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.