What is a composer?  One gives the simple answer first: a composer is someone who writes music.  Simple enough, but there’s more meat to that.  I think there are other qualities that define what a composer is, and so here’s a short list of my thoughts.  I highly encourage you to contact me (Twitter, Facebook, leave a comment here, email) with your thoughts on the other qualities of a composer.

  1. A composer is passionate.  Composers care deeply about their work and their art, they believe in it, and they love it to its (and their) death.
  2. A composer is a searcher.  Composers don’t always know in which direction to go.  Composers aren’t afraid to search out new paths as they wander, and most of them enjoy the searching for new resources for sound or inspiration.
  3. A composer thinks critically.  All composers use their brain heavily, whether they can help it or not.  Composers have a proclivity to delve deep into thought, and come out of their studies and reflections on their materials with a critically examined musical idea or thought.
  4. A composer self-reflects.  You don’t have to worry about a life being unexamined (see Socrates) when you meet a composer.  Whether a composer is flying high or barely scraping by, reflections on personal taste, compositional style, career choices, and social relationships are abundant.  (We’re a bit neurotic.)
  5. A composer dreams.  Composers don’t mind having visions of never-before conceived things, and it is in fact a necessary component of creation.
  6. A composer is inspired.  The ability to have energy that sustains a person to inhuman lengths is a common trait of composers.
  7. A composer is masochistic.  The pain of rejection, failure, or incessant perfectionism is a downside to composing, but we wouldn’t compose if deep down we didn’t like it–or at least are okay with it.
  8. A composer pushes him/herself to the limits often.  Everything is sacrificed for making music–health, happiness, and liberty.  The lengths composers go to accomplish creation and performance bring us to the edge  often.
  9. A composer is sincere.  If we were charlatans and if we didn’t care deeply about our art, we wouldn’t last a second with others judging us and testing us, nor by ourselves–making music is painful at times, and without a sincere connection to the music and a deep caring for it, we wouldn’t be able to endure.
  10. A composer worries.  What do we have to worry about–we make music for a living?!  (Oh yeah, how about the direction art is going, art funding, getting a place to live, making money, staying true to ourselves, fighting for our share in the market, rejection after rejection after rejection… it ain’t worry-free being a composer.)
  11. Lastly, a composer steals.  None of us would write the music we write if we hadn’t listened before us and either intentionally or unintentionally stolen from those who made music before us.  We owe much to past music and our personal musical history, and we can’t escape what we were born in and soak up both willingly and unwillingly.

I’m sure there are more, but I figure those are a decent start.

Comments/opinions/questions are, as always, very appreciated.

Happy composing!

Dan