“It isn’t that I don’t want to like Bach,” I replied hastily. “It’s just that I’m tone deaf, or almost tone deaf, and I’ve never really heard anybody’s music.”
A look of concern came into the old man’s face. “Please,” he said abruptly. “You will come with me?”
He stood up and took my arm. I stood up. As he led me across that crowded room, I kept my embarrassed glance fixed on the carpet. A rising murmur of puzzled speculation followed us out into the hall. Einstein paid no attention to it.
Resolutely, he led me upstairs. He obviously knew the house well. On the floor above, he opened the door into a book-lined study, drew me in, and shut the door.
“Now,” he said with a small, troubled smile. “You will tell me, please, how long you have felt this way about music?”
“All my life,” I said, feeling awful. “I wish you would go back downstairs and listen, Dr. Einstein. The fact that I don’t enjoy it doesn’t matter.”
Einstein shook his head and scowled, as though I had introduced an irrelevance.
“Tell me, please,” he said. “Is there any kind of music that you do like?”
“Well,” I answered, “I like songs that have words, and the kind of music where I can follow the tune.”
He smiled and nodded, obviously pleased. “You can give me an example, perhaps?”
“Well,” I ventured, “almost anything by Bing Crosby.”
He nodded again, briskly. “Good!”
He went to a corner of the room, opened a phonograph, and started pulling out records. I watched him uneasily. At last, he beamed. “Ah!” he said.
He put the record on, and in a moment, the study was filled with the relaxed, lilting strains of Bing Crosby’s “When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” Einstein beamed at me and kept time with the stem of his pipe. After three or four phrases, he stopped the phonograph.
“Now,” he said. “Will you tell me, please, what you have just heard?”
The simplest answer seemed to be to sing the lines. I did just that, trying desperately to stay in tune and keep my voice from cracking. The expression on Einstein’s face was like the sunrise.
“You see!” he cried with delight when I finished. “You do have an ear!”
I mumbled something about this being one of my favorite songs, something I had heard hundreds of times so that it didn’t really prove anything.
“Nonsense!” said Einstein. “It proves everything! Do you remember your first arithmetic lesson in school? Suppose, at your very first contact with numbers, your teacher had ordered you to work out a problem in, say, long division or fractions. Could you have done so?”
“No, of course not.”
“Precisely!” Einstein made a triumphant wave with his pipe stem. “It would have been impossible, and you would have reacted in panic. You would have closed your mind to long division and fractions. As a result, because of that one small mistake by your teacher, it is possible your whole life you would be denied the beauty of long division and fractions.”
The pipe stem went up and out in another wave.
“But on your first day, no teacher would be so foolish. He would start you with elementary things—then, when you had acquired skill with the simplest problems, he would lead you up to long division and to fractions.
“So it is with music.” Einstein picked up the Bing Crosby record. “This simple, charming little song is like simple addition or subtraction. You have mastered it. Now we go on to something more complicated.”