interesting in that some lively musical discussions ensued. There were diametrical disagreements, and a range of perspectives, but each judge was able to put aside their own personal idiosyncratic preferences to make way for the consensus that would allow for the unanimous decision of the winners.
Some of the other topics that came up include: the visual aspect of music, where the visual element of the work can’t be divorced from the work itself. One of the judges requested clarification on pieces such as this to know if they should judge only the musical aspect, or if the visual aspect should be considered. This information would also be helpful to pass along to the composers to set expectations.
It was great to get to know my fellow composers better, and to meet other composers, performers, and conductors and administrators, and to see their journeys as we crossed paths briefly in the mountains for this wonderful event.
Getting to talking the judges at the Barlow and listening to them discuss the submissions honestly changed my understanding of good music completely. While there was a huge variety of music submitted, I noticed several distinct qualities that all the judges seemed to be looking for. Among these qualities was novelty, development, quality of music, and orchestration.
I notice that one of the fastest ways for a piece to be eliminated was because of a lack of novelty. That doesn’t mean that “old sounding” music is bad, it just wasn’t what the Barlow was looking for. For example there was one LDS submission that was just sublime choral music, which would be so successful in many other settings, just not in this competition because it was too “textbook.” The submissions that got the most attention were the ones that had a unique sound even when compared with other modern pieces. Some pieces even lacked novelty because they just sounded like some trying too hard to make modernist music, like having heavy repeating rhythms, or dissonant chords that did nothing to help the development of the piece.
Speaking of which, development was another important aspect the judges were looking for. I think I heard every single judge mention something about development while discussing the music, even though that was not one of the standards explicitly set forth at the beginning of the judging (the original standards were quality and novelty), which definitely says something about its importance. All the judges wanted to hear a message or story in the music. They wanted to be taken through the music by the music, whether this was in an emotional or intellectual sense, not just through a lot of interesting sounds or textures.
Quality of music seemed to be just as important as development, but a lot harder to define. The judges generally seemed to be looking for music that clearly had a lot of thought and study put into it. You could tell the difference between music that was just slapped together, and music that was an extension of some musical style or that had some profound meaning behind its structure etc. Speaking of which, all the judges had such a vast knowledge of modern composers and trends, which helped them understand the thought processes behind a lot of the pieces, and which also made me realize that I am way behind in being up to date with modern music and I need to catch up.
Last of all, orchestration was another frequently mentioned musical quality. I admit that orchestration is something I know very little of, and I don’t exactly know what makes good orchestration. I could tell that the pieces the judges seemed most interested in sounded very balanced in their uses of instruments, so I assume that is related to the orchestration, but this is something else I realized I’m lacking in and want to study further.
Thank you again for this incredible opportunity. As I said before, it was extremely eye-opening to me on what is most important in music as well as what subjects I need to understand better. I hope I can have this opportunity in future years so that I can come back and compare what I’ve learned from this year.
My experience as a Barlow Intern has proven to be one of the highlights of my
college career. Not only was I able to learn about the competition and what judges look
for, but more importantly I was able to meet and talk with so many talented composers.
On the first day of judging I was able to listen to my judges who talked about the
good and bad of each application. They always had something good to say, which was
encouraging, but they also had a clear method to choose who they wanted to send
forward to the finals. My second pair of judges worked faster, but they clearly were
working in a similar fashion.From this I’ve learned how important it is to truly consider
what the ensemble is when applying for the Barlow Prize, but also to any competition in
The positive comments made by all of the judges through the week, as well as
their clear criteria also helped me to feel more positive about my own music and
compositional process. Just because something doesn’t do well in a competition, that
isn’t a perfect indication of it’s quality or value.
Before this experience, I didn’t know a great deal about the Barlow competition. I
knew there was a Prize, but I didn’t know about the General or LDS commission
categories. Seeing the money that is available to composers and ensembles made me
consider applying for those categories if the Prize doesn’t fit how or what I write that
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this experience, though, was seeing
how even those who didn’t make the finals may have opportunities in the future. I heard
multiple ensemble judges and regular judges say that outside of the competition they
were going to see about working with some applicants. The fact that a competition like
the Barlow is an opportunity to get your name in front of people is something I hadn’t
I am incredibly grateful to the Barlow family and the Barlow in general for
allowing me this opportunity. Truly, I can say it has both reenergized me as a composer
and exposed me to people and opportunities I never could have imagined. I plan to
apply for Barlow in the coming years. Being in Snowbird with so many talented people
and having conversations with them is something I will be forever grateful for.
This report may be a bit scatterbrained; I have taken in an inordinate amount of very
enlightening information over the past few days, and I am still processing it. The report will
more closely resemble a series of bullet points than a coherent and organized message with a
thesis and related points/evidences.
Working with the judges, both in preliminary and final rounds, brought several new ideas
and concepts to my attention, as well as illuminated the process of the judging end of a
composition competition. Specifically regarding competitions, I learned what judges are looking
for and what they aren’t, what kind of music is being submitted and what makes it to the final
round, and the particularly important point that judges and ensemble directors remember the
names of submissions that stood out to them, regardless of whether or not they win. This leads
me to believe that submitting to as many competitions as possible, even if you feel strongly that
you won’t win, is vital to getting your name in front of musicians who like what you are doing.
Seeing what judges talked about (and what they didn’t) helped me get a better grasp on
what writing in our current day really means, and how important understanding modern
expectations actually is. Even more interesting than where they all agreed was where they didn’t.
Here are a few topics touched on during discussions that felt particularly profound:
● The dichotomy (potentially false) between emotion and intellect
● Extra-musical qualities of individual composers, such as degrees of success, minorities,
● Hybridization and its extensive history within classical music, particularly in regard to
● The importance of “traditional” elements of Western music, such as harmony, melody,
structure, expressivism, counterpoint, and clarity of gesture.
● American modernism
● The relationship between more conversative and more experimental music
● Reliance of many composers on complexity and textures
● Length of pieces and of ideas; many, many pieces were criticized for having good ideas
that lasted too long.
● Contrast between pieces that show an expansive vocabulary and skill set
These are among the many takeaways that I had while listening to the judges converse, both in
pairs and in the full group. I am extremely grateful to the judges for how they treated me and the
other interns; I felt as though I wasn’t lesser than them, and I quickly became more excited than I
was nervous to engage in conversation with them.
Although not expressly part of the internship, I learned a great deal from the time I had to
talk with the other interns. It helped me to flesh out ideas, learn new perspectives, and gain a
general sense of connection and community. I feel that in particular I learned a lot from Gustaf,
who has a vast amount of musical knowledge that he has clearly thought about a great deal, and
is remarkable at expressing himself in a very clear manner. Seeing other reactions to some of the
more controversial opinions some of the judges had allowed me to develop more nuanced
opinions and full understandings of those particular opinions.
I would like to finish my report by expressing my gratitude to the Barlow family. The
experience was life-changing, and has left me inspired. I have spent the majority of the past year
isolated from most anyone who appreciates and has the desire to engage in conversation about
music on anything but a surface-level, and I have found myself incapable of actually writing any
music as a result. But now I feel the need to start writing again. I feel as though I was paid (both
in actual money and in various expenses) to simultaneously vacation and gain priceless
experience, as well as feel connected to like minded individuals. This experience was
transformative for me as a young musician and composer, and as a young person in general, and
I’m not sure how I can adequately express my gratitude.
I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be an intern during the 2021 Barlow Endowment judging at Snowbird. I am especially grateful to the Barlow family for making the experience possible, and for their continuing support of the arts.
Sitting in on the judging experience was exhilarating and exhausting. The standard was high, competition was fierce, and each day I walked away from the judging questioning whether I should continue my studies or career as a composer. Certainly nothing I’ve written would have stood up to the criteria of our judges.
In the joint discussions of the finalists, it became clear that, even at the highest levels of music composition, the standards by which submissions seemed to be judged were largely subjective. The give and take between objective and subjective quality is a debate that never ceases. Such a realization was encouraging to me.
As a naturally shy person, it was difficult for me to ascertain those moments where it would be appropriate to approach the judges and learn from them outside of their deliberations. The judges seemed to be mostly alpha-type personalities, at least in this context, which intimidated me. So, I was largely content to just watch them.
It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with my classmates/composer-colleagues from BYU. We actually rarely do anything together in the major, and, for some, this internship was the first time I got a chance to know them and their music.
This peek behind the curtain was truly a singular experience. When I applied for the BYU composition program with virtually no theoretical knowledge or composing experience, I spent quite a while wondering how my feeble attempts at composing were being evaluated. My time as an intern has better equipped me with a foresight and self-awareness that will inform my compositional processes for the rest of my life. Again, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.