Creative Partners in the Work of Life

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.

2 thoughts on “Creative Partners in the Work of Life

  1. Susan Scheid

    Rob: This is a lovely tribute to the unsung or undersung creative partners and community of friends (and others) that support every composer’s and musician’s work and life. Can I just say here’s one audience member who does think twice about all of this? (And I know I’m far from the only one.) It’s true that concerts in large concert halls don’t tend to foster a recognition or sense of community of any sort (though it can be done), but concerts in smaller venues, particularly where listeners and musicians have a chance to mingle afterward, do go a long way to foster active understanding and to create a shared sense of community–and along with that, getting to know and appreciate–and sometimes even become part of– creative partnerships and friendships that support music today. So, hey, don’t write us audience members off just yet. Some of us know, and more of us can come to know “it takes a village,” too.

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  2. Erin

    As the unsung counterpart to an artist, I really appreciate you writing this piece. I think this is the most spot-on representation of the merits and challenges an artist’s significant other faces..and the rewards as well. It’s a lot of pressure to provide them with endless emotional support while still being secure enough in our own importance to not get jealous or estranged..and even worse..to almost never be recognized (as an individual or otherwise). However, the pride you feel for your partner when they finish a creation or are recognized for their talent is huge. Thank you again for drawing attention to those behind the scenes.

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