I never received any musical instruction. My mother always believed that I did not have any musical talents. In fact, she used a Russian saying “Ð¼ÐµÐ´Ð²ÐµÐ´ÑŒ Ð½Ð° ÑƒÑ…Ð¾ Ð½Ð°ÑÑ‚ÑƒÐ¿Ð¸Ð»” (“a bear stepped on one’s ear”) to describe my musical aptitude. When I was little, I assumed the bear story to be literally true.
When I became a little older, I realized how lucky I was–many of my friends had to spend many, many hours studying music, and every one of them hated it. Those who studied music further, hated their lessons even more. I had one friend, for instance who used solfeggio as a curse word.
To this day I do not regret not getting a musical education: I feel that all that reading, fishing and playing that I’ve done instead of music lessons was a better use of my time. Besides, I think my mother wasn’t very much off in evaluation of my musical ability.
Having married into a musical family (my mother-in-law is a piano teacher and father-in-law is a senior tuner at Steinway and Sons), I have more music thrust in my life than I ever thought possible. My wife, an amateur organist, took up almost half of the living room space with an organ and a harpsichord. The mother-in-law and her take turns in bringing my baby daughter, whose entire vocabulary is limited to “papa”, “mama”, “baba”, and “kaka”, to the harpsichord keyboard and letting her hit the keys. My father in law has absolute pitch, but at this point it’s unclear if little Natalie inherited it or my own “bear-stepped-on” ears.
While a harpsichords and an organs are hardly common instruments, I bet every one of you has encountered a well-abused piano situated in a classroom. Invariably, some kid pulls up a chair and starts playing a simple melody. In the United States it’s usually a Chopsticks, in Russia–Dog’s Waltz.
It turns out that Chopsticks is actually called The Celebrated Chop Waltz and it’s composer is known. Dog’s Waltz’s, composer, on the other hand is unknown, but the tune has a wider international influence (also, musically, it’s a more interesting piece than Chopsticks).
Dog’s Waltz, as I learned from the Wikipedia article, is one of those things that has different names in different cultures. There are many examples of this: Russian roulette is known as American roulette in Russia, Mk 2 grenade is known as “pineapple grenade” in the US, but was called “lemon grenade” in Russian, cocks being called roosters in the US (for understandable reasons) and so forth.
The cultures don’t agree in what the said roosters sound like, with versions ranging from “cock-a-doodle-doo” to “goh-geh-goh-goh” to “chic-chi-ri-chi” and so forth. Cat sounds vary from culture to culture as well, and so do dog sounds.
In the similar manner, Dog’s Waltz has a multitude of names in different cultures, ranging from Cat March to Flea Waltz, Donkey March, Fools’ Polka, and The Little Monkeys. The Japanese, take the prize by calling it Neko Funjatta–I Stepped on the Cat. Interestingly enough, this tune is relatively unknown in the US.