From the Spring, 2003 issue

False Identity?

by AL BENNER

I was contacted recently by an investigative reporter from a major newspaper asking if I knew of a specific composer and an award that composer claimed to have won. The answer to both was no, but I explained that that didn't mean the award wasn't valid. I, however, did find it strange-as did the reporter-that with major competitions and organizations wanting publicity these days, no mention of this award could be found through the internet. In the course of our conversation, I went on to talk about how the internet is a valuable tool for legitimate composers and organizations to get publicity-but it can also be used to lure legitimate composers into giving false credentials to undeserving individuals. Let me explain how I think I have been, on occasion, used in this way.

Over the past number of years I have been contacted by individuals-mainly living overseas-via e-mail seeking material to play on upcoming concerts. Of course, like most composers, I am both excited that I have been contacted and that my music will be given performances. Thus I eagerly send my music to the people involved. After a while, I get an e-mail message saying my piece was (or will be) played in a certain venue on a certain day. I, of course, request a copy of the program or (if available) a recording saying I would be glad to cover any expenses. Here is where it gets murky. I generally receive a message (again through e-mail which is the only contact reference I have) saying either a recording wasn't made and/or something would be sent to me. Time goes by and nothing. I again e-mail requesting a program (and possible recording) saying it is for my records and also to help me with my academic end-of-the year activity report to my division head. Now generally one of three things happens-either no response, an excuse as to why a program was not presented at the concert, or I do get a program, but it is so sparse in detail and so poorly written, that one wonders if the concert ever took place at all. In the meantime, I get contacted by the individuals saying now that they played works of mine, would I mind playing a work of theirs. Again, since I think this is legitimate and I am being given "reasonable" excuses as to why no programs or recordings, I go ahead and try to arrange something for them. But ultimately the bottom line is I give them a performance (along with a legitimate program and recording) but I myself get nothing that is legitimate "proof" that a performance of my work took place. And of course, I usually can not find any mention of the performing organization, or, if I can, the actual performance, anywhere on the internet other than that which I have myself placed on my own websites. As I explained to this investigative reporter, I am hearing a lot of similar stories from other composers.

When I go to a composer's website, I don't know if what he or she claims is true or not, but I assume it is. I have looked at websites to verify whether or not the contact I received is by someone who is active in the field. When I see "connections" to either organizations or people I know, I have some degree of confidence that the composers are legitimate. If there are none of these connections, I try to follow up with a name or organization on the site that I do know. I find it rare nowadays when a composer doesn't have a website, but that doesn't automatically throw up a red flag. I do find it unusual when a performing organization doesn't have a website. I know concerts I give through the Louisiana Composers Consortium (LCC) can be found on the internet. When a performing organization says they have played my piece but neither they nor the concert appears on the internet, this seems to be reason for doubt.

As I concluded my discussion with the investigative reporter, I said the internet is both a blessing and a curse, and that many of us are now questioning whether or not performances took place or awards have been won. Simply being on the internet is not necessarily reason to believe something is true, but more and more, not being on the internet is reason to cause questions as to whether or not something actually took place.