Link to the Songbook

Lakeland 5th graders work together on song lyrics

In Common is a collaborative artist residency that gives communities the opportunity to explore and celebrate their unique diversity through the sharing of stories and the creation of new music. The composer’s residency in the community centers on creating music together and organizing events where people of all ages can gather to discover what they have in common. Each community hosts a yearlong project that is unique to their needs, and which brings diverse people together, including civic leaders, faith congregations, service organizations, and artists.

The Willmar project aimed to bridge cultural differences and share the stories of the diverse people in this community of more than 20,000 people. From September 2018 – July 2019 community members wrote poems and songs together, shared them at public performances and sing-alongs, and created a free, public resource. In Common has become a downloadable book of songs, poems, and art for the whole community to share, reflecting upon home and human experience. Everyone was welcome to participate in events and activities; no musical or writing experience is necessary.

A panel of community members selected Kashimana Ahua as composer-in-residence for 2018-19. Born in Nigeria, composer/performer Kashimana lived in Kenya and Ethiopia and traveled the world before making her home in the Twin Cities. Her songs paint compelling stories of her experiences in Africa, Europe and America, and she loves helping others explore their own creativity. Describing her passion for songwriting, she shares, “it pushes you to look within and outward at the same time; you are a participant and an observer; a storyteller and a lead character, a voice and a listener, ultimately you are a communicator. Everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story through song in a safe, nurturing environment.” Read the full press release.

Organizations hosting the project include the Unitarian Universalist Church of WillmarThe Willmar Community Center, and The West Central Singers. Over the course of one year (summer 2018 – summer 2019), Kashimana collaborated with Willmar area residents in many ways, including activities for storytelling, poetry & song writing, various African drumming traditions, cultural dance, communal meals, and music classes in Willmar area schools.


In Common is an intentional evolution of the long-running ACF program called Faith Partners, which for more than 20 years partnered congregations of different religious denominations in the Upper Midwest’s Bremer Bank communities, allowing them to collaborate and experience new music written just for them. During the 2018-19 In Common residency in Willmar, MN, community participants from all walks of life will gather to discover shared experience and purpose, and to imagine better lives in the community they all call home. This collaboration will forge new relationships and create new music — based on real stories and experiences, and performed by community members at free public events.

In recent years, the arrival in Minnesota of thousands of immigrants from East Africa has reshaped the Main Street of Willmar. Many have settled there, where they found work at the local Hormel-owned Jennie-O turkey processing plant. Today more than 20 businesses in and around Main Street are immigrant-owned. Along with the city’s more-established Latino community, the two groups now make up close to 25 percent of Willmar’s population, the majority of whom have Scandinavian and Northern European heritage. Despite religious and cultural differences, longtime Willmar residents and new immigrants are finding opportunities to build together a better future for all. This project aims to share some of those stories and celebrate this thriving, evolving community.


Otto Bremer Trust, investing in people, places, and opportunities in the Upper Midwest.


Download a PDF of the full description & eligibility (edited 01.26.2018)

This residency will be an opportunity for a composer to develop and lead a community-wide songwriting project, rather than a standard commission project. Organizers in Willmar envision selecting a composer who will lead diverse residents through the process of creating their own original songs (edited 01.26.2018). The selected composer will receive $18,000, be reimbursed for up to $2000 of travel expenses, and will be required to spend at least 36 days in the community during the yearlong collaboration.  


Monday, March 5, 2018 (at 11:59 PM Central Time)  


  • Those who live within driving distance of Willmar, MN are eligible to apply. 
  • Composers of all musical styles, with and/or without written notation, are eligible to apply. 
  • You do not have to be member of the American Composers Forum to apply.  
  • Composers who have participated in an ACF residency in the past four years are not eligible to apply.  
  • Staff and board members of the American Composers Forum and immediate family are not eligible to apply.  


The American Composers Forum encourages applicants from the full range of musical styles, and is committed to supporting a diverse pool of artists whose work demonstrates strong artistic merit. Accordingly, awards for our programs will represent, as far as possible, artists and projects that are diverse in genre, gender, race, ethnicity and geography.  

Characteristics of composers who could be a good fit for this residency:  

  • You have experience teaching or guiding people to create their own music.  
  • You create melodic, memorable, original songs for & with people of various ages, cultures, and musical experience levels.  
  • You can demonstrate your experience with samples of your teaching and of your original music.  
  • You are familiar with music reflective of Willmar’s cultures.  
  • You are available to spend at least 36 days in Willmar, and to visit Willmar at regular (likely monthly) intervals during the yearlong project.  
  • Your travel to Willmar is no farther than 250 miles.  


  • Every applicant will be contacted by email to let you know that we’ve received your application.  
  • In mid-April ACF will contact the 2-4 people who have been chosen as finalists, and interviews are planned for late April or early May.  
  • The panel’s decision will be announced in early June.  
  • Results will be posted on ACF’s website and applicants will be notified by email.  
  • After the announcement, all applicants will have the opportunity to set up an appointment with the program manager, Kris Kautzman, for feedback from the panelists.  

A panel of eight Willmar community members (musicians and non-musicians) has come together to identify project goals and describe the characteristics of composers who could be a good fit for this residency. American Composers Forum staff have no vote in the selection of the composer. The role of the staff is to assist with developing the residency and to facilitate the panel review process.  


Please complete the free online application at where you will share:  

  • 1-4 Audio or video sample(s) of your work: Your own original music (up to 2 samples); Teaching activities you’ve done (up to 2 samples); The panel will listen to at least 3 minutes of each sample you submit.
  • Teaching materials, music scores, or charts you’ve created, which support your samples.  
  • Replies to 2 questions that explain why you think you will be a good fit for this residency, either in written form (3 pages max) or video form (4 minutes max): 1. Why does this opportunity interest you? 2. What strengths and skills would you bring to this residency?  
  • A resume OR a list of 10 experiences that have shaped you as a musician.
  • Names and contact information for 2 people who know about your experience teaching composition or songwriting, and/or your experience with artistic collaboration. 


ACF staff want you to feel confident that you’ve put together your strongest application for our programs. Application workshops for this program will be held on:  

Monday, 02.05.18 @ 6:30 pm  

Tuesday, 02.06.18 @ 12:30 pm  

Thursday, 02.08.18 @ 7:00 pm  

You may attend a workshop in person or online. Everyone who registers for a workshop will be sent the login information, so that you can dial in if you’re unable to attend in person. If the application process presents barriers based on language, cultural background, or disability, we accommodate special application requests to the best of our ability. If you need assistance, or if you are unable to attend the workshops and have questions, please contact Kris Kautzman at or 651.251.2842. Thank you for your interest in this new program – we look forward to receiving your application! 


Frequently Asked Questions

(we’ll keep adding them as they come in)

What is the schedule for this residency year?

No schedule has been created in advance, but it’s intended that the residency will begin sometime in summer 2018 and end one year later. The schedule for visits to Willmar will be created by the selected composer and the community organizers, based on the composer’s availability and the variety of residency activities that are designed. For example: Teaching songwriting workshops at elementary schools would happen on a weekday. Being part of a community festival might happen over a weekend. A communal dinner would take place in the evening. The composer and community organizers will work together to map everything out so that activities can happen when the composer is available.

I’ve taught composition/songwriting, but I don’t think I have the right kind of work samples to submit. What should I do?

Realizing there are many ways to teach other people how to create music, the panel isn’t looking only for video or audio samples. Composition & songwriting teaching samples can also be included (in the application) as a written description of how you led and designed activities, and what kinds of music the participants created. Also, if written lyrics & music were created during your teaching/mentoring, you can share that. Documents can be uploaded directly into your application, or you can put them in a Dropbox or Google Drive folder and provide a link to the folder. Feel free to contact Kris for help thinking through how to best share & describe your teaching work.

If I’m expected to spend 36 days in Willmar, does that mean some of my visits would be multiple days?

Yes, this is likely.

Will housing be provided for overnight visits?

Until the artist is selected and a residency plan (calendar of visits) starts to develop, we can’t say for sure that housing will be provided with each visit. Past ACF projects show that community members often step forward to offer host homes for a resident composer, and similarly, the organizers will be encouraged to help arrange host homes for the composer’s visits.

What is the payment schedule for the $18,000 stipend?

The selected composer will have the choice between receiving their payment as 3-4 lump sums, or as a monthly distribution over the yearlong residency.

How does the $2,000 travel reimbursement work?

The selected artist will need to track mileage and provide receipts in order to be reimbursed for travel expenses. Reimbursement will be available on a monthly basis, until the $2,000 has been used up.

Click to view the application workshop slides