Visit Your Local Station PBS Home
PBS Home Search Programs A to Z TV Schedules Shop PBS Station Finder
Continental Harmony
Continental Harmony
Sound Lounge
Teachers Guide
Online Toolkit
Film and More


"Music…began with man, primitive man, trying to duplicate Nature’s sounds – winds, birds, animals, water, the crescendo of fire – after which great systems of learning were set up, only to discover that music is limitless."

Duke Ellington, Music is My Mistress, 1973.

The Residency

Commissioning projects that include a residency period have a much greater positive impact than projects in which the music is simply delivered to the performers. The time the composer spends in the community getting to know the people and the place, working with schools and civic groups, creates a process that results in community ownership of your project.

Based on the experience of the American Composers Forum, it is strongly recommend that a residency period be included with any commission. A residency may vary in length: Meet-The-Composer’s New Residencies program extends for three years. American Composers Forum’s Continental Harmony project includes four weeks of residency spread over a year. Naturally, the length of the residency will affect the composer’s fee, so residency plans should take into account community resources. But even a relatively short residency period will provide great benefits to both community and composer.

During your composer's initial visit, s/he will be taking the first steps to learn about your community, what makes your people and location special, and what your community wishes to celebrate through the commission. From this first visit to the end of the residency period, it is your responsibility to make sure that your composer’s needs are being met while they are in residence. Your responsibility in this part of the project is both organizational and financial.

To get the greatest value from the composer’s time in your community, we recommend that the residency be spread out over the duration of the entire project, from the time you select the composer through the premiere of the commissioned work. A typical schedule for a short residency like Continental Harmony might include several days to get acquainted, a few days or a week of residency activities near the midpoint, and a week or so leading up to and including the premiere.


The first aspect of a residency that needs to be determined is where the composer will stay. When seeking a location, bear in mind: will this be a convenient and comfortable place for the composer? for the host? If it’s in someone’s home, how will it work to have a houseguest? If it’s in a hotel or other commercial location, what will it feel like for the composer who will be there for several days? How will the cost of these accommodations be borne, as a donation on the part of the home-owner? an in-kind donation by a hotel? your organization paying the bill?

Once housing is arranged, you’ll need to consider how the composer will obtain meals. If the composer will be staying in someone’s home, is the host expected to prepare all the composer’s meals? or is the composer expected to cook for him/herself? If the composer will be staying in a hotel, will the hotel also provide meals? or will meals need to be arranged at other locations around your community? Would it be easier to provide the composer with a per diem, so that they can purchase meals at their own convenience? or would you rather have the composer submit receipts for reimbursement?

Finally, you’ll need to consider how the composer will get from place to place in your community. If you’re in a small town, with all locations in a concentrated area, walking from place to place should work. If you’re in a city, the composer may need to be driven or use public transit to travel between locations. Depending on the composer you choose, they may have driven their own car to your community. If so, you’ll need to consider where the composer’s car will be parked overnight, and at residency sites. And no matter what means of transportation the composer uses, you’ll need to provide the composer with a clearly marked map of your community, unless you arrange for community members to drive the composer from place to place.

Perhaps the most sensible way to plan these logistics is to put yourself in the composer’s shoes. What would it be like for me to spend a week in a community? How will I be able to fulfill my obligations to the host organization and enjoy my time in the community? While there’s no right or wrong way to handle these logistics, they will need to be agreed upon by you and the composer prior to the first visit. Explore with the composer what will feel comfortable for both parties.

In addition to structured residency activities (see Programming, below), it is essential that the composer have some time to get acquainted with your community and its people in an informal way. This might include:

  • getting together with senior citizens or other groups of community residents
  • meeting with local writers or artists
  • "hanging out" at places where local residents do--the post office, the lake, the community center, the general store
  • attending community events
  • doing research at the local library, historical society, or community newspaper

The depth of your composer’s connection with your community will be reflected in the quality of the residency activities and the commissioned work. By allowing time for and encouraging the kinds of interactions listed above, you will help foster a more meaningful and rich relationship between your composer and the people of your community.


The composer’s residency in your community will serve a two-fold purpose: to educate the composer about your community, and to educate people in your community about the composer. As you plan activities for the composer, please keep this interrelationship at the forefront. A successful residency will result in the creation of a piece of music that the community will feel connected to, and will open the doors to the creation of future partnerships with artists, both from within the community and from beyond its borders.

Among the activities that may be planned are:

  • educational workshops at schools, colleges, places of worship, and community centers
  • master classes with people interested in learning composition
  • lecture/demonstrations for civic and professional groups
  • open rehearsals with performing ensembles
  • professional development sessions with composers, conductors, and performers

At the location of each residency activity, you’ll need to be sure there is an on-site coordinator, preferably an employee of or a volunteer from the location. As the on-site expert, this person will be responsible for making sure that all the logistical arrangements for the composer’s visit have been taken care of. Your help in facilitating this will be essential to the success of the activity. (For a complete list of logistical needs, please see the Residency Check-List.)

Once all the residency activities have been determined, you’ll need to provide the composer with an itinerary that lists the date, time, and location of each activity. It would also be a good idea to provide each of the residency sites with a copy of this itinerary, just to be sure that everybody involved knows who will be where, when.

At the conclusion of each residency activity, you’ll need to devote some time to evaluating the program. Your candid and thoughtful responses about the program will help you to learn from your experiences so as to create even more meaningful, useful and effective programs in the future.

  pic2  pic3