The Piano Mystery

I am recovering my oldest piano music, entering it in Finale (a music notation program), and posting them on SoundCloud to share with friends. How I came to write this music is amusing, and surprising to me as much as to anyone else. I never learned to sight-read music, thanks to a spiteful second-grade teacher who refused to tell me what I had missed during a measles bout. Before my illness, we were happily singing in C Major. When I came back, everyone was singing in other keys with sharps and flats, and I was cast adrift. None of the itinerant music teachers I had in elementary school ever realized I was faking it, and that I could not read music.
My love for classical music began during the one term of high school I had in Connellsville, in the eighth grade. Miss Keller, who was not a certified music teacher, was a volunteer who loved music and who came to the schools to teach us. Music had bored me until them. She played the 1812 Overture on a record-player, and that was it. I was hooked. From there, to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and on and on. When I started visiting Pittsburgh and had borrowing rights to classical LPs, the madness intensified. Yet I never played a musical instrument and had no access to one.
When I got to Edinboro State College, I found empty practice rooms, with pianos. One of them had a Knabe grand piano that I fell in love with. I found that one church never locked its doors, and that I could creep inside, turn on the pipe organ, and play (I limited myself to the quieter stops so that I would not disturb the neighbors or get arrested).
I sat down at a piano with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and Chopin's G Minor Ballade, two pieces I knew well enough to know what they should sound like. I knew where middle C was. I knew what sharps and flats were. I made up my own system of reading, using numbers for notes instead of letters, so that I could speedily analyze what I was looking at. I used + and b for sharps and flats.
Seeing that a run of arpeggios up the keyboard was 1 3 5 1 3 5 or 1+ 4+ 6+ 1+ 4+ 6+, or  5 1 3b 5 1 3b 5 1 3b made a lot more sense to me than C E G C E G or C# F# A# or G C Eb C G Eb.
So, without any knowledge of fingering and certainly little sense of rhythm, I muddle through the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata and the first page of the Chopin Ballade.
Then, mysteriously, my fingers began to find melodies, chords, moods. One thing followed another and I began to notate my improvisations. I enrolled in a Music Theory class and learned a lot in the first couple of weeks, but I had to drop it because I could not sight-read. I could play my own homework assignments, but I could not play something placed in front of me that I had not studied. So I just went my own way.
A year later, I played a full program of my piano music in front of a huge audience at an arts festival at Edinboro. Such is the arrogance of youth.



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