College - Author 1
College of Liberal Arts
Department - Author 1
Degree Name - Author 1
BA in Music
Arthur White, College of Liberal Arts, Music Department
Nicholas P. Waldron, College of Liberal Arts, Music Department; Alicia Doyle, College of Liberal Arts, Music Department
More than 73% of independent musicians suffer from mental illness. Musicians are three times more susceptible to depression than the average person. This concept that musicians are prone to mental illness is not new. It has been hypothesized that many historically well-known composers and musicians struggled with their mental health, such as Anton Bruckner, Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Antonín Dvořák, George Gershwin, Edvard Grieg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sergei Rachmaninov, Maurice Ravel, Robert Schumann, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Anton von Webern. Contemporary musicians are becoming more and more open about their struggles with mental illness. Two of these composers are Sarah Kirkland Snider and Dale Trumbore.
This paper will dive into who Snider and Trumbore are, and how their mental illness is reflected in their music. I will start the formal analysis with two songs from Snider’s song cycle Unremembered (2015): Number 3, The Barn, and Number 8, The Witch. Both of these songs depict anxious moments, dark thoughts, and haunting visuals. Then, I will analyze Trumbore’s piece Fearless Canyon (2019) and discuss how her anxiety plays a role in this composition. This wind band piece is full of changing meters and tempos as well as a swirling “anxious motive” that creates a sense of intense restlessness and tension. Both pieces intentionally portray anxiety and all the symptoms that come with it. In sharing these experiences, the audience and performers are given the opportunity to either relate, or begin to understand what it is like to struggle with a mental illness.
Being in the music industry can be incredibly difficult because of “occupational hazards…financial and job insecurity, lack of adequate industry regulation, unhealthy work hours, [and] working in isolation.” Musicians also have to deal with an immense pressure to please. These factors do not set musicians up for success; therefore, it is important to talk openly about mental illness, advocate for those who struggle with it, and educate the world on mental wellness. Discussing, advocating, and educating lessens the stigma and creates a safe and respectful space for those struggling. It is evident that Snider and Trumbore are tackling all three. While both composers are affected by their mental illnesses, they struggle in different ways, as many of us do. By their own account, both Snider and Trumbore have struggled with anxiety. Snider has also struggled with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Both composers have reflected these struggles in numerous works, purposefully and unintentionally. Their interviews with myself, and with Julia Adolphe, shed light on their experiences, coping mechanisms, and advice for others who deal with mental illness.
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