Friday, April 18, 2008


He said, “I want you to compose something for me.”

I said, “Get out. This isn’t the Renaissance. The era of artistic patronage is over.”

He said, “I’ll pay you.”

“How much?”

“Five hundred dollars. For just a little piece. It won’t take you a day to write it.”


“And nothing. I don’t care if it ever gets performed or not. If you like it, you can play it. Use it as an overture for something, I don’t care.”


“Here’s the theme.” And he whistled a tune. It was a nice little melody. Short and sweet.

“Fine. Come back tomorrow,” I said. “I should have something by then.” And I sat down at the piano. That’s a hint: get out and let me work.

As if I ever did any real work any more.

Oh yes, the creative springs ran dry a long time ago. The wind used to whisper me music. Now it just drones. The drums and trumpets in the surf have been reduced to idiot noise. Even the birds chatter instead of singing.

Is it the world, or is it me?

I’ve kept going on momentum. Recycling bits of old, half-finished compositions. Teaching music theory; you don’t have to have songs in your soul to do that, although the drudgery of it becomes hard to bear if you don’t.

So now maybe you understand why I didn’t ask any questions. Like, what’s in it for you that’s worth five hundred dollars. Where did you get this tune and why’s it so important. How did you find me—I don’t give my address out to the public, and the university’s pretty good about confidentiality. (Been some lawsuits, y’know.)

I sat there at the piano and played the theme. Then I played a couple of variations. Made some notes. Thought about other instruments that could go with it.

The music room looks out over the street, so I keep the windows closed when I’m working. It gets stuffy after a while. When I looked up, it was dark out; I’d been sitting at the piano messing around with that little piece all afternoon.

I got up and opened a window and leaned out to get a breath of air. A car went by with its stereo blaring, rattling the glass in the panes. I slammed the window and went back to the piano, but it was no use; I was out of the mood. My mystery customer was going to have to settle for what I’d accomplished so far.

The tune he’d whistled ran through my dreams all night. I got up at first light (I never do that) and sat down at the piano again, but something wasn’t right. After a while I went over and opened the window again.

The sun was touching the underside of the horizon. Just as it peeked over the edge of the world, I heard a voice: Look at me.

I knew it was the sun. I can’t. You’ll blind me.

Then listen.

Music came pouring up over the rim of the world like an invisible fountain. It was the same music my visitor of the day before had whistled, but so much, so much more itself! It was what I’d struggled to find all afternoon. All night in my dreams. No, it was what I’d heard for years as a child, as a young composer. What I’d given up hope of ever hearing again.

It was the voice of the world, the voice of God. The voice I’d been struggling to recapture for more long, desperate years than I could dare to count.

There is a price.

I know. I leaned out of my window and looked straight into the rising sun. The last thing I ever saw was the face of my mysterious visitor, etched across the brightness that burned away my vision.

The darkness is alive with music.

for Cafe Writing and Sunday Scribblings

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Granny Smith said...

I'm blown away by your composition - as usual. It is an old question: what is the price one is willing to pay? Was Mozart's life cut short because of his prodigious output of memorable music?

Leonard Blumfeld said...

"The darkness is alive with music." Indeed it is.

Even silence is (or must have been for Beethoven).

I liked your story.

Linda Jacobs said...

I usually only read the poetry posts but this one sucked me right in and I couldn't stop! Mesmerizing!

Lilibeth said...

You do have a way with pulling the reader along. Great composition.

Greyscale Territory said...

What a unique narrative! Love how you "found" the music you needed!


AnnieElf said...

Unsettling. Good - I was intrigued right to the end - but unsettling. Perhaps I took this too literally?

tumblewords said...

Nice narrative...I can see and hear the story even as I read.

Medhini said...

It was really engaging and beautiful. So much more than a post... You inspire me!