The Composer

Once upon a time, in a cabin in the Rockies, lived an old, retired musician. Alone, he was content to spend his days with his music, his writings and his thoughts. But deep inside the old musician’s musical sub-conscious, a most curious thing was happening. On this particular day he was sitting at his piano, feeling like composing a song, which he had done throughout his life, hundreds of times. His fingers slowly touched the keys, experimenting, searching for a fresh new idea on which to build a song. So often before a simple melody, then the beginnings of a different song would begin to take shape in his mind. He would then chase it, repeat it, expand it and allow it to grow into a real song in his mind, while his fingers deftly traced it on the keyboard and gave it life.

But this day was quite different. As his fingers searched for that new sound, that fresh emotion, he could not find a different path for them. Instead, the simple melodies that kept arising from his piano were all fragments of old, standard songs that he had loved and played for years.

This had happened to him before, to a small degree, this minute or two of old, tried and true melodies popping up and invading his fingers. But always before, an unfamiliar melody would finally start emerging and the new song would begin taking shape. But not today.

The old man had forever known not to force it, that it would soon begin to flow, as it always did before. Working within countless deadlines over the years, the creative force within him had never let him down, had never made him late with his new music… not even once, in over 30 years. He was aware of the muses, those ancient, inspirational Greek goddesses of art and music. He was never sure if they might actually exist, but he knew there was something… something, as he never once was disappointed by whatever it was that always flowed within him and through him, something that he blindly and almost religiously counted on to see him through his creative process over and over again, seemingly endlessly.

But now, today, suddenly, after about ten minutes he found himself stuck. There was a different feeling about this moment, too. He felt there was nothing in there, nothing left to be said, nothing of any importance whatsoever that might move him to yet another new song. His fingers stopped on the keys, and the old man stiffened. What was happening here? Why were the ideas not appearing, why could he not find yet another new path to a fine, fresh melody? Had the muses finally abandoned him?

He got up, walked into the kitchen and made himself a cup of coffee. Maybe a short break, then sit down and try again, which he did. Again, no ideas, no melodies save those fragments from time-worn songs he had learned to love so deeply. Were they now going to haunt him, block him from the creativity he had taken so much for granted over the years? Had his reservoir of spontaneous creativity suddenly gone dry, or had the great old tunes simply taken over his musical mind?

He sat at his piano for awhile, stunned. This was new territory for him, unfamiliar and a little frightening. This invisible power of creativity that he had appreciated for so many years might have finally left him. He needed to figure it out somehow.

He had learned long ago that all things were, at best, temporary, and that everything changed, always. Perhaps this was one of them. He knew from experience that the acceptance of change was a major key in a happy life, and he had accepted many changes in his life with grace and humility. This new change, if true, was a different, deeply personal one. He smiled as he thought that if he were a Christian, he would feel as if god himself had left him, with the words, “I’ve done all I can, pal. Now you’re on your own. Safe travels.”

The old man rolled these thoughts and feelings over in his mind. Could it be? Could it really be? Well of course it could be! It could absolutely be, and, as the moments passed,  he began to feel as if he had reached a new point in his life… a point the was the end of one thing and the beginning of another. He pondered it, and slowly decided that it was probably so. In any event, he would try again, at some point, to compose a song, if for no other reason than to prove to himself one more time that this most magical, satisfying part of his life was actually over.

At that point he scratched his scraggly beard and thought about the easiest, perhaps the best way to handle this new dilemma. After all, it was a big moment for him, and he knew it. He was experiencing the death of an old and trusted friend. But if true, he knew he needed help. How to deal with this gracefully, logically? How to keep the trauma of loss from setting in? After all, he didn’t just compose, he was a composer!

He decided to sleep on it, and he did, having a long and restless night. The next morning, after coffee and meditation, he again sat down at his old piano, and once more allowed his fingers to wander through the vast meadowland of possible melodies. Once again he found only time-honored, well-worn melodies that had been conceived by other composers years and years earlier, and he came to realize that now his heart had become more attached to them than it had been to his own creative endeavors. His old songs were like good friends, friends that reminded him who and where he was at the time of their creation. But the old songs now reached him far deeper than did his own. That realization moved him to tears, and he got up from the piano and sat down in his big chair by the window.

So this was it, this was the moment when the old man ceased to be a musician, ceased to be a composer and became… what? What would he now be, who would he now be? In a moment he knew, he understood, and he smiled to himself. He would now become “just a guy.” Yes, just an old guy.

But what was the next step for him? How could he make this unhappy revelation palatable? He looked out the window to his favorite view, the mountain peaks glistening in the bright morning sunlight. And it occurred to him, one thing that had always inspired good music within him was beautiful pictures of nature. He had scored and recorded the music for dozens of wildlife documentaries over his career. He remembered they had always been easy for him, as any view of natural beauty seemed to inspire new music within him. As he looked out his window, he decided that this wonderful view, coupled with his new understanding that his creative musical energy was coming to an end, might inspire one last composition, one final salute to the magical inspirations he had enjoyed for so many years.

Finally, he arose and again sat down at the piano. Turning on his computer and putting it into record mode, he slowly and deliberately began his final noodling on the keys, searching for the music that best described the view of his mountains, and of his bitter-sweet release from the joy of composing. The melody began to take shape, and its orchestration began to fall into place in his mind. As he had always done before, he found and gave birth to the new melody, then let it go where it wanted to go, and simply began interpreting what his heart had given him.

The music that emerged wasn’t particularly beautiful, nor was it very satisfying, but neither was his emotion of the moment. There was sadness in it, and loss, and though he wasn’t pleased with it, he had to admit to himself that it was deadly accurate. When he finished the recording of the accompanying orchestration, he sat back, again looked out his window at the mountains, and played back his new and final piece.

As he listened, he knew that the muses had visited him one last time, and that the piece was exactly as it was supposed to be… short, bittersweet, reflecting his moment of realization of, and the reluctant acceptance of, this new and unwelcome change in his life. The old man knew it and felt it deep in his heart. And finally, he wept.

Steve Hulse

One Reply to “The Composer”

  1. Sad tale. But, this is not you! Your mind is so active, and when you play, it is always with creativity and enjoyment. Don’t ever stop!

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