long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some
living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive
Copland, London Times, November 27, 1980.
Designing Your Project
Why Do It?
Traditionally, commissioning music has meant some kind of
long-distance relationship between the composer and the commissioning
organization. The music organization contracts a composer
to write a piece, sometimes for a special occasion or on a
particular theme. The composer writes the piece and delivers
the score. Perhaps s/he might be present at rehearsals or
But the model on which Continental Harmony is based
assumes that the community would like the work of the composer
to extend beyond the enjoyment the audience may experience
in the concert hall. The American Composers Forum believes
that the process of music creation and performance can serve
as a catalyst for a deeper community engagement with issues
of importance. These issues will, of course, differ from town
Every community can benefit from the strengthened social
bonds and vision which come from a musical celebration of
the unique features of landscape, history, and culture which
characterize a place. And individuals find great satisfaction
in finding outlets for their creative potential through working
with a composer and/or performing a new work of music.
But a community may be facing more urgent issues, issues
that would benefit from the coalition building which accompanies
a well-thought out and successfully accomplished composer
residency and community celebration.
- Perhaps the people need to cooperate on matters of economic
- Maybe the populace needs to focus on problems of environmental
degradation, resource use, or planning for a sustainable
- Perhaps there is tension between or among ethnic communities
- Maybe there is a disconnect between longtime residents
and newcomers over the communitys future.
A community celebration which includes important stakeholders
will contribute to establishing connections and a spirit of
cooperation which will persist beyond the performance itself.
Having the unique creative vision of a composer at the communitys
disposal through a process of residency and the creation and
performance of a new work of music, one which speaks to a
particular locale, is a powerful tool for civic engagement.
But. . .
Planning and carrying out such a project is extremely demanding
of time and money. The benefits are great, but so are the
Planning the Project
Before any specific planning takes place, groundwork will
need to be laid with relevant community constituents to
assure their interest in such a project.
- Consider collaboration with existing community organizations
whose missions are consistent with the goals you wish to
achieve. Successful collaborations increase the interest
in and ownership of a project, because each organization
has its own resources and constituencies.
- A planning team broadly representative of the issue or
theme to be addressed needs to be put together.
- If the lead organization is a performing group, the chances
of successful community-wide involvement are greatly increased
if partner organizations are involved.
- If the lead organization is not a performing group,
it is extremely important that the music director/conductor
of the performing organization is brought on board. Or if
a new group of performers is to be created, your team needs
to include someone who can organize such an effort and communicate
with various community musicians.
- A theme and occasion which will be meaningful to the communitys
people needs to be identified.
- A date and venue not in conflict with other community
events needs to be identified. Or if the project is to be
a part of an established community observance (such as a
July 4th celebration or other annual festival),
the organizers of that observance must be involved from
the beginning so that a project outside usual community
practice can fit in.
The actual shape of the project will usually evolve through
a committee process. Specific cultural sensitivities or
modes of operation in your community for such work should,
of course, be observed. Several months need to be allowed
for this initial visioning and planning if the committee
is diverse and composed of volunteers from throughout the
Finally, dedicated leadership from a relatively small group
of individuals is necessary to keep the process moving, to
maintain coalitions, and to see that delegated tasks are completed.
Preparing a Budget: How Much Money Do You Need?
In some communities, all the costs except the composers
fee and travel might be donations of time, equipment, or products.
In others, a substantial cash outlay may be necessary to carry
out the project.
Paying the Composer
- The composer will receive a fee for his/her residency
and composition. For Continental Harmony in the year
2000, these fees ranged from $7,500 to $12,500 for the commission
and up to 4 weeks of residency. The size of a composers
fee varies greatly according to: the length of the piece,
the length of the residency desired, the number of separate
instrumental and vocal parts to be included, and the reputation
of the composer. At the high end, an established composer
might get $1000-per-minute of finished music. On the other
hand, a short piece by an emerging composer might be acquired
for substantially less than $5,000. For guidance on appropriate
fees, contact Meet
The Composer, Inc.
- A travel allowance to subsidize the composers trips
to the community should be included.
- If the composers copying costs are not to
be included in the fee (this is a matter of negotiation
with your composer once s/he is chosen), some amount for
copying should be included. The larger the piece, the more
the composer will have to pay a copyist; this may range
from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Carrying out the Residency
- Staff time
- Office, telephone, postage, supplies, etc.
Putting on the Performance
- Housing, transportation, and food for the composer
- Informing the community of residency activities: advertising,
invitations, refreshments, rental of space, etc.
- Sound & lighting equipment and technical assistance
- Venue preparation and/or usage
- Recording (see The Premiere
for more information)
- Performing rights license fee
- Copying parts
- Special equipment or instruments
- Ushers, stage hands
Raising the Money
State and Regional sources:
- Your community might be eligible for a 3-year Meet
the Composer New Residencies project.
- Your project might fit into the continuation of the American
Composers Forums Continental
- Americans for the Arts
Animating Democracy Initiative funds arts projects
which engage the community in serious civic dialogue.
- Chamber Music
America funds several programs that may coincide with
- Competition for money from large national foundations
is stiff, but several are interested in combining the arts
with community development. We suggest you review the guidelines
for Rockefeller, Pew, Wallace, Kellogg, Knight, and others
who have an interest both in community and the arts.
- The National Endowment
for the Arts is also a possibility, although again competitive.
- Your state arts board.
- Your regional or local arts boards.
- Philanthropic/corporate foundations whose program priorities
focus on a particular state or region. For example, the
McKnight Foundation funds arts projects in Minnesota; the
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is interested in northern
California, the Otto Bremer Foundation funds projects in
towns which have Bremer banks, etc.
- Your community may have a community foundation which gives
grants for arts projects.
- Important businesses in your community may be willing
to sponsor your project in return for recognition and a
chance for their employees to participate.
- Your local Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Authority,
Tourism Board, etc.
- Your city government, or its departments (parks, housing,
- Your school district.
- And the tried and true, private donations.
Any of these sources of funds will require that you submit
a proposal. In clear and compelling prose, a successful grant
proposal will explain the vision of your project and how you
plan to carry it out. You should also include materials which
indicate your organizational ability to complete the project
successfully: qualifications of project staff or volunteers,
budgets, etc. And you should include sample materials from
similar projects you have completed (programs, evaluations
of previous projects, press coverage of your organization,
Making your application into an attractive and professional
presentation is important. Competition for scarce funds is
always increasing. How your proposal looks is a direct reflection
on your organization.
But once you have raised the money, now you need to begin
the process of finding a composer.