This is not a Jewish column; it’s about a Google Doodle.
The animation on Google’s home page Thursday, Dec. 17, celebrated the 245th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, and for 10 minutes I found myself playing with cartoon Ludwig and a few of his greatest hits. If you didn’t happen to stumble upon this Google Doodle, you have my sympathy.
The cartoon story was simple enough: Ludwig is running late for an appointment to deliver some sheet music and runs into trouble along the way. He steps in something unpleasant, and while he deals with that mess, a horse behind him (remember, poor Ludwig is quite deaf) chews up the music and spits out the pieces. Then he trips, and the music flies into a tree. He collects the music but drops it back into the street, where a carriage rolls over it. As he crosses a bridge, the wind blows the sheets into the river.
Google’s challenge to visitors: Reassemble portions of the music for the “Fifth Symphony,” “Fur Elise,” “Moonlight Sonata” and “Ninth Symphony.” It was particularly tough for those who, like me, don’t read music.
I’m the black sheep of the family when it comes to music. I grew up in a house with a piano-playing mom and a dad who regularly played a couple of guitars and occasionally pulled out a banjo. My brother played some piano.
My wife grew up playing music. One of my sons played the bass clarinet in high school; the other played the tenor sax. Both have dabbled with other instruments.
Me? I’ll sing along with the radio on occasion, but I never picked up an instrument, never took piano lessons, never showed the slightest interest in being in orchestra or marching band or a garage rock band.
Other than plinking around with the family piano a couple of times a year as a youth, to the point that I could pound out a barely passable “Chopsticks,” the only effort I put into playing music came when my sons were babies.
Like most middle-class tots, they had an assortment of Fisher-Price-type musical toys: a keyboard, a xylophone, a guitar that used color-coded keys instead of strings. To encourage their play, their curiosity and their music-driven brain development (and perhaps entranced by the colors and lights), I did my best to make music.
Fortunately, I’m not tone-deaf, so I could hear whether my notes matched anything. As it happens, the one real song I taught myself to play was “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s “Ninth,” which is a beautiful but simple melody that fits within the limited scale of a musical toy made for a 2-year-old.
“Ode to Joy” also has long been special to me. My grandfather, who died less than 10 months before my wedding and was a true connoisseur of music, used to say that Beethoven wrote his best symphony when he was deaf, referring to the “Ninth.” And my wife and I used “Ode to Joy” for our wedding recessional, in part because its universality made it work for a crowd of Jews and non-Jews alike.
So maybe it was luck that after struggling to recompose three Beethoven pieces Dec. 17, I put eight pieces of “Ode to Joy” into the proper order on the first try. Maybe I received some inspiration and guidance.
Regardless, that Google Doodle brought me a silly sense of accomplishment and, yes, a tremendous amount of joy. And if Judaism is largely about family and tradition as Tevye would have us believe — I first heard the “Fiddler on the Roof” soundtrack on my grandfather’s turntable — maybe this is a Jewish column after all.