The vulnerability of the composer

It is difficult the reflect on vulnerability. We live in an environment where we tell mostly stories about heroes, you better battle and survive. There is only little attention and understanding for stories of vulnerability. But those are the stories we all know by experience: The randomness of disease, the risk of loneliness, loosing loved ones to divorce or even death.

Life can crumble in your hand, leaving you with nothing but sand in the wind.

I like watching RuPaul’s Dragrace. It is a competition where drag queens show their’ ‘real me’s’ in an extremely extravagant way, with vulnerability as the main weapon. When somebody is ‘sashayed away’, it is often because they don’t show their personality. It is interesting that we all know when a participant is holding back. Audiences like participants best who ‘honestly show who they are’.

As a composer, I can relate to the lessons learned by those drag queens: only when I am writing an honest, true composition, people remember and appreciate it. Even when it is not very well crafted, or not following any harmonic rules. As long as you’re telling a true story, right from the heart, nobody cares. So, to be a good composer, I have to be myself in most brutally honest way possible.

The best people posses

a feeling for beauty,

the courage to take risks,

the discipline to tell the truth,

the capacity for sacrifice.

Ironically, their virtues makes them vulnerable,

they are often wounded,

sometimes destroyed.

E. Hemingway

Woman with animals, A. Carigiet

Composers and a drag queens have to show themselves. There is no place to hide. Not during composing, nor during the performance: I hear ‘me’ while composing and everybody hears ‘me’ during the performance. I find a performance an overwhelming experience. My own stories and emotions are amplified by 80 orchestra members and my emotions surround myself vibrating in the air. As I said, from beginning to end, there is no place to hide.

Drag Queens are right: you have to show your personality to make something beautiful.

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.

E. Hemmingway

There was an unexpected way of feeling vulnerable when I started composing: For a long time, I didn’t understand what I was in music, until that day that I started to write music and after 6 months there was this 6 minutes long composition for wind-orchestra. I had no idea where all the music came from, it felt so effortlessly. It must be the way my brain is wired? I will never know how or when this flow of music will end.


I had the feeling that I was thrown into an endless ocean of musical ideas, but could not swim. I had to learn on the spot and try not to drown at the same time. Stopping trying was not an option, I would indeed have drowned as Arnold Schönberg explains. I like Schönbergs story, because it’s a bit the same, only his ocean is boiling hot and mine is icy cold.

So I write a lot of lullaby’s, to comfort myself. The feeling of vulnerability requires music that eases us, when we go to sleep, music that comforts us when we feel lonely and not understood. I’d love to be that chicken, that will be safe and sound this night.

This is what that painting sounds like, for me:

‘Good night my little chickens’ digital representation composer A. Wolters

I also know that I will never be finished, because every composition will teach me how to improve my next work. So, a true composer knows, she will always be an apprentice. Personally I like the idea that there is no end to this, but it has a ‘backside’: A lot of composers never like their own music, because they hear the flaws when it is finished and the composition is out-dated already, before the premiere.

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

E. Hemingway

You must be prepared to work always without applause.

E. Hemmingway

But in the end, I always keep in mind these encouraging thoughts:

“Es gibt genügend praktische Erfindungen die uns keinerlei Trost spenden, aber viel zu wenige trostspende die überhaupt keinen praktischen Nutzen haben.”

“There are enough practical inventions that give us no consolation, but far too few comforting ones that have none practical use at all.”

Prinzessin Insomnia, W. Moers

It is the job af an artist to over-estimate and over-value the possibilities, and invest in futures that don’t exist.

Categorized as Inspiration

By Anneloes Wolters


%d bloggers like this: