Patrick Schönbach: Musician, programmer, chess player
Patrick Schönbach is a person in a special situation, which makes it
necessary to give some background information. Patrick is 33, and was born
and is living in Germany. He was born with cerebral palsy. At this point, many
people would already say: "Oh, what a pitiful fate". But is it really?
When Patrick was about four years old, his parents went with him to an expert
for such cases, and as part of the examination, an assistant of the professor
also tested his intelligence. The result was: an IQ of around 170! The professor
himself did not want to believe this result at first, as he was convinced that
someone with Patrick’s pattern of disability also must be mentally disabled.
The professor was also shocked by something else during the examination. Patrick’s
brother, who is nearly 18 years older than him, was studying medicine at that
time, and while he was learning, young Patrick often sat on his lap, looking
into his illustrated medical books. And since his brother was studying, he
repeated the Latin names of muscles, bones and other body parts. During the
examination, Patrick playfully called out the names of the muscles the doctor
touched – in Latin.
The professor said that given the severity of Patrick’s disability,
the statistics show that only one of one thousand cases is not affected mentally.
“So, did I really have that bad luck?” Patrick asks today. “Do
I have the right to complain about the injustice of my situation? Yes, indeed,
my life is not easy, and it has never been easy, but have you ever actually
met a person whose life has been really easy, all the time? I haven’t.”
Young Patrick discovering his musical talents
At the age of six Patrick learned the chess rules and played occasionally.
However he was never a member of a chess club. Nevertheless, chess has always
fascinated him, and when he has the time, he works on improving his play, using
books or, of course, “those wonderful ChessBase products” (he has
owned Fritz since version 2 was out). Later, he went to a normal high school,
and at this time, he discovered his greatest talent: music. Since a very young
age, he liked to play around on keyboard instruments, but because of his disability
his possibilities to perform music were quite limited.
Patrick (left) in high school, eleventh grade
When Patrick was about 12, the first home computers came out that allowed
the user to input notes, which were then played back via synthesizers. This
allowed him to write music (he cannot use a pen), and also to perform it to
some extent. After some pop songs (“they were quite silly”) he
discovered classical music, and it interested him so much that he started to
study it seriously. He taught himself all areas of classical composing, using
only books and uncountable attempts and exercises: harmony, counterpoint, musical
form, orchestration, etc. “Looking back now, I honestly wonder myself
how I survived all these highly complex books as a teenager,” he says.
“I genuinely feel that Johann Sebastian Bach was actually my first composition
Patrick Schönbach today (right) with a friend
After finishing high school Patrick decided to study musicology and music
theory, which at first glance seemed impossible, because it requires that the
student must be able to play at least two instruments. But he did not give
up hope, and after a year of playing “bureaucratic ping pong” with
the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, Patrick was granted permission to study the
subjects he wanted, even though he could not play an instrument in the traditional
sense. He started studies in 1992 and finished them with a Master’s degree
after some ups and downs and hardships in life in the beginning of 1999.
Since Patrick had been using computers such a lot – he calls the computer
“my pencil, just a bit bigger than the normal one” – he also
taught himself how to program. After finishing his degree in music he beefed
up his programming knowledge, again in self studies, bringing it to an industrial
level. Since the fall 1999 he has been working out of his home as a freelance
software developer, with special skills in Eiffel,
C, C++, Ruby, Perl, Java, Visual Basic, Smalltalk, Pascal, Basic and x86 Assembler.
Since Germany is somewhat restrained in the area of telecommuting, he has always
worked for companies and organizations abroad. Finding projects has not always
been easy, but with perseverance and also patience it has always worked out
somehow, at least so far.
Of course, he still plays chess, mainly correspondence chess by email, but
he also plays online chess on Playchess.com. And when he has the time he will
compose music. Which is what the following pretty incredible story is about
(did we mention that, apart from his native German, he speaks fluent English
A birthday song for Martica
By Patrick Schönbach
When you log into the Playchess.com
server, especially when there is an exciting event running, you are almost
certain to see Patrick logged on, usually supplying some low-key comments,
chatting with friends and generally spreading good vibes. Recently those
vibes hit a young lady from Equador, a women grandmaster, who was playing
in the ACP tournament. The result: a permanent friendship and a beautiful
chess song. We will come to the latter at the end of this report. But first
here is Patrick's log book of the events.
WGM Martha ("Martica") Fierro from Equador
May 2, 2004: On Playchess.com, the 2nd ACP blitz tournament for women
was about to begin. Being an enthusiastic chess amateur, I decided to watch
the games a bit, not knowing that on this day I would win a new very good friend,
and that it would make me compose a song about chess. The participants arrived
one after the other. Curious about people's reaction, I sent some of them a
message on the server wishing them luck. But as expected most of these stars
seem not to feel like talking to patzers like me. Anyway, it did not bother
me. Then, Martha Fierro arrived, a WGM originally from Ecuador but living in
New York. I had not really heard of Martha before, just seen her on the lists
of participants. I sent her a message as well, wishing her luck. She immediately
replied in a very friendly way, and we had a short but nice conversation that
went on between the rounds of the blitz tournament. After the games had been
finished, we agreed to stay in touch.
May, 2004 – beginning of September, 2004: After overcoming
some technical problems, we communicated online on a nearly daily basis, sometimes
longer talks, sometimes quick conversations, because Martha usually tends to
be quite busy. Being a composer, I had at some point the spontaneous idea of
creating a very special birthday gift for my newly won friend in the chess
world. One day, I jokingly promised Martha to write her a song for her birthday,
which was on September 6. I am not sure, if she took it serious at that time,
but I usually keep my promises. In the beginning of June I started writing
some drafts. But since I had to do other things as well, the work on the song
progressed rather slowly. Nevertheless, I wanted to keep my promise. In the
meantime, Martha and I had become really good friends. As the end of August,
I started to put more effort into the song. By beginning of September, the
music and the lyrics for the refrain and the end were finished. But now, the
difficult part had to be solved: How to write funny, heartfelt and rhyming
lyrics for the two verses of the song? And how to do so in a foreign language!
September 3, 2004 – September 6, 2004 early morning in Germany:
Lacking a necessary cable to do such a recording myself, I asked a friend in
London to produce a purely electronic version of the song as an MP3 file, which
he kindly did. Meanwhile, I was working very hard on the lyrics for the two
verses. Not being a professional lyricist, it really was not easy for me, but
step by step, I made progress. In the early morning hours in Germany, right
in time for Martha's birthday, everything was at last finished. I was very
tired, but also very happy.
September 6, 2004: Martha's birthday. Actually, I was very curious
about what Martha would say when she heard the song. I sent her the recording
and the song, and she was very delighted and touched. Of course, I was very
happy, too, but what is a song without sung words? Just an electronic voice
artificially singing "doo, doo, doo" all the time. For a composer,
this is not really satisfactory, and therefore, I thought about ways how I
could talk someone into singing this song as soon as possible. I also showed
the song to the staff of ChessBase because I knew that many people there are
very interested in music. And furthermore, without Playchess.com, probably
I never would have got in touch with Martha. They liked the song and asked
me if they may put it here on this site.
Lev Zhurbin of New York
September 7, 2004: As a first attempt to make the nearly impossible
possible nevertheless, I emailed my old friend Lev
Zhurbin, a freelancing viola player and composer living in New York as
well, whom I had met back in 1995 when he participated in the youth orchestra
of a famous German festival for classical music, the Schleswig-Holstein
Musik Festival. I asked him if he had an idea how one could get a recording
of the song sung by a real human being. He recommended David
W. Solomons, a countertenor
(this is a male singer who has the ability and technique to sing very high
notes) living in England. David liked the song immediately as well and promised
to give it a try.
Countertenor David Solomons
September 8, 2004: In the afternoon, I received David's recording
and I was very amazed. Given the spontaneous character of the project, the
recording was really good. I sent it to Martha as a surprise immediately, and
she was very, very delighted, too, especially as she did not expect me to get
a sung recording that quickly.
September 9, 2004, early morning: I am sitting here, writing this article,
and I hope, you will find listening to my song that, of course, partly deals
with chess as amusing as I enjoyed working on it. For comments, suggestions,
critics, and whatever, feel free to email me at any time: pschoenb(at)gmx.de.