[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

E-mail to a pianist, inspired by two young grandchildren learning to play the cello and violin:

Hello, Ms. ____,

I have your name from your husband, who I met about three years ago at a Princeton Democratic Party meeting. (I move slowly on these things.) I don’t know if you’re still teaching and have time, or what you charge, or — if time and money work for us both — whether you might be interested in taking me on as an experiment.

I had piano lessons from the ages of 7 to 17, again in my late forties, yet again between 1998 and 2001. I was badly taught the first time (by friends of my father, doing him a favor), not really better later, and there wasn’t much the most recent teacher could do, although I liked him. I never learned to sight read, and was unable to memorize.

Several weeks ago I opened the piano (still tuned every six months) and discovered everything had gone with the wind. With difficulty I could pick out the first two major scales with both hands, forgetting where to turn the thumbs under. It took about thirty minutes to work out the fingering and hesitantly put together the first eight bars of the first Prelude of the Well Tempered Clavichord, which I hadn’t played before. (I had played the first Fugue, quite well but not by heart; it looks like Greek to me now.)

However, it is said that Socrates spent his last thirty minutes before drinking the hemlock to which he had been condemned learning to play a new song on his flute-like instrument.  When asked why, he replied: “So that I may know it.”

I just turned 84, although I’m told I don’t look it, and don’t (yet) have arthritic fingers.  I am sure if I start again, this time it should be as if I were a beginner, even if there may be somewhat faster progress at the outset than with a real beginner. Is this a challenge you feel you could take up?

Many thanks for your consideration.

Her immediate answer: She would be delighted to meet, after her husband recovers from a recently broken ankle, to see if we can work something out.

You may call me Socrates, at least for now.



I can’t remember who first sent me this.  Just that it came in an email and made me feel good.  So good, in fact, I played it again twice more before saving it for a rainy day.

It’s a flashmob performance of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, staged and filmed in the main square of Sabadell, Spain, to look as if it were spontaneous. But you don’t really need to know that. Just think of it as a booster shot of happy.

I ran it here nearly a year ago, when this blog was new and had two dozen viewers. (It got three likes!) So a few of you have seen it. But very few. Now that for most of us the leaves are falling, winter’s chill is in the early morning air, and we’re setting our clocks back this Sunday to conserve what little light seems left in the world — it may be time to run it again. After nearly two hundred years, it’s still a heartwarming infusion of pure joy.




Nothing fatal. Just a comprehensive case of eczema that makes it painful to sit, think, or type. So if you’ll excuse me while it gets getter, here’s a rerun that should cheer you up until I rise again from my couch of itchy-scratcy, all anointed with Medicare Part D-approved medications that are supposed to relieve the need to tear myself apart with my fingernails.  Please bear with me and enjoy.  It’s a flashmob performance of Beeethoven’s Ode to Joy, recorded in one of the main plazas of Sabadell, Spain.  Some of you will have seen it before; others not.  Whichever category you’re in, my feeling is you can’t get too much joy. 

[Re-blogged from November 23, 2013]