For many of us, Schultz’ Peanuts cartoons were one of our first contacts with jazz music, with a great soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. My favorite character is Schroeder. He brought classical music to the strip, usually playing music by his idol Beethoven but sometimes Chopin, Schubert and Brahms. I love the way he plays like a virtuoso on his little toy piano, and how it sounded like a Hammond organ in Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Like many great virtuosos, he had his weird and eccentric side too; he kept a closet full of busts of Beethoven and, when he actually sits at a grand piano for the first time, he starts crying and doesn’t want to play it. I love the way he tries to emulate Beethoven’s lifelong bachelorhood and always ignores Lucy van Pelt. He is also one of the few characters on the strip that isn’t mean to Charlie Brown, defending him when the others pick on him. Here are my favorite quotes from Schroeder, perhaps we can learn something from him:
Schroeder: Charlie Brown, let me give you a little advice. As long as you think only of yourself, you’ll never find happiness. You’ve got to start thinking about others!
Charlie Brown: Others? What others? Who in the world am I supposed to think about?
Charlie Brown: Oh good grief!
I can’t agree more; to find happiness, you have to think of music and to think of others. Nihilism has a detrimental effect on a musician, and Schroeder clearly understands that. We can also learn from his enthusiasm in enlightening his uncultured bunch of friends by bringing Beethoven up as the answer to all of lifes troubles. If Beethoven doesn´t bring you happiness, then there’s probably no hope for you. Not just Beethoven, which brings us to our next quote:
Schroeder: Buying records cheers me up. Whenever I feel low I buy some new records. I was so depressed today I bought Mendelssohn’s violin concerto and Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.
Lucy: Wow! How depressed can you get!
Music is food for Schroeder’s soul, he’s not just a trained key-pushing monkey, he is an artist that needs his art the same way the rest of us need air or water. Notice how what he bought is not piano music. Not another record of the Rach 3 and Chopin’s greatest hits; he is a musician, not a pianist.
Schroeder: The joy is in the playing.
He understands that the actual physical act of playing is a pleasure in itself and connected intimately to the music. Music is not to be contemplated or to be kept on a shelf; the joy for an artist is sitting down and actually taking part in our art.
Schroeder sees Lucy and Snoopy brawling: Fighting under the mistletoe? How unfeminine…how unromantic…how gauche!
An artist is an aesthete, with impeccable taste and an eye for what is beautiful or graceful. He is a gentleman and appreciates the finer things in life as well as the common things like playing baseball with Charlie Brown and hanging out with Snoopy and the gang. He is already a man and shows greater maturity than his peers, and he is not afraid to let them know when they are not acting in a proper manner to the occasion.
Lucy asks if musicians make a lot of money: Who cares about money?! This is ART, you blockhead! This is great music I’m playing, and playing great music is an art! Do you hear me? An art! (pounding on piano) Art! Art! Art! Art! Art!”
As pianists, we are artists making great music. Money is not our concern, talking about money is even somewhat offensive. We are not running a butcher’s or a sausage shop and the main point of what we are doing should not be getting payed. It is always about the art. Art! Art! Art! Art! Art!, as he puts it so clearly.
Lucy asks him what the answer to life is: BEETHOVEN! Beethoven is IT, clear and simple!! Do you understand?
He can’t be any more clear with this one, Beethoven is the answer to life. Life is music. As John Cage so aptly pointed out to everyone, everything is music.
When Charlie Brown asks him how he’s able to play such complicated pieces on his toy piano when the black keys are just painted on:
I practice a lot.
He makes no excuses, everything can be solved with hard work. With so many musicians out there blaming the piano, or the hall, or the weather every time something goes wrong it is refreshing to see him make great music with a toy piano, with no black keys. More than anything else, it teaches us about the power of our imagination and sheer force of will when making great music. He doesn’t let his toy piano bum him out, he just takes it in stride and practices a lot. So should we all.