Not so very long ago there were two composers. Let’s call them Amos and Zeb. Amos was a few years younger than Zeb, but his work was already becoming known – well-reviewed concerts, one in a sterling venue, several CDs with reputable labels, commissions, interviews, talk of a Hollywood score – plus those dark good looks, wit and eloquence, charisma. Not a superstar, not yet, but poised on the brink of a major career. Zeb, on the other hand, held a full-time teaching job. He made a decent living, but could only compose late at night, when he’d finished all his work for school. Though music was his passion, to which he devoted every free moment, he was never going to be a Cultural Icon in his lifetime. A local string quartet had performed a few of his pieces, the church choir generally sang something of his for their holiday programmes, and he’d begun issuing MP3 downloads from his website, slowly gaining a small but respectable following. That ten years from now he would be ‘discovered’ meant nothing to him.

Amos and Zeb had one thing besides music in common: they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And it wasn’t a heartrending gunman’s rampage, nor a dastardly suicide bombing, but a rather banal train derailing. Both were on their way to the city for the evening – Amos to a commemorative benefit at which a new piece of his would be premiered, Zeb for an unknown reason.

If I were a novelist, I’d now tell you that Zeb was a traveller from the future sent back to avert the death of a Great Artist, but an unexpected solar storm disrupted temporal calibrations so that he arrived just moments too late. Or that Amos and Zeb met on the train, fell in love, and died in one another’s arms. Or that they were long-lost brothers, separated in early childhood, who by chance took seats opposite each other, got to talking, and were reunited on their last earthly journey.

But none of these happened. They sat in different carriages, one listening to his iPod, the other drinking a coke and scribbling in his notebook. The train crashed, and they died.

There is one other thing. Amos’s funeral was graced by illustrious mourners from the music world, even those who had never met him personally, or their massive floral arrangements. At Zeb’s memorial service a few students and colleagues, as well as the head, spoke about his dedication to music, and the choir sang one of his pieces, but of course they all knew he was only an amateur.


6 thoughts on “A small tale

  1. Lee 17 years ago

    Thanks for your thoughts, Pundy. Yes, there are plenty of terrific amateurs. You would probably have to count even Kafka among them.

  2. pundy 17 years ago

    This is an intriguing parable, isn’t it.

    There are several conclusions you could draw. That fame, like life itself, is fleeting and precarious. That none of us knows what’s round the next corner. And so on.

    There are also some conclusions you can’t draw. As far as fame and how either of these musicians will be regarded in ten years time no-one can tell. We’ll have to wait and see how history treats them. Not that it matters to either of them, now.

    “…they knew he was only an amateur.” They were wrong on two counts here. He worked in order to dedicate his life to music. That’s not amateuism. And secondly, there’s nothing “only” about being an amateur. The finest golfer who ever lived – Bobby Jone – was “only” an amateur. I’m sure there are plenty more examples – Gerard Manley Hopkins, for a start.

    Good parable though – really got me thinking and I haven’t yet reached a firm conclusion. Maybe I won’t.

  3. Lee 17 years ago

    BTW, Nick, you’re right that this is more of a parable than a fable. I wasn’t being very precise. Hence the change in post title. (And you see, I do accept a certain amount of editorial guidance!

  4. Nick 17 years ago

    Well… very much depends on your tastes, but he is interesting, no question. He’s usually compared to Mike Oldfield though somewhat more electronic.

  5. Lee 17 years ago

    I must give him a try.

  6. Nick 17 years ago

    For some reason this parable puts me in mind of a musician whose CDs I own in abundance, and probably play more than anyone else’s. He’s never signed a proper record deal and sells all his CDs direct, but his fans number legion. Bjorn Lynne is his name. And while I’m sure he’s not to everyone’s tastes, he succeeds at preposterous projects – like writing a soundtrack to a trilogy of fantasy novels; something I doubt any record label would have let him do.