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Battling Beethoven

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Back around 1955 I was courting a lass who lived in Chinook, Montana, about 80 miles from where I was stationed with the Air Force on the Alberta/ Saskatchewan/Montana border. Her folks had a large ranch in Blaine County and I had met her at a sweet shop hangout in Havre. She was lovely and after a couple of dates she invited me to the family home for lunch. There I met her mother and a baby grand piano.

I was two years removed from my freshman year at Montana State University as a music major. I was not a good student and by only attending my music classes was requested at the end of that year “not to return”. This is akin to a sex-scandled congressman who “retires” before he is ousted.

But I did learn a lot in my music classes, and while my major was voice, I could dink around on the piano. My personal piece de resistance was learning, by heart, about half of the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

Thus 57 years later, last week, I pushed the ON button on my keyboard and commenced to attempt Ludwig’s charming melody. I could do okay with the right hand, although the left hand was drawing a blank even locating the proper single note of the first four bars. And I discovered that my memory was gone on the right side when more than three fingers were required.

Being a genius with the computer, I asked Ms. Gloria to show me how to find sheet music, and she led me to Google. Eureka! I typed in “Moonlight Sonata” which led me to Wikipedia and ultimately to the score of the piece. There in front of me, full screen, was the first movement; black lines, white spaces and lots of dotty-dots with stems. My memory was good enough to recognize that whatever key it was written in had four sharps. Uh-oh.

Undaunted, I decided to print that first movement, half of which I had, half a century before, been proficient at - enough to impress Charlotte’s mother. I hit the print key and the printer spat out the first page. As I removed it I noticed first that there was no title on it, then that the notes were not those I had seen, and finally that in the corner was written ‘Page 18’.

I tried to stop the printing but failed. Eighteen pages later, out came the title page and the opening notes. The entire piece had been printed.

I climbed the stairs to my musician’s garret, removed the cover from my instrument and turned it on. I found the missing evasive notes for the right hand and then remembered I was a treble-clef musician with an excellent memory. Then.

Even now, I had to recite to myself “Every Good Boy Does Fine” (the black keys) and “A Cow Eats Grass” (the white ones). OK, now we are on our way. To the left hand keys, let’s see: “Good Boys Do Fine Always” and “F-A-C-E” for the whites. I practiced for at least fifteen minutes.

Sometime, somewhere, don’t be surprised if you see me at a piano playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. At least the first eight notes. With both hands


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The Moonlight is a beautiful piece to fall in love with. I remember well.

You are slightly off in recalling the notes on the staff, however. In the Treble clef--right hand on the piano--Every Good Boy Does Fine are all white notes, not black. In fact, all the unadorned alphabetical letters are white notes: ABCDEFG. Black notes have a sharp or flat attached to their letter names. Every Good Boy Does Fine are the ascending LINE notes in the Treble clef. The ascending space notes spell FACE. A Cow Eats Grass labels the ascending Bass clef space notes; Bass clef line notes spell Grizzly Bears Don't Fear Anything. (Five lines per staff, with four spaces in between the lines.)

Call me sometime and we can talk music.


Lynette Westendorf


Hi there Lynette:  Thanks for your response to the Beethoven piece.  God, it reminded me of Miss Schroeder, my ONLY piano teacher* from 72 years ago. However did I remember her name?  Perhaps getting rapped on the wrist with a baton.  Anyhow, I do remember the letters and their words (Grizzly Bears in Towson Maryland?  C'mon.) just had them mixed up.  The last time I even looked at a sheet of music other than lyrics was in college in '52.  Let's see, that was 60 years ago.  Point being that these days I cannot even remember my next door neighbor's name from time to time.  I am not making excuses---I could not sight read even then, but---BUT, I could and can play and sing from memorized stuff.  Not piano (Tho still can do blues and boogie as long as they are in key of C on the piano.) My major was in voice, and as a bass I always had trouble reading that cleff (if that is what it is called) so would on my own or with a talented other get the melody down and that took care of it---even in Italian. (I had an aria or something from Fortza del Destino---I remember 10 words and melody of that.)

But thanks for the comments, I truly appreciate the recognition and am flattered you took the time to write.  I am not offended at all, my ultimate life's mission has been, to quote Oscar Wilde, "I would rather be spoken of badly than be spoken of not at all.)

As to your invitation to "Talk music," I fear I would be essentially mute.  Mine is all in my memory glands.  But one of these days--sure.  I have admired your talents, that's for certain.  One condition:  No piano lessons, scales, exercises.

Thanks again, Lynette, Bob

* Miss S. gave up on me after a year, telling my mom, "Robert is try to teach ME how to play."  I was that kind of kid.

Bob Spiwak

West Boesel