Carl Strommen: How to Get Started in Professional Music Writing

Part 2 of our interview with Carl Strommen – read Part 1 here.

This year, WorldStrides commissioned an original concert band piece with renowned composer and arranger Carl Strommen.

Heritage: How does one get involved in professional music writing?

Carl: There are so many avenues open to potential writers. Film scoring, music libraries, companies that provide pre-recorded music for the media (T.V., radio, film), non-published music for independent orchestras, bands, ensembles, choirs, jazz bands, and so on. All require a solid grounding in theory and orchestration, and a working knowledge of Finale and/or Sibelius is a must. Most publishers have a stable of writers they can call on who will provide clean, accurate scores and parts that are close to camera ready.

Unsolicited submissions generally do not get priority, unless a personal connection can vouch for the writer. With the advent of the internet, more writers are building web sites where they can promote and sell their music, thereby bypassing the print publishers. The advantages include owning the copyright (you give that up when dealing with a publisher) and receiving full price for your music rather than a percentage royalty. The disadvantage is that the self-publisher does not have the international advertising and distribution clout of the larger companies.

Anyone who has been bitten by the music “bug” should go after it. Study, listen, find the best teachers and make sure that everything you write is played “live.” The human element is critical – something current scoring programs can’t provide.

Heritage: How has your work enabled you to see the world and your thoughts about music as a vehicle for storytelling?

Carl: As to physically seeing the world, I have been able to visit most of the U.S. Some trips that were memorable include being invited to Maui to write for the Maui Community Band. Great band, great trip! The band members chose the title “Haleakala,” named after the famous volcano on Maui.

On another commission, I was invited to spend some time in Barrow, Alaska. This most

Northern town on the Arctic Ocean has a High School band that is truly outstanding. One director, Ronnie Stanford, does it all – from elementary school to secondary school (Go Whalers!) The students titled the piece “Nalukataq,” which refers to the blanket toss. At this writing, the Barrow band will be performing at Carnegie Hall in early April, 2015.

Two full days with the band members of a Tennessee High School Band in Bristol produced a memorial to 9/11,“In Their Honor”. Not only did they name the piece, they contributed to its composition and orchestration.

Visiting in music only, I became immersed in Irish music when I was asked to write a wind band arrangement of Riverdance. I still cannot shake the 6/8 pulse. It was helpful in putting together an arrangement for the Notre Dame Band, “The Julia Delaney Reel”. A few years ago, Jim McRoy, asked that I write an arrangement of Polish Folk Songs for the C.W. Post Wind Ensemble to be performed on their Eastern European tour. One of the band members spoke the language and taught us how to sing in Polish.

I am currently working on a piece for Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, that has strong Scandinavian ties. We recently had a Skype call and, with the students input, decided on a piece that will center on Swedish folk songs.

So, one way or another, music has made me a world traveler.

Carl Strommen’s arrangements and compositions have been performed worldwide and published by Warner Bros., Belwin, Alfred Music, Carl Fischer Music, C.L. Barnhouse, Kendor Music, and Smart Chart. A resident of Long Island, New York, he holds an M.A. in Music from The City College of New York and is an adjunct professor of orchestration/arranging and composition in the Graduate School of Long Island University Post.

The WorldStrides-commissioned original piece, “Kivgik,” will be available April 15 to all of our directors attending a bowl game or parade this year. It will be exclusive to our directors through the rest of this year and released this summer to Carl Fischer Music, but will continue to include a paragraph in the first page of the published piece about how WorldStrides Heritage Performance commissioned the piece and dedicated it to all of our wonderful directors that have traveled with us and will travel with us in the future. 

Learn more about our performing programs.

Article written by Andy Pillifant

Andy Pillifant
As a copywriter, Andy is one of the voices of WorldStrides. A linguistic chameleon, he writers about, well, everything, Favorite topics are culture, human nature, and soccer (which is about culture and human nature, don't you think?). He loves camping, hats, his wife and three sons.