Continental Harmony: A Musical Millennium Celebration
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Continental Harmony: A Musical Millennium Celebration

Continental Harmony – a 50-state new music commissioning project, known as “a musical millennium celebration,” was developed to generate interest in/awareness of American Composers Forum.

Paul Holmes

  American Composers Forum (ACF) links communities with composers and performers to encourage the creation, performance and enjoyment of new music.  A national, nonprofit organization, ACF has more than 1,300 members and is one of the largest and most enterprising composer-service organizations in the United States. 
 
Continental Harmony – a 50-state new music commissioning project, known as “a musical millennium celebration,” was developed to generate interest in/awareness of American Composers Forum – by providing communities and composers the opportunity to participate in projects fostering enthusiasm for new music development.
 
In its inaugural year, Continental Harmony successfully united composers with communities in each state to create new musical works reflective of the history, culture or aspirations of its participating communities.  Selected composers spent 4-week residencies in their host communities working to illustrate these aspirations through composition.  Premiere performances of the 58 original works began on February 27 in Grand Forks, N.D., culminated with 20 events held simultaneously on July 4, 2000, and continued throughout the millennial year. 
 
Foley Sackett was enlisted to develop, publicize and communicate Continental Harmony’s purpose to potential sponsors, partners, participants and attendees during its most critical periods of planning and execution (Jan. 1999 – July 2000).
 
RESEARCH
 
The agency began by developing the program concept, design identity, name and a strategic public relations plan that defined primary audiences, provided targeted communications and took into consideration multiple research findings:
  • A survey of existing millennium and Fourth of July projects (i.e., Capitol Fourth, Boston’s Fourth, etc.).
  • An archival search for appropriate connections to music/composers during the naming process (Continental Harmony is named after the musical composition Continental Harmonies by William Billings – an American composer from the 1700s widely recognized as the “Father of New Music.”).
  • An overview of possible sponsors/partners and their potential role in relation to Continental Harmony.
 
PLANNING & STRATEGIC APPROACH
 

Target Audiences

  • Foundations/private sponsors – to fund Continental Harmony
  • Government and arts agencies – to support/partner with American Composers Forum
  • Music/arts/community organizations/schools – to host a composer and plan/perform a premiere millennium event
  • Composers/performers – to apply for participation in Continental Harmony and create a new musical work
  • General audience of those interested in music or millennium events – to attend performances
 
Objectives and Strategies
  • Awareness – Build momentum/maximize visibility of American Composers Forum through Continental Harmony.
  • Partnerships and Fundraising – Partner with arts organizations, government agencies and foundations to generate sufficient funds for supporting a minimum of 50 community projects and composer residencies. 

        Participation – Solicit arts/community organizations and performance groups to participate – at least one per state – by hosting a composer and planning/performing a millennium event.

  • Participation – Recruit composer participation for each of the 50 composer residencies.
  • Participation – Solicit attendance at local community events. 
 

EXECUTION

 
Following a successful pitch to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and receipt of a millennium grant to fund Continental Harmony, ACF/Foley Sackett began execution of the public relations plan, which included:
 
A self-mailing, 4-color poster outlining criteria for community selection, an initial media kit and a Call for Composers collateral piece (each 2-color), introduced the program to applicant composers and community/arts organizations targeted to participate (Dec. 1998 – Feb. 1999). 
 
Regular updates, via releases and advisories, newsletters, wire distributions and media calls, whetted the appetites of 1,400 local, national and special interest media (Jan. 1999 through July 2000).  Localized news releases and the Continental Harmony Web site, including its list of project descriptions, contacts and composers, were provided to assist host sites in creating a grassroots public relations campaign (Jan. 1999 – July 2000).
 
Because the program was introduced 18 months in advance of the actual year 2000 performances, consistent contact with the media was a necessity.  Communication throughout Continental Harmony’s initial introduction, community site selection, Call for Composers, composer selections, rehearsals/visits and, finally, the performances established and advanced relationships with arts organizations, sponsors, composers and the media (Jan. 1999 – July 2000). 
 
With early accomplishments, Foley Sackett/ACF created opportunities to partner with the White House Millennium Council, Rockefeller and Knight Foundations, state arts organizations and the NEA for further funding, documentation (15 independent radio and a full-length PBS TV documentary) and publicity in Continental Harmony’s inaugural year.
 
Just prior to the July 4 premiere performances, ACF/Foley Sackett provided one last publicity push, distributing Continental Harmony media kits, with customized news releases (individualized to each and every participating community’s project description, composer background), updated fact sheets, etc., to national and local media.  Verbal pitches were then made to hundreds of news outlets before the holiday performances arrived (June – July 2000). 
 
Finally, Foley Sackett orchestrated the distribution of a radio news release and audio media tour on June 29, 2000.  ACF’s executive director and Continental Harmony project directors fielded questions from national news organizations (USA & ABC Radio Networks) and provided details of local events to community and regional radio stations from New York to San Francisco.  ACF’s audio news release/media tour was a tremendous success, helping to drive event traffic.
 
RESULTS
 
Originally a one-time event to celebrate the millennium, Continental Harmony quickly reached and exceeded ACF’s milestones for community/composer participation, fundraising, partnership and awareness.  With its early successes, ACF has committed to expanding Continental Harmony to provide communities/performing groups the opportunity to participate in 2001 and beyond.  Compared to objectives, ACF/Foley Sackett can count these inaugural year successes: 
 
Participation
  • 175 communities applied to host one of 50 original Continental Harmony projects.
  • 750 composer applications received following the original Call for Composers.
  • 150 applications received for composer residencies at eight additional sites.
  • An estimated 186,275 people attended Continental Harmony premiere performances (through Sept. 2000).
 
Fundraising
  • The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) agrees to fund Continental Harmony ($500,000).
  • The NEA increases funding to Continental Harmony (to $750,000).

        Land O’Lakes Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Minnesota Arts Board and Ohio State Arts Council offer additional financial support.
 
Additional Sites (Available Based on Additional Fundraising Completed by ACF & Individual Sites)

  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation funds five northern California projects.
  • Oak Park, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo., announce additional sites after enlisting support from the Ill. State Arts Council, St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, Posey Family Foundation, E. Desmond Lee Music Education Collaborative, Fair Saint Louis, Tyler Place Recital Series and the Lazarus Memorial Fund.
  • Ecolab supports/launches a St. Paul, Minn., project in conjunction with the CAAM Chinese Dance Theater.
 
Awareness
  • Continental Harmony Web site generates approximately 1,000 hits/month.
  • Media coverage to date includes nearly 18 million impressions/45 million reach.
  • July 4th radio news release/audio media tour generates an estimated 12 million impressions/30 million reach.
  • Key message(s) written for media materials appear in nearly all media coverage.
 
Exposure Through Collaborative Partnerships
  • Rockefeller Foundation provides a grant to document 15 projects via independently produced radio segments.
  • Knight Foundation/ACF develop a full-length PBS documentary about Continental Harmony (to air Jan. 2001).
  • White House Millennium Council designates Continental Harmony as a White House Millennium Project.
  • Library of Congress records Continental Harmony as the first 50-state commissioning project in U.S. history.
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