When a Classical Composer Gets PregnantMany times we often think of classical composers as these dead European guys with fancy powdered white wigs and an impeccable taste for the royal ladies at court. Even our modern day perception of the classical composer may conjure up images of film composer John Williams or minimalist composer Philip Glass. But believe it or not, throughout the globe there is another gender that enjoys spending countless sleepless nights slaving over harmonies and melodies, symphonies and operas.
Yes, I mean women. You might not hear about Pulitzer prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon or experimental legend Pauline Oliveros in every day conversation (or even the local news), but these women and thousands more contribute an incredible canon of classical music.
Younger women who compose classical music like myself have another added layer that can greatly affect their musical output, careers, and even choice in musical expression.
Sometimes composers get pregnant, and suddenly that symphony you promised to write by Christmas gets buried as you struggle to juggle morning sickness (a misnomer, many of us really get "all day" sickness), doctor appointments, fatigue, bizarre cravings, and any other children or family members that you are already responsible for.
When I was pregnant with my daughter several years ago, I was neck deep in a multimedia oratorio commission. Ironically, the theme was "creation" and "procreation", juxtaposing the birth of the world with the miracle of unborn life. Even more interesting, the idea for the choral work happened on Halloween night after the successful performance of a commission for the Millikin Percussion Ensemble...my daughter was born on Halloween. So the work took shape, I got pregnant, and soon the ideas of Creation and Life became very real. The commission took a long time to complete, and there is even an audio sample of my newborn daughter crying embedded in the electronic score. And each note sounded beautiful, not betraying the fact that during the entire writing process, I could only work ten minutes at a time before I puked my guts out. Then back to writing until the urge to hurl came again.
Fast forward an opera film, video works, countless compositions, a few books later, a couple of states, and I am pregnant again with our second child. This time managing little more than staying hydrated and out of the hospital led me to postpone or decline work on an opera, a film, a video game, a musical, and my interactive opera (that will be tabled until further notice). I am finishing a second novel and starting a third, but writing seems to come easier in between bouts of nausea and fatigue. Even now the effort of writing a blog will probably mean that I will have to rest for the next hour or so as my body endeavors to keep me and baby healthy in the Buffalo summer heat.
In the last couple of weeks I have managed to start some of my usual routines, cooking for my family, seeing friends, attempting to connect with fellow writers and musicians. But this baby has been long in coming, and my health has been shaky at best. I have a million notes running around in my head, and I keep journals here and there to catch snippets of creativity before I have to nap again. I had wild ideas of writing a symphony or producing an entire album during this pregnancy, but basic functioning and preparing the nursery take a front seat to any creative endeavors.
I wonder sometimes about other women in my field, how they manage families, children, pregnancy, and their music. Many women I know have chosen to pursue music, not family life, but women in my generation especially seem keen on motherhood as much as music. I watch them as they move through their careers, many eventually choosing posts that are more conducive to child-rearing, many with partners that are happy to share the burden so their spouses can enjoy successful musical careers. I know women that alone are raising children and writing classical music, juggling artistry with parenthood in a feat that
|Ready to take a Nap|
I wish that these stories were in our music history books. So often the tales that are shared about women who write music are limited to those related or married to prominent male composers. So little is written about their lives, about how the struggled in a world that was oppressive even in the most democratic of societies. They are footnotes "So and so was the sister of X composer. She also wrote music." And that is it. But there had to have been more. And while there are many organizations today like the Kapralova Society, the International Alliance for Women in Music, the New York Women Composers Association, and Female Pressure that all work to advance the music of women, the reality is that in academia, the lives of women like me and the hundreds of thousands of others around the world may earn little more than an afterthought at the modern conservatory.
Maybe pregnancy has made me more introspective, maybe I just want to share my experience in the hope that another young woman out there feels encouraged that she is not the only composer out there who struggles with motherhood and music. That even when our universities still grossly prefer the aged and bearded to the young and vibrant, that there are women making the trek before you, paving the way for a more acceptable and equal society.
In any case, I wrote much more today than I had ever intended. But thank you for these few minutes of your time. And now I will rest in the only air-conditioned room in my small apartment and dream of music and my unborn baby boy.