Listening out Loud

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Music, for Elizabeth Swados, is sound, all the sounds in the world around her--honking geese, clashing plates in a diner, the voices of friends, the falling bricks of a collapsing building. “Sound is the medium through which I perceive life,” she writes. As a composer, she “uses sound to try to shape, understand, and express her daily pleasures and her unanswered questions.”

This open-eared approach to music has led Swados to a wide-ranging eclecticism in her own work. Rock, folk, jazz, classical, and even street-wise rap--she has used all these and other idioms in numerous well-received Broadway and off-Broadway productions, as well as film and television scores. She suggests this approach to young composers, urging them to try anything to capture music’s “magical powers.”

Swados also advises rigorous study of music fundamentals as well as a persistent and clear-headed attitude about competing for jobs in the commercial arena. Making a living as a composer is hard work, she reports. Drugs and romantic illusions only lead to early burn-out. Again and again, however, she repeats her primary theme: Keep experimenting for a “fresh outlook” and a “feeling of discovery.”

Success in music, says Swados, is not money or fame but “the experience of being engulfed in your music ... there is no greater reward than that.”