Tina Davidson on Composing a Life in Full (Measure)

Dr. Chris E. Stout
8 min readOct 1, 2023
Tina Davidson

“We spend our lives trying to anchor our transience in some illusion of permanence and stability. We lay plans, we make vows, we backbone the flow of uncertainty with habits and routines that lull us with the comforting dream of predictability and control, only to find ourselves again and again, bent at the knees with surrender, to forces and events vastly larger than us. In those moments, kneeling in a pool of the unknown, the heart breaks open and allows life — life itself, not the simulacrum of life that comes from control — to rush in.”

Those are the words of Maria Popova on how to live with that generative brokenness

and is what composer Tina Davidson explores in her memoir Let Your Heart Be Broken: Life and Music from a Classical Composer, which Maria describes as “a lyrical reckoning with what it takes to compose a life of cohesion and beauty, out of shattered bits and broken stories.”

Tina Davidson was three-and-a-half years old when she was adopted from her foster home in Sweden by a visiting American professor. Soon after that she was the eldest of five children, living with her mother and stepfather in Turkey, Germany, and Israel.

She studied music and became a prolific pianist and composer. But something about her birth remained unnamed and hidden. When she returned to Sweden, she contacted the Swedish adoption agency, and the voice on the phone said “Come, I have information for you.”

In Let Your Heart Be Broken, Tina juxtaposes memories, journal entries, and insight into the life of an artist — and a mother — at work. Along the way, she meets Ernest Hemingway and Carl Sandburg, survives an attack by nomads in Turkey, and learns her birth father is a world-famous scientist. And throughout, there is the thread of music, an ebb and a crescendo of a journey, out of the past, and into the present, through darkness and into the light.

Tina is a writer and classical composer, now for 45 years, whose works have been performed by ensembles and orchestras across the country, including The Philadelphia Orchestra, American Composers…