Secret Lives Of Great Composers

You have to love serendipity. A few months ago, I came across a new release in my neighborhood book store, Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World’s Musical Masters by Elizabeth Lunday. I spent a good 20 minutes reading the book and was going to buy a copy but unfortunately, I didn’t have my wallet. Not two days later I get an email from Melissa Monachello, the Publicity Manager for Quirk Books (Ms. Lunday’s publisher) offering a review copy of the book…

Secret Lives of Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World's Musical Masters

Unsurprisingly, I said yes, the book arrived a few days later, and I’ve been enjoying it regularly ever since. Lunday examines the lives of 34 composers from as far back as the long dead Vivaldi and as recent as the not quite yet dead Philip Glass. Since each section is approximately eight pages long, it functions as a collection of short stories. As a result, getting through the book is easy since you can come and go as time permits.

Although the book’s PR is a bit more sensationalistic than it should be, Lunday approaches her topic with populist charm. As a byproduct of the traditional conservatory system, I learned a number of these accounts from history teachers tempted into digression but this isn’t the sort of thing that gets out into mainstream circulation.

Nonetheless, these are the real people and eccentricities aside, framing them outside the multisyllabic cage of traditional program notes will do this business (and their music) some real good. Lunday also includes some entirely relevant side discussions about women composers (or the lack thereof) as well as why jazz and commercial composers aren’t included (aren’t they real composers too?). Those sections go a long way toward shedding some light on topics otherwise unknown to most that are unfamiliar with classical music.

Frankly, the entire field would benefit from hiring Lunday to write program notes in the style of Secret Lives of Great Composers for a full season. At the very least, they should pair Lunday up with Jeff Curnow and the “Coalition to Expose Composers” (scroll down to “Berlioz Revealed“) to create a series of PSA style videos and show them before concerts.

I can’t recommend Secret Lives of Great Composers strongly enough and it makes an ideal holiday gift (right after a subscription to the Orchestra Compensation reports) so go out and pick up a few copies for colleagues, friends, and family.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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