Theory versus practice? Sally Whitwell weighs in on what exactly being a composer is all about.

A composer’s life is a bit of a mystery to most people, I think. There’s a romantic notion of the starving artist in a garret, sitting at a desk with a pencil and manuscript, writing dots and squiggles on paper and throwing it out the proverbial window to as many musicians as they can find to perform them. It all seems dishearteningly futile to me, rather like adding water to the ocean with a pipette.

I mean, what’s the point?!

Each day, scrolling past on my social media feed, I see countless links described as ‘composer opportunities’. By and large, these involve paying a fee for the privilege of having a curatorial type read through your score to decide whether it’s worth them performing it. The whole exercise spends your time, your energy, your heart, as well as your money – and for what? More often than not, I find it’s just a long wait for rejection followed by zero feedback on the quality of your work. It’s demoralising, time consuming and, for most of us, ultimately ineffective. At any rate, this ‘desk composing’...

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