Tag: lifestyle

Artist Residencies: All Costs Considered

Perhaps the question we get most often from other artists and musicians is: “How do you make all of this financially feasible?” From our perspective, we’re more shocked so many artists and musicians make ends meet in cities where rent prices are high, and opportunities to stay out and spend money are ubiquitous. Here’s the best advice we can give on making it work: it might involve some small sacrifices along the way (translatable into a “consume less” mindset), but we’ve found our life moving from residency to residency to be inexpensive and artistically fulfilling.

We apply to all kinds of artist residencies—those that provide stipends, those that provide in-kind accommodation, and those that ask modest fees. We’re not dismissive of any of these categories of opportunities, as we take into account every aspect of the financial situation. From the cost of the residency itself, travel to the location, and the general cost of living in the country, many factors weigh in. Occasionally, we’ll run into a residency that is very expensive compared to the general cost of living in its location. As we can’t justify for ourselves those expenses, these are the only residencies that we categorically avoid.

One great resource for comparing the general cost of living for travelers is numbeo.com. The website provides continuously updated information about the cost of various items in any location, and lets you compare them to other cities. Using this, we can estimate how much we might spend on food and anything else we might need during our residency.

Perhaps we are early adopters of something that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago.

Several factors will increase the affordability of a residency. Longer residencies are typically more affordable, as the cost to travel to and from a location might be the most expensive piece of the puzzle. But lately we’re more focused on longer residencies also because we leave more deeply connected to the communities we were a part of.

It’s rare to find a residency that will pay for your travel; although there are plenty with stipends, we’ve only ever applied to one that provided travel. This is why planning residencies so that you’re moving the shortest distance is very advantageous. After being invited for one residency, consider applying to other interesting opportunities that are nearby, as traveling to those will be significantly cheaper. Beyond minimizing the distances, it goes without saying to consider all the travel options early in advance when prices are at their lowest.

It is worth mentioning that we don’t pay a phone bill; when we need to make a call, we use a Skype credit that’s very cheap, international, and paid per minute with no monthly obligations. In all our travels, we rely on WiFi for communication, and haven’t encountered any serious issues.

Possibly the most important factor is the time you give yourself in preparation for the residencies. If the residency is over a year away, it gives adequate time to find the cheapest travel options, to contact venues and universities for paid engagements, and to apply for grants.

There are so many parts of this equation that are specific to our situation, from starting out right after graduating school with no serious dependencies tying us to any particular place, to being a couple that can always share accommodation and support each other in the more taxing and difficult stretches of our journey. In this way, the financial side is an individualized process, that takes into consideration your own priorities and personal goals.

It seems to us that our ideas about a life spent traveling both access ideologies shared by many people in our generation, and take advantage of everything that technology and the internet has on offer in 2018. Perhaps we are early adopters of something that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. Traveling has never been cheaper; it’s possible to work from anywhere in the world; and social media helps us share our music and keep in touch with others. At the same time, these choices we’re proposing address a lack of desire to own property, the unaffordability of housing, and a prioritization of sharing experiences above all.

Passepartout Duo in Germany

In this way, artist residencies represent a small sliver of things in the world that are in no way property, and are only shared. Each resident comes in with the knowledge that this place where they live will soon be passed onto another artist. Like a family home being passed from one generation to the next, layers of experiences, art, and traces left behind accumulate into a rich tapestry of culture and life.

It is a lifestyle that has led us to think about every aspect of modern living. We feel that travel proposes an alternative cartography—the map of one’s own life, that isn’t at all consistent with the map of the world. What you’ve done and where you’ve been defines you, and defines your art. At the moment, we are extremely happy to travel for music and to have met so many kind and interesting people along the way. We are lucky, and grateful for it, and hope that more people will take on opportunities of their own that help make their own worlds grow.

Artist residencies for musicians: 5 tips on the application process

Finding affordable housing and a space to do one’s work is a task on the minds of many emerging artists; artist residencies provide a solution, freeing up time and space with low or no cost to the artist. Residencies also emphasize the importance of meaningful exchanges, providing insights into local cultures, communities, institutions, and art markets. We’ve been traveling from residency to residency for about a year and have loved our experiences through these programs: they give us clear short-term and long-term deadlines; they help us stretch our collaborative muscles by working with people from many different backgrounds; and they have helped us adopt a more interdisciplinary approach to our music and practice. Here is the best advice we can give to anyone curious about applying to and pursuing residencies.

1. Finding opportunities

There are a variety of ways to dive into all of the opportunities that are on offer out there. The easiest way to start is through these three websites: transartists.org, resartis.org, and artistcommunities.org. Together, the three websites are an index of more than 1000 different institutions worldwide. These organizations also offer support to the residencies themselves, from creating listings for visibility to fiscal sponsorship in the case of Alliance of Artist Communities.

If you’re looking for a residency opportunity and can’t find at least a handful to apply for here, you’re probably not looking closely enough. There was a day when we sat down and went through every single opportunity in these databases, seeing which ones have a piano, accept musicians, and other factors that pertained to our specific situation.

At first glance, it might seem like applying to all these residencies could add up in application costs, but the truth is that the vast majority don’t have an application fee, have a very flexible application process (as they accept artists of all disciplines), and can be applied to on a rolling basis. And with hundreds of opportunities on offer, there are approaching deadlines each month. You can always check Resartis for upcoming deadlines, or start keeping a residency deadline calendar like we do. Anytime we find an opportunity, we add it to our calendar twice with the appropriate URL: once when we think we need to start working on the application, and once when it’s due. This way, you can immediately add any residencies you hear about that sound like a good fit and then not really have to think about it again until a deadline is approaching.

2. The Anti-Résumé

The headline of a New York Times opinion piece reads: “Stand Out With an Anti-Résumé for Your Next Job Application.” Monica Byrne, a writer, has created an Excel spreadsheet of every failure and rejection she’s encountered and coined the endearing term “Anti-Résumé.” Well, we’ve become pretty extreme proponents of the Anti-Résumé. We have a spreadsheet of both rejections and positive responses. It lets us keep everything in check. In our work, we have a success rate of about 1 in 2 with applications (knock on wood). It just means we have to do twice as many applications as opportunities we’re interested in. We’d encourage anyone to take this approach, to learn from the numbers, and to make their own observations about the application process. Even if our average was 1 in 5, or even 1 in 20, we could easily persevere just having the knowledge of how much work it takes to earn a single opportunity. All in all, it takes a constant regimen of looking for and applying for opportunities to travel from residency to residency.

Passepartout Duo in California

3. Turning in a strong application

In many of these cases, you’re going to be evaluated by a non-musician against a lot of other non-musicians, and we think that’s great. Our main suggestion is that, on its own, a straight-shot video of you running through your repertoire might not be super impressive to someone who doesn’t understand your instrument or new music. The video you create, and the portfolio you present, should be as representative of your ideas as the music you’re making. We’d suggest trying to reach out to designers or videographers to help make a dynamic and engaging portfolio that helps your project speak on a visual and conceptual basis, more than just on a musical one.

Making videos has been a huge part of our work as a duo, and we think it has played a big role in making our music more accessible outside of the traditional new music spheres, besides adding a collaborative and interpretative layer to the works.

Secondly, there’s an aspect of project proposals that is very important to the application process for residencies. Constantly sending in residency applications has given us a wonderful opportunity to re-codify our ensemble’s values and beliefs on a weekly and monthly basis. With each application, we try to be even more articulate in the conceptual aspects of our work; “Why are we even doing this, and why is it important and relevant to x place in the world?” Choosing a project that has a clear local and community-based proposition, while maintaining a globally accessible concept, is probably the key. If your project pertains to a specific region, you can easily propose it to many different residencies in that same area as well.

4. Building off an “anchor” opportunity and developing it further

Eventually, there comes a point where you’ve landed a great residency opportunity that makes it worth traveling halfway across the world. Maybe it’s that there’s a healthy stipend, a world-renowned artist nearby, or a friend you’d love to collaborate with. We always strive to take these opportunities and stretch them further. Our research to dig deeper is where we make the most progress in turning one opportunity into many. Once we know we’ll have a residency lined up somewhere, we look at how we can add concerts, university engagements, and other activities into the mix.

Our first suggestion is to like every Facebook page and sign up for every mailing list in that certain music scene; it’s the easiest way to see what’s going on in the world. Getting in touch with past residents is another great way to see what is going on in the local community and how the location might impact your work.

After accumulating these contacts, we’re sending emails and calling institutions; with the residency confirmed, institutions and venues will be more eager to invite you to perform or teach. We’re always looking at cost over time too, rather than just cost per engagement. That means that with this one “anchor” opportunity in place, it frees you up to take on engagements that you wouldn’t fly across the world for, per se, but that really contribute to enriching your life and add a lot of value to the whole of the trip.

This idea of building off a single residency opportunity is what will make these experiences rich and worthwhile, and you may find that a residency is usually just the start of many larger relationships with other artists and institutions.

5. Making something while you’re there (what residencies want)

Showing the work you’ve created at the residency to the local community and your hosts is also a very important part of every residency engagement. Bringing enthusiasm and a willingness to share a window into your creative process is possibly the simplest thing you can give in return for these opportunities. For composers and other people whose work doesn’t contain a necessarily performative or exhibitable element, we’d encourage you to find an engaging way of communicating your project to your hosts and the public.

It’s great to have a community engagement project, a performance, or some kind of presentation prepared for any situation. For us, creating videos that showcase our repertoire while in residence and organizing small touring “house concerts” have been some of our most fulfilling and popular approaches. Filming the repertoire can involve the collaboration of locals, and it can portray these unique places in the world. Organizing intimate concerts can help to stretch one’s ability to present and discuss musical ideas with people who might never have been aware of new music, and meeting local people can create lasting memories everywhere you go.

In the end, our approach is summed up in three words: “just do it.” There’s not really much more to it than that; we’re always trying, failing, and experimenting ourselves with a continually evolving approach. These pointers just represent some of the things we wish we more clearly knew when starting out.

Morocco, Iceland, Finland, and Cyprus: To Change and Be Changed

Before getting into the details of how we discover and apply to artist residency opportunities, we wanted to share our thoughts on some of the benefits to performers and composers of continual travel for music. The main takeaway is that every artist residency is different in its financial burden, its scope, and its circumstance; we’d like to encourage people to take on engagements of every kind, not just those which offer stipends and plentiful resources.

Marrakech, Morocco // Flexibility

Passepartout Duo in Marrakech

In April 2017, we were in residence at Dar Slimane, in a remote location outside of Marrakech, Morocco. Part of the institution’s mission is to revitalize desertified land altered by years of unsustainable agriculture, while also supporting artists in an interesting cultural environment. There are residencies of all sizes out there, and Dar Slimane represents those of the smallest size, where just a local couple is essentially hosting artists in their home. It has a completely different dynamic from those like Avaloch Farm or Banff that musicians often turn to, but one we’ve come to cherish in its own right. Small residencies are normally run by artists themselves, and they can connect you with the local community and environment in ways that huge institutions cannot. The key lesson we learned through our experience, and the one that made participating in this residency possible, was to be flexible artistically.

For the first time, we had a circumstance that necessitated leaving our instrument comfort-zone. We knew there wouldn’t be a piano on the premises, and that we would only be in residence for two weeks. Our solution was to learn and record a piece by Christopher Adler that is scored only for instruments that could all easily fit in a carry-on suitcase. The piece was great for this situation but, better yet, it was a choice that set us on a path to seek out increasingly more portable solutions. Here’s our current traveling instrumentation, as it existed in Åland a couple months ago:

Passepartout Duo's mini set-up

Our stay in Morocco represented the first time we wondered, “Should pianists only apply to residencies that provide a grand piano? Do we need to find a five-octave marimba?” Prefaced by saying that we believe there are an incredible set of residencies all offering beautiful pianos, of course our answer to these questions is no. A recurring theme in the classical music world is to “bring classical music outside of the concert hall,” but that’s not a proposition we can pursue without changing our perception of what is needed for a performance.

Our desire to continue working within situations as culturally vibrant and influential as ours in Morocco has played an important role in how we’re approaching music now. We had a bug—not having a proper instrumentation—that has now been transformed into a feature of our ensemble: being able to travel and perform anywhere. We’d encourage anyone to extend the perimeter of their comfort zone when it comes to artist residencies. Whether it’s about being away from home, having limited resources, or stretching what is financially possible, usually the good will outweigh the bad in the end and you’ll come out with inspiring experiences that would’ve otherwise never happened.

Iceland // Think big (and then make it work)

We were in northern Iceland for a residency at Listhús art space that coincided with their Skammdegi Festival. During our nine-week stay we: recorded an EP, filmed three music videos, played on the Dark Music Days Festival, were on the Radio and TV in Icelandic, had a small house concert tour, and met a dozen other inspiring artists (from the town and abroad). We were even extras on a Netflix show. By our standards, that’s a lot for nine weeks in a completely new location. It wasn’t like we were stretched to our limits either; in the dark and cold North, we had the time to be introspective, to catch up on typical admin work, and still had plenty of energy for fun and discovery within this unique place in the world.

It did come at a price, though. Not all residencies are free, and this was the most expensive one we’ve participated in. The fee and expenses of living in Iceland can sound a bit difficult to swing for most people, but an eagerness to take on this opportunity helped us to find a way to make it work.

One of the hidden benefits of distant travel as an artist is the ability to accrue funding from grants not only from your home city/country, but also abroad. Our residency proposition in Iceland opened us up to many different funding bodies in the Nordic countries that helped us to build a project across many locations and disciplines. We were able to couple the opportunity with an advantageous festival appearance that also helped offset the cost.

Grants and funding aside, we think that giving a fee per month to an arts organization that needs it, is so much more satisfying than giving that money to a landlord. Our project in the Nordic countries quickly expanded to include festival appearances, composer commissions, and residencies in Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, and Denmark. Although it took a leap of faith and a small initial investment, this larger project that accumulated support on the way would have never happened without the Listhús residency as a catalyst.

Fiskars, Finland // City Living and Quality of Life

Passepartout Duo in Fiskars

Fiskars, a small town outside Helsinki that is owned by the Fiskars company, is a true “artists’ village.” Funds from the company helped facilitate an influx of Helsinki-based artists to live and work in the vacant factory buildings. Though a town of just 600 or so permanent inhabitants, it is somehow an epicenter of arts and culture. Couple that with Finland’s incredible public education and social programs, and it’s hard to imagine a place with a higher quality of life for musicians.

It’s easy to think that media center cities like Los Angeles and Paris are the only places it’s possible to be a contemporary musician in touch with the vanguard, but traveling has shown us something different. Going to an artist residency somewhere halfway across the world will give you an outsider’s perspective on your own life and the current circumstances in which you live. It will also give you a window into another kind of lifestyle you may not have yet encountered.

The lesson we’ve learned this time is that the best place for you to choose to settle down may not be the city you grew up near and it doesn’t have to be automatically the city you went to school in; it’s possibly even somewhere you haven’t heard of yet.

Treis Elies, Cyprus // Local and global communities

We stayed in the small town of Treis Elies, Cyprus this past July as part of the Kammari Residency. Kammari was very recently started by a small group of Finnish/Cypriot artists and philosophers. With just 20 permanent residents, the town of Treis Elies represents a shift in Europe where small rural villages are losing residents and becoming uninhabited. With several young couples moving to Treis Elies from abroad, the village’s make-up is now a mix of an older Cypriot generation and a new very international one, not without clashes of lifestyles. The introduction of the artist residency has created a foundation for these two different cultures to interact on and this has drastically changed the sense of community within the village. In Treis Elies, meals and drinks are shared on a daily basis regardless of age, language, or background. In a place with a history such as Cyprus’s we felt this message was very powerful: that artist residencies propose the ability to change a cultural landscape.

La Casa del Herrero in Torralba de Ribota, Spain (population 188) is doing the very same thing: it represents one of three artist residencies in the same small village, and it contributes to building a vibrant and inclusive community there. Our experiences at these residencies were not only defined by the art we encountered, but also defined by memories of conversations shared over lunchtime backgammon and late-night barbecues in many languages. We learn about different cultures and communities in this way and often can draw parallels between them.

The people we know, and have met on the way, are what have made our experiences meaningful, more than the places we’ve been. It’s both for us and for these communities we encounter that we hope to start new discussions about art and create shared memories during our travels.

Morocco, Iceland, Finland, and Cyprus: it was a general openness toward going anywhere and an eagerness to share our music with anyone who will listen that brought us to these places. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and hope that by seeing these four examples you’re encouraged to travel somewhere not only because you want to go there, but also because you think it might expand your world, practice, or ideology in some way. Traveling somewhere new provides us with a thought-provoking invitation, applicable in both life and in new music: to change and be changed.

Bringing a Residency Home

I’ve attended a different artist residency every year for the last four years, and at each one, I’ve learned something new about how to structure my life and my approach to composition.

The time at a residency feels sacred, and for that brief period, your life is centered around the pursuit of creativity. I find myself wondering how to take it all—the feeling of having enough time, ample creativity, and room to establish new routines—with me when I leave. Last year was the first time I felt that maybe I’ve finally answered that question. I found myself utterly homesick at a residency last spring, wondering what I was doing there that I couldn’t be doing at home. I realized that, over the last four years, I’ve created a life that has a lot in common with an artist residency.

Time is abundant at a residency. Because your life is suddenly structured around nothing but composing, you learn to confront any anxieties about the act of writing music or about not being good enough. In this way, a residency can serve as a sort of pressure cooker for any self-doubt or habitual procrastination already present in your everyday life. You’re not going to feel like composing every day, but in a place where life revolves around being creative, what do you do when you’re feeling burnt out?

Day to day, you realize that it’s almost less important what you’ve composed than that you have composed at all.

You learn to keep sitting back down at the piano or the desk, which can seem so difficult in ordinary life, with its many distractions: the computer, the phone, other people. Here you learn to just sit down and write. You learn to stop thinking about whether you’re writing the “best piece of your career,” and you learn to stop weighing your measly string quartet in the context of thousands and thousands of other, better string quartets that have come before. You learn what’s most conducive to getting work done, and you learn to abandon what isn’t. Day to day, you realize that it’s almost less important what you’ve composed than that you have composed at all.

At the residency, you’ll have a new workspace. Often, there’s a proper desk: a sturdy, large wooden desk, with room to spread out scores. There’s a piano, or there should be. It should be better than your piano at home, but if it’s not, you find a way to appreciate this piano because, at least temporarily, it’s yours.

Every day offers a new reminder that this is not your ordinary routine. Maybe you’re eating every meal with the same group of other artists, like you’re back at sleep-away camp. You go for a daily hour-long walk, or take up running again for the first time since high school, or find yourself hiking for eight miles on the residency property. You realize that you need to re-think your relationship to exercise at home; namely, you need to do more of it—walking, running, hiking—because you’re much stronger than you thought.

At a more social residency, you realize you’ve had a drink (or three) with dinner every night for the last two weeks. You compose for nearly six hours straight and skip lunch. Maybe one night, you find yourself singing karaoke in a bar in Wyoming. You seek out new things: new cafes, new hiking trails, the seventh-highest bridge in the United States. Maybe one of the other residents teaches you all how to play poker, and you stay up later than you’ve stayed up in months.

Other than when to eat meals, there’s no implicit structure here. Your new routines may barely resemble the ones you’re used to, or they may incorporate the best of your work habits at home with extra room to get things done. You learn what needs to be done to take care of yourself when there is no one else to take care of, and no one to take care of you.

You learn how to structure your days. Going straight from an undergraduate degree into grad school, I’d mistakenly thought I thrived on deadlines. Residencies have taught me that that’s a lie; in fact, I’m happiest when I build my day around one- to two-hour bursts of productivity interspersed with breaks and when I stretch out writing a piece over months, not weeks. I’m happiest when I’m at least a little bit productive each day and when I finish projects far ahead of schedule, with ample time for editing. This realization has completely altered how I compose back at home; now, I start projects as far in advance as I can, and I try to build in space for doing a little bit of work at a time and letting it unfold slowly, unhurried.

I’d mistakenly thought I thrived on deadlines. Residencies have taught me that that’s a lie.

At a residency, you’re confronted with being either “the most productive you’ve been in your life”—notes flowing freely and abundantly, six movements of a 35-minute piece drafted in just two weeks—or completely uninspired. You’re forced to define productivity to yourself and to accept that sometimes, when you’ve been productive enough, you need to figure out what to do with your free time.

I struggle so much with this at home. Even on a day when I’ve gotten plenty of work done on the business side of composing and taught a few piano students, I’ll catch myself complaining about my “horribly unproductive day” just because I didn’t also compose. This is something I’m clearly still working on: defining which work qualifies as “productive,” and trying to expand that definition to “all of it.”

At my first few residencies, I was the most productive I’d been in my life. I accepted “absurdly productive” as my default state at residencies until I found myself at one where, for two weeks, I had no desire whatsoever to compose. I’d met two big deadlines right before I left for the residency, and it was the wrong time to isolate myself for a month with the pressure to write even more.

That was a useful experience, though; I realized that timing at a residency is crucial. I cancelled a residency that I would have attended this spring, because several months ago, looking at the schedule I’m living right now, I realized the timing—just after several deadlines, a conference, and an album release—would have been wrong again. I’m glad I cancelled when I did. Here I am, months later, in desperate need of a guilt-free composing break and ready to take one.

That brings us back to free time. At a residency, you can’t possibly spend every waking second writing music; you can certainly try, but it’s not sustainable. You suddenly have more free time than you’ve had in years. How do you spend it?

I love to read, and I read fast; when I was younger, I devoured books daily. More recently, aside from reading in bed every evening for 10, maybe 20 minutes at most, reading novels for fun was a habit I’d stopped. It wasn’t until I started attending residencies that I learned to return to books when I needed a little break, or, if I was feeling uncreative, for entire days.

At home now, setting aside an hour or an entire afternoon to read still feels like a luxury. I haven’t yet learned to do it without a small, nagging part of my brain asking whether I shouldn’t be doing something more productive. But at a residency, there’s plenty of time to walk, to listen to podcasts, to watch movies, to listen to music, or to read an entire book in a day. I’m trying to give myself the same permission in my at-home life: to sit still long enough to let myself completely relax, and to spend several hours with a novel without feeling as though I’m neglecting something more important.

At a residency, your relationship with yourself changes. If there are other artists there, you see yourself reflected through your interactions with them. If there’s no one else there, you learn to be alone with yourself. You learn whether you enjoy spending time with yourself. You learn that whatever you don’t like about yourself is with you all the time, not just here; all of it rises to the surface. You learn to live with yourself, and you carry that home with you. If you enjoy spending time alone, you learn to make that a priority when you return home, too.

Here’s how my life is different, four years after I went to my first artist residency. I try to walk most days, and I try to hike at least once a month. When I accept a commission, I set a deadline with time built in: time to compose slowly, with room for the inevitable day or week when I’m feeling creatively stalled. Usually, though not always, I finish in advance of that deadline.

“It’s a luxury,” Ellen Sussman says, “when daily life is what I yearn for.”

I spend a comfortable amount of time by myself, even living with a partner. I am getting better at spending an entire afternoon doing nothing but reading, although when I do, I still check my email roughly every ten minutes, and then I feel guilty about that. I seek out more new experiences in general; I’ve sung karaoke in front of friends here in Los Angeles, not just strangers in Wyoming. I’m aware of what I’d like to change about myself, but in looking back at who I was before my first residency, I can see that I know myself better now; I like myself more.

Writer Ellen Sussman, whom I met at a residency, said something in an interview that has stuck with me ever since I read it. “It’s a luxury,” Ellen says, “when daily life is what I yearn for.” At my residency last year, I realized that I’d finally structured my life so that I already have at home nearly everything I want from a residency. I longed to be back with my boyfriend, my cat, and my piano.

This summer, I’m going to do a week-long residency about an hour and a half away from where I live in Los Angeles. At that very brief residency, I’ll be seeking what I truly can’t find at home, at least not now: isolated natural surroundings that are almost painfully beautiful; a piano that’s better than my upright at home; a span of time during which I truly don’t have to worry about anything other than writing music.

A residency is as close as we may get to living a life in service of nothing but creativity, and for that reason alone, I’m likely to keep going back. Someday, I dream of having my own private “artist residence”—a small house somewhere remote, with an excellent piano and a massive wooden desk. For now, though, I’m going to embrace what I’ve already created at home: a daily life I yearn for.

Maintaining a Creative Life: New Orleans Edition

My first reaction to the prospect of writing about the contemporary music scene in New Orleans was: what scene? New Orleans does not have a new music scene, at least not in the way that New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago does. Even Minneapolis has some brilliant post-post-jazz, and Omaha has a small but burgeoning community accumulating a critical mass around Amanda DeBoer Bartlett’s eclectic Omaha Under the Radar festival. In comparison, New Orleans is a new music desert, a fact laden with irony given its deep musical roots. There are certainly a few oases here—the improvisation series at the Blue Nile and the recently-established Versipel New Music come to mind—but they are just that: isolated activities within a landscape largely devoid of new music features.

So why do I, as a composer, live here?

New Orleans became my home through a mixture of circumstances. My wife is from here, and we both leapt at the opportunity for her to return when she received a solidly funded offer for graduate school. Moving to a place with familiarity and family made it easier to transition back to the States from England, where we had been living, and the city’s affordability allowed me to comfortably continue putting composition at the center of my time commitments. Over time, these practical advantages were surpassed by the intangibles of place and culture—the food, the neighborhoods, the people, all the nooks and crannies that define a city for its inhabitants. I developed a strong connection to New Orleans and now preach its merits at every opportunity. An international acquaintance once quipped that my passport must be Louisiana specific. His reasoning was sound.

My Big Life Question has thus become how to lead my artistic life in a city I love but a city that lacks obvious support and outlets for the music I am passionate about. It is not a matter of  having the means to showcase my own artistic output within my zip code, but rather about keeping new music front and center in my daily life without mechanisms that keep it there for me. There are no general answers to this problem: each is individual- and context-specific, and it is a life-long process. Here are some of the steps I have gone through, both internally and externally, in an effort to resolve this question for myself.

Sketches and NOLA

What Do I Want from Where I Live?

I often say that New Orleans checks all the boxes of my ideal home, save a music-related job and an established new music community. That is a lot of checked boxes. I have to ask myself: would the trade off required to get those music boxes easily checked—namely moving—be worth it? Having experienced the other side of the coin, where placing music first determined where and how and with whom I lived, I can comfortably answer no, not for me, at least not at this time. I would rather work with what I have.

Part of working with what I have is understanding how I want to earn an income and what I want out of a job beyond money. This has not been an easy process, but it has given me some valuable insights. For example, realizing how much I valued job stability contributed to my accepting an ongoing position as an elementary school teaching assistant over a temporary assignment filling in for a composition professor on sabbatical. It was a difficult decision to choose work outside of my apparent field, but in practice the elementary school position offered me many things that the university position did not: increased job security, a steady wage, and the hours to continue spending time composing. This made it seem the more desirable choice, and one that facilitates and complements my compositional pursuits, rather than veers away from them. It was not a purely practical decision, however: I immensely enjoy the work. Working with children requires flexibility, patience, and humility that I can only hope feed into my music. And it is just such this interrelation between my life as a musician and my life otherwise that building an artistic life in New Orleans continues to promote.

Redefining What Applies to My Art

When I was studying as a percussionist, I practiced four to six hours a day, seven days a week. Less than five felt like slacking; less than four was cause for self-flagellation. Family, friends, love interests, school, eating, and sleeping were all secondary to my pathological need to log these hours. This narrow understanding of what came first in my life was both unhealthy and unimaginative.

I first approached composition with the same attitude of punching a time card, but composing resisted this mentality. It lacked the physical component that enabled the rote labor allowed in practicing an instrument. Composing’s demand for acuity and introspection required a more fluid understanding of my artistic labor: I learned to allow for playful wanderings of the mind along tangents, and judged the success of my creative work sessions less quantitatively. I still log my hours obsessively, but also understand composing is not the same as manufacturing widgets. My once single-minded pursuit of instantly gratifying output has been replaced by broader inclusiveness as to what constitutes my creative work.

I have consequently sought to understand my non-artistic interests artistically. Sports, for example, have progressed from a cursory fascination to a lens through which I can better understand my art. Musical virtuosity has for me been redefined from a showcasing of control to a pursuit of personal boundaries, like the athlete’s. Just as an athlete’s exceptional abilities sublimate and their failures humanize, musical virtuosity can be a means for laying bare the soul rather than erecting an artifice of perfection.

In the same spirit, my appreciation for New Orleans’ famous fusion of cultures—architectural, culinary, and otherwise—has developed alongside a broadening in my musical language. I have become increasingly inclusive with the sounds and events that make their way into my work. While these changes have run parallel rather than unfolded causally, I do believe a certain influence through osmosis has taken place. This influence has been cultural if not specifically musical. I once eschewed certain basic musical elements wholesale. Consonance, for example, was a harmonic characteristic that I struggled to take ownership of: rightly or wrongly, I felt unable to integrate strongly consonant intervals into my music. But in recent years I have endeavored to find a role for such intervals in my work, and their strengthening presence has in turn opened up unanticipated directions. These days it is not uncommon for, say, a major triad to unexpectedly surface while I am composing. And importantly, I find myself more willing to entertain its place in the piece than I was in the past. I would like to think that this move away from musical puritanism is at least partly a response to the celebration of diversity that is my adopted home’s hallmark. I understand New Orleans’ ideal as a celebration of diversity that maintains uniqueness, and I certainly aspire to evermore sparkling individuality in my music from one moment to the next.Connecting my non-musical experiences and interests to my artistic motives like this has enabled me to synthesize facets of my daily life into artistic directions and musical material. This has helped me to keep art central in my daily life in an environment that often lacks more obvious means of doing so.

Community Building

As a recovering hermit, I am constantly grateful for music’s social dimensions. I love how being a composer requires me to work with others to realize my artistic visions. The dialogue, both concurrences and disagreements, enriches my work in a way that working alone could not. It allows me to benefit from others’ unique perspectives, interests, and knowledge, and for me to share my own. Such collaboration is increasingly the lifeblood of my artistic practice.

The lack of a preexisting new music community in New Orleans has been one of the biggest difficulties in my establishing a creative life here. There are obvious ways to mitigate this remotely—email and Skype are a composer-in-exile’s best friend—and I have worked to extend technology’s opportunities. For example, I curate an online arts periodical, FOCI Words, which features a variety of content from contributors throughout the world. Soliciting entries is an easy way to start and sustain conversations about music, creativity, social issues, and whatever else is on the minds of artists I deeply respect. The end product often spurs further conversation and debate through social media. Undertaking this project has the dual advantage of perpetuating my connections to the global new music family, and keeping me regularly listening to, thinking about, and discussing music with others.

NOLA visiting artists

An exhibit from ANODE, a series of performances, discussions, exhibits and events curated by the author.

Closer to home, I find myself making similar efforts to keep the conversations going. Many of these are simple—coffee, dinner, board games, disc golf with the few musicians in my field who do live in the area. I have learned over time that taking the afternoon off to just talk music with a friend is worth it, a hard-won lesson given my zeal to punch that time card. These social moments are integral and would often not happen if I did not prioritize them. So, I do so.

I also curate a small concert series. I have been overwhelmed by the eagerness of some very accomplished musicians to travel here for less-than-ideal compensation and perform for less-than-ideal sized crowds, all for the sake of furthering our work together (and consuming some phenomenal New Orleans food along the way). Bringing musicians I respect into town is a wonderful, uplifting way to connect the broader music community to my home life. The lack of obvious venues means I have to be creative, fostering relationships with local institutions and scenes that can bear fruit down the road. Many of my concerts have taken place in spaces more regularly devoted to visual art, because these are the venues that exist here. I have also gotten involved with poets, who have a more widely established community in New Orleans. This has led not only to stimulating conversations across mediums, but also to the prospect of new projects on down the road. This process and its unexpected fruits all further establish a creative lifestyle.

Schulmeister visit

Bassist Kathryn Schulmeister visits New Orleans for ANODE, curated by the author (far right).


These are just some of the ways that living in a city where new music is especially uncommon has pushed me to alter my lifestyle and my approach to both community and creativity. It has helped me realize the significance of collaboration and conversation in my creative endeavors, and led me to understand my non-artistic interests in light of my artistic ones. It is not a smooth or linear process, but it is a gratifying one.

And it is one I am not alone in. I am grateful to my numerous colleagues across the country who are in a similar position. Our regular exchange of ideas, be they growth strategies, coping strategies, or just airing grievances, has helped my pursuit to foster a contemporary music community at home. It has also lessened my sense of isolation in the interim. Connecting to others engaged in such a process provides a vital reminder that I am a part of the larger new music community regardless of where I reside. And for that I am thankful.

Ray Evanoff - PhotoRay Evanoff is a composer whose work is heavily influenced by his extended collaborations and personal relationships with the musicians he writes for. He has been performed and commissioned by contemporary music specialists across Europe and North America, including Ensembles Apparat, Dal Niente, Distractfold, and SurPlus, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, Liam Hockley, Mabel Kwan, Kevin McFarland, and Samuel Stoll. He writes unreasonable music while still trying to be a reasonable person. Clearly, he lives in New Orleans.

Beyond the Margins of Self

The super-charged, caffeine-driven potentiality that draws so many to New York City felt more confining than anything I’d ever experienced when I first moved here in 2007. I came directly from Houston, Texas, where I had finished my undergraduate degree at Rice University—and where I imagine the wide-open spaces, drawling speech, and expansive stretches of emptiness might feel gratuitous to native New Yorkers. The speed and density of New York, its hustle and might, was compounded by a piece of advice I continually received upon beginning to navigate the freelance music scene: “stay tough.”

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What does that even mean? However it was intended, my original interpretation of this advice was that we should harden ourselves against “rejection,” present an image of warrior-like strength at all times, conceal our vulnerabilities, and fight tooth and nail for anything we can get our hands on. Sound like fun? This kind of “lack” mentality, where we assume there are a limited number of opportunities and that we must compete to be one of the lucky ones, promotes fear and hinders our ability to feel generous and inspired by our music-making. Sure, the limitations of space and over-saturation of musicians can incite our frustration and defensiveness—or, out of pure necessity, they can inspire incredible creative and collaborative possibilities.

In her 2014 article “Find Your Beach,” the writer Zadie Smith articulates this paradox so well, and with the perfect dash of cynicism: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue.”

Comparison and competition can be natural instincts in a city that is teeming with musicians of all kinds looking to make their mark or find their niche or pay their rent. But being “hard-bodied” and “hard-minded” is precisely the opposite of what we should aspire toward as a community of creative musicians with unique contributions. Toughness puts up walls, brings contraction to our bodies, and breeds isolation and resistance. I felt there had to be another way that benefits us both individually and collectively.

Who are we and how do we want to define ourselves authentically in this cacophonous blur of a city? At any moment, our frazzled attentions could be pulled in any number of directions—we could choose to be one thing or another, to create a perfectly filtered image of ourselves to send out into the ether. I have found this to be both the beauty and the endless challenge of this city. As Zadie Smith says, “Finally the greatest thing about Manhattan is the worst thing about Manhattan: self-actualization. Here you will be free to stretch yourself to your limit, to find the beach that is yours alone. But sooner or later you will be sitting on that beach wondering what comes next.”

With an immediate aversion to the “toughness” advice I’d been given, and looking for any excuse for some peace and quiet, I began taking yoga classes at Yogaworks on West 65th Street. I had finally found a space where I could hear myself breathe, explore being vulnerable, and cultivate an internal sense of trust and connection. It was the best medicine for my over-stimulated nervous system and sore, stiffened body.

As I began studying (and now teaching) yoga more seriously, I was introduced to some gems of wisdom that I now aspire to live by as a musician and creative person in New York. When I see these concepts in action, I silently rejoice; whenever doubt sets in, I return to them as guiding lights of inspiration and reassurance.

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On the first day of my yoga teacher training, I sat on the floor in a beautiful sunlit loft with twenty others and listened to the formidable scholar of Hinduism Douglas Brooks lecture (a mile a minute) for three hours straight. My mind was blown. I’ve chosen to share three of the main points Dr. Brooks spoke about, which have completely altered my way of thinking and being.

  1. The first concept is Adhikara, the Sanskrit word meaning “studentship.” This can be translated as “how one cultivates his or her inherent gifts.” The beauty of this idea is that our gifts are not meant just for us, but for the greater benefit of our community. Because our gifts are unique to each of us, it is actually detrimental to us all if we try to fit ourselves into defined roles or compare ourselves with those around us. Cultivating humility and understanding our inherent gifts is the best way to bring more value to everyone.
  2. Dr. Brooks says, “You become the company you keep, so keep great company.” No need to have anyone else’s specific gifts, as we are all constantly absorbing the gifts of those we hang around! It’s wonderful to admire people. There is no need for jealousy—ask questions, defer to others when appropriate, and let everyone do what they are great at.
  3. The word in Sanskrit for freedom is Svatantrya, which can be translated as both “self-loom” and “self-extend.” We have the freedom to simultaneously stitch together our own lives and engage with those around us in an generous way. We get to choose how we participate, show up, and contribute.

I love appreciating the many ways there are to make more space for us all in this city by constantly weaving and extending the tapestry that is our community in unexplored and completely authentic ways. There are many in the new music community here who are doing just this, constantly redefining what it means to make music and what they want to stand for.  It’s simultaneously inspiring and confounding to be in the midst of this dynamic, evolving landscape, as we combine and stretch the perceived roles of composer, musician, audience member, activist, writer, and educator (to name a few).

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I’m inspired by those who constantly come back to themselves, who get quiet enough to listen to their unique gifts, truest desires, and best avenues of service. That’s really when the idealism at the heart of New York City shines through the chaos, and our fleeting projects and days take on a greater purpose. As my favorite poet Mary Oliver so beautifully writes in The Poetry Handbook, “If it is all poetry, and not just one’s accomplishment, that carries one from this green and mortal world—then lifts the latch and gives a glimpse into a greater paradise—then perhaps one has the sensibility: a gratitude apart from authorship, a fervor and a desire beyond the margins of the self.”

Heidi photo 1Lauded by The New York Times as “colorful, committed” and “finely polished,” violinist Heidi Schaul-Yoder enjoys a varied career as a chamber musician, teacher, arts advocate, and yoga instructor. A passionate voice for contemporary music, she has recently premiered multiple works on The Museum of Modern Art’s Summergarden Series, at the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, and in Tokyo alongside musicians of the Ensemble Modern. Fascinated by the mind-body connection and its function in fostering creative expression, Heidi is a Certified Aligned Flow yoga teacher and teaches classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga in New York City.

April: Texas, New York, and the Oppositions

In the early evening of April 22 I sat depleted outside an apartment house in Red Hook, Brooklyn. From that stoop I could see the choices and oppositions of my life laid out like they were chalked on the sidewalk. Sometimes it feels like life is a tug of war—between east and west, life and career, social and personal, work and play, urban and rural, composer and singer-songwriter, professional and academic, serious and jocular, art and business, collaboration and solitude—and I can’t seem to choose my side.
April had been a rapid-fire reunion, a gonzo retrospective. It was like one of those broadly staged final scenes in Wes Anderson’s films where all the characters are seen together at once, their relationships’ dynamics laid bare. In just three weeks, I had visited most of my important places and seen many of my important people. I set foot in New Mexico, Colorado, and Iowa; I played shows in Chicago, Austin, New York City, and at my alma mater Illinois Wesleyan University. After April 26, I had no further gigs on my calendar. Plans, but no dates.

This happens to freelancers. We build a run of work, and then the run ends. It can be a difficult transition. I think of my days in theater, when the closing of a show would effectively disband a group of friends. At the end of each season, we were sent back to the drawing board; professionally, creatively, and socially, we had to reconstitute ourselves.

One time, during one of these reconstitution phases, a friend encouraged me with the words of his teacher: “Growing into yourself as an artist requires lots of time feeling lost.”
Here is Rebecca Solnit, the poet laureate of being lost:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find, and finding it is a matter of getting lost. The word “lost” comes from the old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army…I worry now that people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know.

We disband our armies, we find ourselves alone. We find ourselves.

Many creative people experience their first disbandment, their first dramatic, forced reconstitution, when they leave school. Such was the case for me when I left Austin in 2009, after completing my master’s degree. I’ll borrow the idiom again, abused as it is, because it is so terribly precise: my two years in Texas were when I found myself. I left town as soon as I finished the degree because I felt I had to keep moving forward, but when I landed in Chicago that fall, I immediately missed Austin’s atmosphere. I have heard Austin called “the world’s largest retirement community for young people”; no similar description applies to Chicago. There are swarms of creative twenty-somethings there; most of them work from nine to five at Groupon. There is bohemian culture, but it doesn’t feel endemic. Office jobs feel endemic. Commuting feels endemic. Sleet feels endemic.

I eventually found collegiality and inspiration in Chicago’s new music community, but in late 2009 I felt a bit like the narrator of Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues,” the best song ever written about wishing one was in Austin. I walked the neighborhoods, kicked the pavement under granite skies with cold winds slipping between me and my jacket. Chicago didn’t need me. The city is a vast, fascinating patchwork of deep, disparate stories, but it’s stretched over a reservoir of such infinite sadness. It hides it well; the patchwork holds. But Austin was warmer. It felt like it had some holes, and I could find my way in.

My favorite composer these days is Morton Feldman, whose late music I find unimaginably brave. This spring, after the April fury wound down, I discovered that WQXR had posted a complete recording of the FLUX Quartet performing his String Quartet no. 2 (1983)—that’s the one that’s six hours long. As mentioned, I had no further gigs on the books, so it was time to conduct some business, and one day I dialed up the Feldman as I set to an afternoon of emails and tasks. The piece susurrated in the background, but every once in a while it leapt out and grabbed me by the spleen. It sounds like a field René Magritte might have painted, the grass glowing midafternoon green, the sky above black and starry. It’s like you’re walking a wide meadow of rolling hills, of night flowers, and occasionally you find an old wooden trap door set into the hillside. It could go anywhere. But actually you don’t open it. You keep walking the meadow instead, for hours and beautiful hours.

Feldman’s quartet lay over my emailing like so much diaphanous cloth, and in it I heard the magic of the everyday. I used to be terrified of routines, always coveting more adventure, but I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of assembling a life durable enough to make sense multiple days in a row. We don’t always see the magic in this, but as artists we simply have to trust in its presence, beneath our daily rituals, in all of our work, in the revision, the tedium, and the suspicions of futility.

I hadn’t seen much routine during April. A few weeks previous, on April 9, my bandmates and I landed in Austin a few days in advance of the Fast Forward Austin new music festival. We had a lot of rehearsing to do. We had been separated for most of the previous four months, and we were preparing two separate sets for the weekend: one with piano for Fast Forward Austin, another without piano for a bar show the previous night. A number of friends and collaborators were in town for the festival, and there were meetings and reunions to balance with our work.

Grant Wallace Band in Austin

Grant Wallace Band performing in Austin, TX.

Our subsequent New York trip, the very next weekend, was a wilder whirlwind. Ben and I landed on Friday and caught the new Anthony Braxton opera. On Saturday, Elliot Cole and I split a show at Spectrum. On Sunday Ben and I spent some time with Elliot in the studio, contributing some singing to an emergent track. On Monday we heard Bearthoven rehearse our pieces at New Amsterdam Records’ warehouse space in Red Hook, then walked to the Fairway by the water and ate grocery store sushi in the sun.

Rehearsing with Bearthoven

Rehearsing with Bearthoven at New Amsterdam Records.

That night, Ben and I heard TIGUE and So Percussion at Le Poisson Rouge. I was electrified by this show. Chris arrived from Chicago that night, and the three of us walked the streets of midtown until late, talking band talk, scheming schemes.

TIGUE performing at LPR

TIGUE performing at LPR.

Our show was the next day, at the New Amsterdam space. We found our way back to Red Hook and the apartment of Chris’s brother, Danny Fisher-Lochhead. Danny is a saxophonist and composer, and his place is just around the corner from New Amsterdam. We rehearsed, sound-checked, and returned to Danny’s place for burritos. I was so spent, I could barely socialize. This was the point when I removed myself to the stoop and admitted aloud that I felt totally empty. I was looking another reconstitution phase in the eyes. I had no home, no plan, and no way to unify the oppositions.
It hit me hard, that evening, that my work is in one place (the city) and my soul is someplace else (the west), and I don’t know what to do about it. The music in New York is so powerful, but I just don’t think I’m personally constituted to live there. In May I fled back west. Over the summer I’ll spend some time in Chicago with the band, play a few shows, and finish our album. We’ll be back in New York in early September, to play on the Resonant Bodies Festival. By then Ben will have moved to North Carolina; he recently accepted a teaching position at Appalachian State University. Chris is still working on his doctorate at Northwestern.
I used to feel, if one was very rural and ten was very urban, that I might someday be happy in some sort of three and a half. But I’ve lived one and ten in recent years, and it’s made me doubt that the middle, in America at least, can really share the benefits of either extreme. I grew up in a five-sized town and I didn’t hike mountains on my off days, nor did I have regular access to a standing, working community of world-class musicians. Subsequently I lived in Rocky Mountain National Park for four summers, then embedded in Chicago’s new music community for two years. I suspect that deepest life will always be in the ones and the tens. But I wish there were some way to live moderately.

I think again about Edward Abbey and our culture’s opposition of wilderness and civilization. The American environmental ethic has always been about extremes, about subjugating nature (see: Iowa, industrial agriculture) whenever we are not enshrining it (see: Colorado, national park system). Is there a model in which civilization and wilderness can coexist more fluidly?
The presently dominant code of wilderness travel is Leave No Trace: when passing through a wild area, one is instructed to “impact” it as little as possible. (Yes, you bury your excrement, and you also eat the nasty little food scraps from your dirty dishes rather than dispersing them on the ground or in a stream, and you find a spot for your tent where there isn’t any vegetation.) Isn’t “impact” a funny word? In environmentalism we are supposed to minimize it, in art we are supposed to maximize it. Isn’t there some way to live moderately?

A similar opposition plays between life and music. In America we have excised art from the daily flow of our lives, sequestered it to safe, respectful shrines built for its enjoyment and study (museums, concert halls, universities). We don’t play music with our kids as part of our social existence; rather, we buy them music lessons. And we are perpetually surprised to learn, to paraphrase the critic Dave Hickey, that in the special, clean spaces we set aside for culture, culture doesn’t work. Can’t life and art be hopelessly intertwined, every single day?

One and ten, life and art, work and play. Austin was all lifestyle to me, Chicago all career. The space is in New Mexico, the music is in New York. Do I have to pull myself back and forth so rapidly? It has become so exhausting. It is, to brandish the word of our era, unsustainable. Isn’t there some way to live moderately?

I think about Eric Holthaus. I don’t know if I can do this without flying, but I can try. I can try to slow down, travel with intention, stay for a while when I go, take trains instead of airplanes. Have you taken a train across the country? It’s so civil. You get treated like a human being, and no one is in a hurry: delays of multiple hours are not uncommon on long routes, and without our usual sense of entitlement toward punctuality, time takes on a different tint, and you sit and look out the window for hours as the land steadily changes and the light moves from east to west, from a glow to a blaze to a glow again before it disappears over the horizon, leaving you in limpid flowing darkness.

It’s like listening to Feldman’s second quartet. It rolls on and on.

Last August, a New Mexico friend came to visit me in Chicago. We used to work together as wilderness guides, and it was pleasantly incongruous to see him in the city. I even took him to his first new music concert. One day we went to the beach, sat and watched the waves of Lake Michigan.

“We talk about time like it’s money,” he said, his feet speckled with wet sand. “We ‘spend’ it, we ‘waste’ it. I wish we didn’t think of time as something we can gain or lose. We should just think of it as a shifting of light.”
Beach ending

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.