The Magic of Melody by Edgar March

Maclean's, August 15, 1933


This short story appeared in Maclean's Magazine in 1933 as told by Edgar March about his boss, John Murray Gibbon, who had an operation for gall stones while listening to a gramophone and writing poetry in the operating room. Gibbon became the creator of "gramopoems," i.e., poems written while listening to the gramophone.


I did not believe the nurse. The nurse stood outside the operating theatre door and said that my boss was quite all right.

"They are operating," she said, "and he is playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on a gramophone."

She was a perturbed nurse. She stood in front of the operating-room door and she shivered slightly, but she insisted that my boss, John Murrary Gibbon, was being operated on for gall stones and he was playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on a gramophone.

"The operation is going as well as can be expected," she added, remembering that she was a nurse.

I concealed my thoughts about this nurse. I did, indeed. "Maybe," I said to her, "he is writing poetry. It is a habit of his."

That is all I said, and I still maintain that she should not have agreed with me. She should not have said that my boss, John Murray Gibbon, was listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on a gramophone and writing poetry while the doctors were being familiar with the interior of his anatomy." No well brought up nurse should say such a thing. Not to a worrying semi-stout. No, indeed. Not to Eddie, the big worrier. I should say not.

I was shocked. That is what I was -- shocked. the nurse was lisening to me being shocked when the operating room door opened, and a man dressed in white lodge robes and wearing a cross between a sun helmet and an African turban came out. He was an anaesthtist disguised in regalia of the first degree. He was nervous.

"The whole business," he remarked, "is unorthodox. It is most unorthodox to be operating to music."

I agreed with him. The nurse and I agreed with him together.

"Bah!' said the anaesthetist. "Music," he snorted, "is a sedative. Your boss," he growed. "just told me that." Then he looked at me. He looked at me with that look which means like it or fight.

I took this doctor up. I can, I thought to myself, run faster than this lad, so I took him up.

"Doctor," I took him up, "are you operating on John Murray Gibbon or is he giveing you a music lesson?"

"Both," the doctor replied, looking menacing. "We are operating with local anesthetics and your boss is reclinging in the operating chair. He is playing a gramophone on a side table. And moreover, " this doctor swound up, getting ready to fight, "he is writing poetry."

I had to believe this doctor. He was so upset that I had to believe him. I could see that the very thought of unorthodoxy in his sacred operating theatre had upset him.

"Never mind." I blieved him. "You should see my box ride the moutain trails."

"Trails!" The doctor kept right on being upset. "Your boss tried to borrow the chief surgeon's scapel. He wanted to sharpen a pencil with it."

I could see that the patient was going to live. I was glad. I waited for him in his room.

I"Boss," I said after they had tucked him in "what about this gramophone stuff?"

That was as far as I got.

'Music," John Murray Gibbon interrupted me, "has no relation to my anatomy, nor," and he gazed significantly at me, "to semi-stout mid-sections. They were opearing with local anaesthetics, so I saw no reason why I should stop my game."

I looked quickly at my boss.

"What game?" I humored him. "What game is this you invented in that operating room?"

"The game of writing love lyrics with machinery," he replied, demanding a pencil.

So I knew the worst. I knew the worst and I soothed him.

"I know," I soothed him. "The doctor told me."

"I am going to write a book about it," he went on, ignoring my soothing. "I am going to call it The Magic of Melody."

"You said it, boss." I cheered him, remembering the delirium that sometimes follows even a successful operation. "You write this book. I will go now."

I went looking for the chief surgeon. The chief surgeon was perturbed. He was searching his professional career.

"Never," he told me, "in all my experience, have I had a patient play a gramophone and write poetry during a major operation. Here," he said, "is the lyric." The chief surgeon waved the paper at me. "I am," he challenged, "going to send it to The Lancet. We all know," he went right on, digging into his career, "that it takes a surgical operation to get a laugh out of a Scotsman, but this is the first time we have ever got a lyric."

The chief surgeon looked at me.

"Doctor," I answered, "why not send it to the Century of Progress Fair at Chicago? McGill University has an exhibit there."

"Bah," growled the chief surgeon, telling me that the patient would recover in spite of the lyric.


For the remainder of this story start in column 2 (below), The Secret of Poetry.














Maclean's cover, August 15, 1933