“Am I too loud?” the man of substance ought
to ask the world, but silence that is good as gold
is rarely a commodity that’s bought,
since drowned by volume in a tale that can’t be told.
“Am I too silent?” is a question those
whose messages, straight from the heart, and left unsaid,
should ask; they can’t be heard when they expose
their feelings, and transmute the gold they’ve fooled to lead.
Take delight in what is not despicable
just because it’s cannot fully be explained.
Interpretations of what is inexplicable
often cause what’s holy to become profaned.
The first two verses of this poem were inspired by Bernard Holland’s review of a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert which included William Bolcom’s Eighth Symphony, a work that was inspired by the poetry of William Blake (“Blake’s Text Write Large and Loud by Bolcom,” NYT, March 5, 2008):
Loud though it is, its loudness has substance. I was very moved by it. James Levine conducted. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, prepared by John Oliver, sang difficult music fearlessly and from memory.
This was William Bolcom’s response to the first two verses of my poem on 5/26/21:
I’m rereading your encomium which does my heart good. My best thanks! I’m 83 today, here at my house outside Ann Arbor, and feel lucky.
Poor Jim has taken a real beating in the press, just before his untimely death. I hope listeners don’t boycott his wonderful performances — he was a master nonetheless. He did my piece, and me, proud.
The Jim to whom William Bolcom referred was, of course, James Levine.
The last verse of this poem was inspired by an article in the 8/26/22 NYT by Seth Colter Walls about William Bolcom’s Second Symphony (“Decades Later, a Composer Revisits the Piano Concerto: William Bolcom’s recent work, written for the pianist Igor Levit, is streaming after its premiere earlier this year”):
Bolcom’s ability to move between poles of emotion, in his rags and concertos, is part of the great charm of his music. When I asked him about the surprising appearance of an electric keyboard part in his Symphony No. 3, I described it as sometimes sounding like a parody of midcentury American modernism and at other points as reminiscent of fusion-era Miles Davis. He let out a belly laugh.
“First of all: What’s not interesting to me is to make it all completely explicable,” he said. “It’s not explicable to me. I mean, I fly by the seat of my pants, musically.” And although he declined to be pinned down on any point of musical reference, he did admit, “Since the beginning, I’ve had love for the theater.”