A Handful Of Ordinary Symphonies

James Sebastian Middlemarch was a prodigy.

No other way to say it in truth, and those who knew him and his gift

Were in agreement that he was destined to reach

The apogee of the musical world, though he, even at a very young age,

Discouraged such talk—sometimes offhandedly, but at other times

Quite insistently indeed, for, even then,

He had the constant, gnawing suspicion

That there was a disconnect between the harmonies

(Mad, excruciating, yet unspeakably lovely)

Which scampered unfettered around his head

And those he could bring forth on the piano or viola.

Nonetheless, his aptitude pulled him along

Through longitude and latitude, to Julliard, then Paris and Vienna

Where he mixed with others marked by their provincial peers as The Next One.


Through all this time, the sonatas, concertos, and full-blown symphonies

Danced on in his mind without restraint or retreat

Yet, when he tried to corral them onto paper,

They kicked and bucked and spit out the bit

In spurious sixteenths and turgid quarters

Which cantered along in pedestrian time signatures.

These pieces (the “sad imitations”, as he called them)

Were performed on more than the odd occasion,

But on smaller stages by undistinguished orchestras,

And those freelancers dispatched by features editors

In the Rochesters and Pensacolas of the world

(Small-timers themselves, yet wholly without sympathy)

Would cluck and sigh dismissively in their reviews

That the works were derivative and quite ordinary,

With easily recognizable bits of Strauss and Schumann

(Clara Schumann, according to one notably acerbic small-town wit)

Scattered here and there, and they were unanimous in their belief and opinion

As to the minor nature of his presence on the musical landscape.


After some years, he stopped publishing his works

Which made him even less of an afterthought

Than he had been at his low-slung zenith.

He continued to play with some regional symphonies,

Where he was deeply loved by his colleagues,

As he was modest in the face of praise,

But never sparing in dispensing kindness in return,

And to all appearances the frenzied siren airs

Which had ridden roughshod over his psyche for so many decades

Had ceased at last—but after his death, one of his sons discovered,

Squatting surreptitiously under a great mound of ancient antimacassars,

Several trunks containing untold scores of sheet music,

(Updated versions of earlier work, new pieces abandoned in exasperation)

Which sat in mute testament to the difficult labor

Of unfastening onself from the yoke of being ordinary.


3 thoughts on “A Handful Of Ordinary Symphonies

  1. Man, have you read Borges a lot? some of your stuff reminds me of the cadence of the short stories… The almost factual narrative without any metaphysics which still feels totally otherworldly.

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