A few years ago, the life of a famous musical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was dramatically portrayed in full color and pathos by an award-winning movie. For all his genius and the glorious music he left for generations of rapt and admiring human beings, Mozart died destitute at 37, deeply in debt. His body was thrown into an unmarked grave. As a civilization, we are not noted for treating our musicians well.

In a very small, commonplace, easily forgotten repetition of the Amadeus theme, our city of Melbourne has an extremely talented musician who is struggling to avoid that fate. There may be others, but I know of this one, having listened appreciatively many times as he played the saxophone. He is a serious musician, interested in his craft and in writing music, a perfectionist trying to get the full potential from his instrument and providing enjoyment to his audience. Perhaps I can best indicate his talent by saying that he helped me, a lifetime musical snob and lover of the classics, to broaden my tastes to include contemporary jazz. He is good enough to have played a concert at the Maxwell King Center last month.

What he is facing now is not unlike the problem any serious artist has: how to pursue the thing he loves and make a living while doing so. Up to this time, his wife has been able to maintain full employment that includes health care benefits. With restrictions recently imposed by managed health care providers, she is losing full-time status and its associated medical benefits. Playing five to seven gigs a week brings in cash, but does not furnish needed medical insurance for him, his wife, and their child. Our present day Amadeus must find conventional employment that furnishes a regular, dependable salary and medical insurance. Hopefully, it will take place between 8am to 5pm, leaving him free nights and weekends to play his music.

I realize the problem he is dealing with is similar to that which all humanity experiences during people's entire lifetimes, but there is one difference. What can a person with immense talent do to structure a life without abandoning his or her unique gifts? Where would we be if Mozart had decided to become an accountant or an engineer, earn enough to stay out of debt, pay for an occasional new hat for his wife, shoes for the kids, and forget his musical dreams? Would the world have been better off?

There is no doubt conventional, practical people will say that Mozart certainly would have been better off, but at this stage of my life, I wonder. People can do horrible things to themselves by merely preserving life at the expense of dreams. Centuries ago, a truly talented musician, painter, or sculptor would have sought a patron, a rich merchant, nobleman, or member of the royal family. Some found them. Thirty years ago, our government at least attempted to subsidize some of the fine arts. Today, that assistance has dried up. The abstract philosophical question I raise is terribly concrete to my musical friend. With diligent seeking and a little luck, he hopes to find a position which will satisfy his modest needs. If any music lovers can channel him in the proper direction, they will earn his gratitude, and I and others can continue listening to him play beautiful and haunting melodies on his sax.

The last embryonic saxophonist I know who gave up his career for something more practical now sits in the White House. Who would want that to happen to a fine, local Melbourne boy?


Sam Orr

World Traveler

and Philanthrope

(Location Unknown)