For some, what makes the idea of composers interesting is the mystery surrounding the creative process as they sit in their monastic fortresses of solitude, locked in a bitter internal struggle with the musical maelstrom swirling inside their heads. What interests me, on the other hand, is how composers can do what they do while negotiating innumerable distractions, conflicts, and commitments, all while—most importantly—still being able to find time to have a real life. It may seem overly banal or simplistic, but this facet of the lives of those who create is important not because it demonstrates how different they are from the general public, but because it demonstrates how much they are the same.
One connection that I’ve found among almost every composer I’ve talked to—and here I’m just being safe, since I don’t actually remember anyone stating the opposite—is that they tend to have someone that they can call their partner in one way or another. Spouse, significant other, boyfriend/girlfriend, or just one or more close friends and confidants: No matter the title or level of intimacy involved, when all is said and done, these supporters play a unique role in the music by playing an important one in the life of its creator.
The position these partners take can vary wildly depending on many factors. Some will be involved in some way within the composer’s career. Examples abound of significant others working as the de facto business partner, acting as publisher, publicist, financial analyst, and manager. Others will interact artistically, either as collaborator or foil. There are many composers whose partners are not only performers, but who actively perform their works. Still other composers have partners who are composers themselves, creating a unique relational feedback loop that can be both artistically stimulating and challenging at the same time.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a partner or close friends whose careers and backgrounds have nothing to do with music or composing can allow composers to disconnect from their vocation for a time. It is all too easy for us to get lost in the minutiae of the music, so much so that we need someone to force us away from the page and pull us back into the world around us. In addition, they can give us not-so-subtle reminders of our humility; getting called to the stage to receive accolades for a newly premiered work can be exhilarating, but it won’t be long before someone provides a reminder that we’re not all that important…and that the garbage still needs to be taken out.
Whatever role these partners play, they cannot be thanked enough for it. The concert reviews won’t mention them, historians will only consider them if there is a scandal, and the audience won’t think twice about them, but it is often those who stand just offstage who provide a vital and necessary component to the birth and growth of much new music.