Moonlight Sonata by
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Moonlight Sonata

I’ve written before about my father Arthur who was truly a Renaissance man.  (See Saying Farewell to a Special GuySix Pack,  and My Dad and the Word Processor)

By profession Arthur was a family physician who when asked his medical specialty once quipped,  “I treat the skin and its contents.”

And by avocation my dad was a memoirist,  an artist,  and a self-taught classical pianist,  and I best remember him sitting at the baby grand in our living room.

He never had a lesson and didn’t read music very well,  yet he played beautifully,  often along with an LP from the series Symphony Minus One,   pieces performed by all the orchestra minus the piano.   Although sheet music was included,   he hardly used it rather playing his part by ear.    He revered Chopin and especially Beethoven,  and he played Beethoven’s exquisite piano sonatas with great feeling  – the Appassionata,   the Pathetique and the Moonlight Sonata.

When in his 80s he died my mother mourned him terribly,  and although I never remember her being sick,   she developed a heart condition and survived him by only two years.  In her last days,   after an unsuccessful surgery,   she was comatose.

Seeing my despair a nurse explained that unresponsive patients often hear and understand more than we realize and suggested I bring music to play for my mother.   So we brought a cassette player to her room and played a tape of the Moonlight Sonata.

Although her eyes never opened,  she smiled and I’m sure in her mind’s eye she saw my father sitting at the baby grand.

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Beethoven, Moonlight Sonata
Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Very touching story, Dana, and I do believe that nurse was onto something. I’m glad your mother smiled and you have those memories of your father. And, I had no idea that there were LPs “sans piano” that you could play along with–just amazing!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this Dana. It is so sweet. What a perfect thing to have done for your mom. And your dad does sound like a Renaissance man—very impressed that he played those beautiful classical pieces self taught! You were lucky to have had him in your life.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What a sad, lovely, story, Dana. And so different from many of us who think of the songs that were important to us, and not our parents. I wouldn’t have a clue as to what my parents'”song” was. You are a gem to have known!

  4. Suzy says:

    Very moving story, Dana. I am amazed that your father could play so well without ever having had a lesson, and without reading music. He must have had an incredible ear. We have a pianist friend who has been blind since birth, and she learns everything just by listening to it, and it seems he had that skill as well. Love that you played the Moonlight Sonata for your comatose mother and it made her smile.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Beautiful story, Dana. The nurse gave you good advice. I’m certain your mother heard the music and communed with your father at the very end.

  6. Such a poignant and beautiful homage–to your father, to his passion for music, to your mother. It leaves me teary. Thank you.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your parents and to your father’s talent as a pianist. Your description of playing Moonlight Sonata for your mother really moved me. I’m sure she heard it on some level.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I definitely believe that people in a coma near death can hear. I said goodbye to a dear friend sixteen months ago, only hours before she died. Alone with her, I whispered something into her ear that she’d know could ONLY come from her demented friend “Lil’ David.” And she smiled.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    Oh Dana, what a lovely story. They say that doctors/scientists often are gifted musicians. I loved that bit of your father’s humor. I’ll have to share it with my M.D.

    Your taking of the music to your mother touched me and reminds me of the day when my brother and I went to visit a friend in hospice. He was dying much too young, and we didn’t know if he could hear and understand us.. I had brought along a cassette with Harvard Band songs (he was a saxaphonist and ultimately the Drum Major), which we placed and played at his bedside. I’d like to think the transported him on his way, with the music that accompanied some of the proudest moments of his life. Thank you for telling your story.

  10. Jim Willis says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your father, Dana, and his love of music. Like Arthur, I am one who plays the piano by ear, and I can confirm that it is a wonderful and mysterious gift that provides so much internal pleasure and relaxation. I know Arthur felt both of those and more. It’s not everyone who can play classical music by ear. Arthur’s gift was of the highest order!

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