This year, Canadian classical composers have cause to celebrate: the Canadian League of Composers (CLC) has turned 60, and is still going strong.
Members of “the League” (as it’s commonly called) feel they’ve come a long way since the CLC was created. In May, at a balloon-festooned reception at the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto, the mood was festive and upbeat.
“When the CLC first started out,” explains composer Victor Davies, “performances of Canadian works were very few. But today, performance opportunities are manifold. Orchestras are playing Canadian music, and we have many contemporary-music groups across the country. Operas, string quartets, concert bands – today there are lots of opportunities for Canadian composers.”
Back in 1951, the League was a small, exclusive club, with just 20 members. But Canada in the early 1950s was full of can-do optimism and national pride: anything seemed possible.
Today, the CLC has grown substantially. “The current membership is around 350,” says the CLC’s former president, Toronto composer James Rolfe, with quiet pride. “Within the last five years we’ve grown by about 100. We’re trying to be more active and reach out to those who haven’t joined. Anyone who’s active as a composer, full time or part time, is welcome.”
Helping this recent boost in membership has been ongoing funding from the SOCAN Foundation, which has supported the League’s operating expenses for the last decade.
It might come as a surprise that there are so many classical composers in Canada. Most are trained in universities or conservatories, and they usually write concert music – although opera is a growing interest.
On the other hand, most League members aren’t getting rich from what they do. According to Rolfe, the number of CLC composers who earn a living from writing music “is probably 20 or less – maybe closer to a dozen.”
Nevertheless, the League stands behind the principle that composers should be paid and has established commissioning rates. If you hire a CLC composer to write a 10-minute string quartet, it will cost $4,350; a 20-minute orchestral work will run you $14,300.
The League’s newly elected president, Jennifer Butler, is a Vancouver-based composer who’s supplemented her income over the years as a flute teacher. At 35, she just finished a doctorate in music at the University of British Columbia and is one of the younger members of the CLC.
“About four years ago,” she recalls, “the League held a career development workshop in Vancouver on grant writing, so it made sense at the time for me to join. We [classical music] composers don’t have anyone representing us but ourselves. The League fills a void.”