Residential Architecture

This past week I had the opportunity to be in New York City, which I still think of as my second home, as part of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer’s Music Alive Short Term Residencies Program. For one jammed-pack day, the selected composers and representatives of the involved orchestras convened with the staff of the administrating organizations, the purpose being to inform, support, and assess the work we were about to embark on: that of being composers in 2-6 week residencies with institutions ranging in size from regional and youth orchestras to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

After a morning of overview, presentations, and refining our respective residency agendas, the afternoon was spent in conversation, the aim being to further fine-tune the services of the Music Alive program. While a lot of fascinating and engrossing topics were discussed, one in particular struck all with a sense of urgency and importance: what does one do after the residency? In other words, what can one do with the initial investment of the participating orchestras so that the fruits of the labors of all involved, from composers to orchestras to the sponsoring organizations, are more than a flash in the pan?

How do you build on a good thing? What can we as composers and administrators do to help those performing organizations that have a true desire to continue to involve living composers, but are still green to it? While each participant’s residency has its own distinctive personality, all did seem to have one common denominator: each host ensemble already had a previous relationship with its residing composer. Whether it was a passing acquaintance with the conductor or the orchestra had already performed or commissioned its composer, every residency had in place the chosen person due to previous circumstances before applying for the Music Alive funding.

This should come as no surprise. Except for perhaps the American Composers Forum’s Continental Harmony program, there really is no national infrastructure through which conductors/music directors can be introduced to composers. Perhaps there is a way current composer residencies can help? As part of residencies, composers can help orchestras set up a mechanism that will help them find other composers to have in residence. This could be setting up a public search process. Or, orchestras could utilize the American Music Center’s NewMusicJukeBox to find possible candidates. The current residing composer could do even as little as suggest ten colleagues who might be a good fit for that specific organization. If all the participating composers did only that, it would open the door for at least 70 more composers alone. And how could the service organizations help the orchestras in this quest? Perhaps they could help by offering support in laying the infrastructure for an ongoing composer residence program. This could entail everything from how to find and/or allocate funding to creating residency contracts to fostering ongoing board and audience support for the venture.

These are my jet-lagged musings as I have returned to my true home, San Francisco. But I know there are many more ideas out there. We just need to share them. Groups like the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer are listening. You know the old proverb: if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But, if you teach him how to fish, you can feed him for life.

2 thoughts on “Residential Architecture

  1. rskendrick

    2 ideas
    Fascinating topic Belinda. I have a few thoughts to share on this. About a year ago, on behalf of the Iowa Composers Forum, I talked with the musical director of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra. I asked him if he’d be willing to put on an entire concert of music by members from our organization, if he could choose the pieces he’d like to perform and if we’d pay for the concert. Much to my surprise, he thought about it for 2 seconds and said ‘sure, how do we go about it’. Well, long story made short, he’s now chosen 5 pieces to perform at this concert next May, and he’s really excited about the project. We’ve also just landed a $8,500 grant from the Iowa Arts council to support it! So this is one way we’ve created relationships between 5 composers and a conductor. And, the conductor looked at scores by 20 composers (this was after the first round)…so he became familiar with many more.

    It also sounds like the Iowa Composers Forum is going to be providing tactical advice to another major orchestra in the state in terms of how to go about commissioning or creating a composer in residence program. We’ve offered to help administrate and judge the commissioning competition… it may or may not be getting ‘our’ composers in the door… but it serves the over all cause, and is a favor that will most be likely paid back down the road. The old idea that I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.

    These are a few ways composer advocacy groups like ours can help.

    Reply
  2. mryan

    Thoughts
    It would be wonderful to have such programs in place, but we composers need to take responsibility to socialize as human beings (something I’ve never been good at, but I’m learning). I remember once hearing the advice to go where the musicians are. If you are interested in writing for flute, go to a flute convention . . . I don’t say this to discourage organizational efforts, but in the end organizations are only tools to build relationships between people, just like the internet here: we are the web.

    2 cents,
    M. Ryan Taylor

    Reply

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