Once upon a winter’s eve, an old gentleman was sitting in front of his
wood stove, deep into a cold night in Montana. His cabin was warm, the fire
crackled. He had pulled up his chair to the stove, as he often did, on the colder
nights. His legs stretched out toward the little stove’s welcome heat, a glass
of Cabernet and some classical music drifting across the room, it was often his
favorite part of the day, when he could contemplate, appreciate the
accomplishments of the day… and dream. Yes, dream.
In the sublime peace and comfort of his cabin on those wintry evenings, he
occasionally fell asleep in front of the stove, wine still in hand. He had spilled
it only once in a six-year span.This particular evening was no different. He
could hear the wind moaning past the fireplace chimney while the hovering
lilac bushes next to his window scraped against the window sill. He could see
the snowflakes outside by the light of the living room, all contributing to his
sense of safety, warmth and peace.
As he sat rocking, thinking and sipping, he heard a classical song that caught
his attention. Most of the classics that played in the evening were background
music for him, from composers he had studied and was familiar with. But this
particular piece pulled him from his reverie and gently demanded attention.
What was it about this music that was so familiar, almost disturbing? He knew
he had never heard it before, yet as it drew his attention he found himself
able to guess what was coming next… until he sat upright, almost spilling his
He turned and looked over at the TV screen, as the music was coming from
a satellite music channel. There he saw the name of the piece, which he
didn’t recognize, and the composer’s name, which was also unknown to him.
He peered at the name on the screen and kept listening to the piece, and yes,
it kept happening… he continued to guess correctly where the music was going
to next, although he was sure he’d never heard it!
Before the piece ended, he had gone over to his computer and googled the
name of the composer. Turned out it was a 19th century fellow, who, the
article explained, was a fairly mediocre and insignificant composer of that
era whose claim to fame, if any, was that he wrote a huge library of material
in his lifetime, most of which had a distinct stamp of mediocrity about it all.
The old gentleman refilled his glass, tossed another log in the stove and sat
back down in front of it. What had just happened, he found himself wondering.
That piece, written back in the 19th century, sounded exactly like something
he would have written himself… even felt like something he could have written!
But how could that be?!
As he sat musing about the curious event, a very strange thought began to
emerge. What if he were a reincarnation of the mediocre composer? It was a most uncomfortable thought for him, as he had never believed in reincarnation.
He had to chuckle, however, with the thought that he might be the reincarnation
of a mediocre composer. He knew people who thought he himself was a
mediocre composer whose strength lay in quantity rather than quality. Knowing
that certain individuals saw him in that light had never bothered him much.
Matter of fact, the older he became, the more he tended to agree with them.
He did write and record a large library of music during his career, and much of
it was mediocre… but he kept being well-paid for it. He had long ago made
his peace with all that. Besides, he spent 13 years composing and playing in
Atlanta’s recording studios… didn’t that count for something? But that was
simply his ego speaking, trying to mount a defense, and he had to wince.
As he tried to remember what he had composed that might be considered
good by his peers, he slipped into a quiet slumber. When he awoke, the fire
was nearly out and he hadn’t spilled his wine. He thought again of the
mystery composer, and looked over at his computer. It was off. The TV still
played and he wondered if the whole strange composition thing might have
been nothing more than a dream. It seemed real enough, and yet there was
an ethereal quality about it, that kind of clear, yet misty remembrance that
good dreams leave us with.
He arose, put one more big log on the fire to keep it through most of the night,
then turned off the music and the light and prepared for bed, still smiling at the
irony of the mystery composer. He was amused by the thought of being
prolific, but then he had never really had any kind of serious case of writer’s
block in his entire career. Do only great composers get occasional writer’s block,
he wondered, as he brushed his teeth. And what other idiosyncrasies might the
really great ones have that would distinguish them from him. Oh god, there
were probably a dozen things, little characteristics that one probably wouldn’t
notices if not paying special attention. Ah, but if one were paying attention, how suddenly fascinating might the truly gifted composers appear? Did he himself
have any little hint of uniqueness that might possibly separate him from the
mediocre bard he had just heard? Oh hell, there must be something, he
thought as he slipped between the flannel sheets and pulled up the quilt.
Who might he ask, who might know him well enough to tell him honestly
that he was a good composer, or even that he was different (in a good way)
from other composers? Not being able to think of a single person, he again
smiled to himself, deciding that it was probably a blessing that he would
never quite understand, that blessing of being just an average guy, a guy
who went to bed so many nights in his life, having created new music that
day and being naively pleased with his results. He guessed that if peace
and satisfaction came with his somewhat mediocre attempts at beautiful,
memorable music, then what was the difference, really? And he could
never know if some of those musical vibrations that he sent out into the
vast universe might bring a smile or a tear; a phrase, a line that might affect
another’s life, for even a moment or two. Hell, maybe things turn out just the
way they’re supposed to, after all, We can’t all be geniuses, what fun would
that be… how would we define good taste, poor talent, young brilliance and
artistic preference of any kind? And if there were a Great Spirit who judged
all and kept score, where would he, the old composer, fall? And what if there
were no one to judge him except himself, where would he be in the great
scheme of things? Hmm, slightly better than average, he decided, as he
drifted off into a long winter’s sleep.