Tuesday, March 17, 2015


For five and a half years, I worked at the front desk of a music conservatory. The days were filled with the sounds of all kinds of instruments: voice and piano, strings and brass, percussion and a particularly ghastly saxophone. There were students practicing technique or in lessons with their teachers, faculty polishing their repertoire for upcoming performances, intensive summer academies that drew fine musicians from across the country, and touring artists performing in one of our venues. All these sounds drifted down to the front desk and mingled into a cacophony that was both beautiful and aggravating.

And one autumn, a particular melody began to emanate from the piano wing directly above the desk. It was familiar, but how did I know it...

It didn't take me long to place: it was the theme song from a computer game that i had played as a child, back in the golden days of DOS. You were a sort of humanoid-aircraft transformer, flying through a maze and blasting barricades and malevolent pixel-formations with a laser.  I could picture the game perfectly, I could hear the 8-bit tones in my mind, but the name frustratingly escaped my memory.

The pianist practiced the song faithfully; every day the melody tormented me until one quiet evening, as I manned the desk for the solo night shift, I determined to find out the name. Knowing only that I was looking for a DOS game from the 1980s, my internet search led me to an alphabetical list on Wikipedia. I paged through the list, not at all sure I would even recognize the name if i saw it—but eventually I found it.


Like any name that hovers frustratingly just beyond the reach of your memory, it only took a glimpse to prompt that eurekic moment of total recall.

old-school Thexder

I eagerly found a YouTube video of the theme song; it was what the mystery pianist was playing! Fitting a missing piece into the jigsaw  puzzle of the past gives you the kind of wings that you just have to share. I sent my boyfriend an excited chat-rendition of the mystery I had just solved, and linked the video. Almost immediately, he wrote back:

"Oh, that's the Moonlight Sonata," he said.
"No it isn't," I contradicted, offended.

It was, of course, which made the situation extra ridiculous. Here I was, a classically trained musician who had started piano lessons at age 5 and had spent a wildly successful year in voice performance at university. Here I was, sitting inside a music conservatory where I was both a student of composition and an employee in the administrative office. And not only had I not recognized a famous Beethoven sonata; I had actually recognized it first as a song from a computer game I had played nearly twenty years ago. The irony of it might just be my favourite thing ever.

Castle Adventure
DOS is one of those things that makes me almost unreasonably nostalgic. I remember the day when a very young me spent a good five minutes trying to open a primitive golf game, eventually realizing that I had been typing gulf the whole time.  I remember searching for sigmas and section signs in Castle Adventure. I remember the downstairs computer with the green screen that only had three functions: printing text documents, Typing Tutor, and Prince of Persia. I remember the old dot matrix printer with its semi-transparent continuous paper. I remember the 8-bit melodies and 5¼-inch floppy disks. At the conservatory, I was the sole supporter of our DOS-based registration system, misguidedly resisting the browser-based replacement that was phased in halfway through my tenure.

They say that smell is the sense most linked to memory, but music has always been my primary passion. I like to think that the Thexder Incident is more revealing of how important memories and the past are to me, rather than how poor my mental library of repertoire is.


  1. Teehee! But I'm sure I played the Moonlight Sonata for you before. It was one of the first songs I learned, and I was very dedicated and passionate about practicing it. The first thing I noticed in the Thexder theme was that they got a note wrong!

  2. I wondered about that too - I can picture you perfectly, sitting at the piano and playing it so many times. I think the difference is that when you played it, it sounded like pure Beethoven, and not some 8-bit melody :)