I was once so in love with a piano piece that I tried to learn it by ear. It was a tune called “Sonatine” from one of my favorite albums, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s BTTB. The letters BTTB stand for “Back to the Basics,” and it’s a fitting title for an album of simple, beautiful piano pieces. But though “Sonatine” is fairly simple, my ear is only so-so, and one section of the piece completely eluded me.
This half-learned tune has been a little thorn in my side since. Unfinished projects are a serious problem in my life. But more importantly, I just want to be able to play it. I love its unexpected dissonances. My mother would probably hate it for its dissonances, a thought that makes me smile every time I play the parts of it that I know.
I knew the solution to my “Sonatine” problem. What I needed was sheet music. I had looked on-line for it several times and found nothing. But, as hope springs eternal, I searched again last month. And this time I discovered (hooray!) that there are several collections of Sakamoto’s music available from Japan. None of them listed “Sonatine,” but since some of the song titles were in Japanese, I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t in there. One collection contained just enough other pieces from BTTB to make it a reasonable gamble. I ordered it.
It takes a while for a package to travel all the way from Japan to New England. The estimate arrival date was late September, but I hoped the book would arrive before my birthday. And it did! It arrived yesterday. Happy Early Birthday to me!
I flipped through the music eagerly. Alas, while one of the Japanese titles did turn out to be a piece from BTTB, it was not “Sonatine.” Still, I enjoyed playing “Energy Flow” and a few other pieces that I recognized.
Then I went on-line yet again. I thought that maybe if I dug deep enough into the Google results that I would find another sheet music collection, or maybe a transcription by a fan. There were some promising hits, but they didn’t pan out. I was almost certain that the sheet music existed, so it was very frustrating to be unable to locate it.
I also stopped by Sakamoto’s official website to see if there were any links to sheet music there. There weren’t. But there was a letter from Sakamoto. It started with this stark announcement: “In the end of June, I was diagnosed with throat cancer.”
The news made me so sad. I don’t know what kind of prognosis he was given, but he did also say, “I promise to return after a full recovery.” I hope he will be able to keep that promise.
While the news made me sad, it also made me even more determined to learn to play “Sonatine” as a sort of homage. Perhaps it will have greater symbolic significance if I can manage to learn it on my own, because I’ll have to work for it. So that will be my musical project for the next few weeks. I’ll also make good use of my new sheet music by learning to play “Energy Flow” by heart. With every note I’ll be sending the composer my best wishes for recovery.
Please get well soon, Ryuichi Sakamoto!