About the 88 Birthday Variations


Birthday Cake 79601392

The Birthday Variations offer 88 musical ways to say, “I’m glad you were born.” They are for intermediate and advanced pianists. 

The Birth of the Birthday Variations

Nearly two decades ago, an adult student of mine asked me to play the birthday song in a variety of musical styles (ragtime, boogie-woogie, Beethoven, and so on) at her 40th birthday party. So I created 40 variations and performed about half of them that night.  In the ensuing years, I have played some of these variations at various events and people have always enjoyed them.

Why 88 Variations?

There are currently 66 Variations available, but I have sketched out 88, so there are 22 more coming! Why 88?

My first piano teacher and dear friend Donald turned 88 in October, 2013. Since 88 is also the number of keys on a full-sized piano, I decided to acknowledge the significance of Donald’s milestone by finally notating the best of the Birthday Variations I composed years ago, and then compose many more until I reached a concert grand total of 88.

Since I so enjoyed the process of creating these pieces and others have enjoyed the results, I decided to share them on this site. I hope to finish the other 22 before Donald turns 90 in October of 2015. For now, I’m taking a much-needed break from that 25-note tune!

Why Learn These Variations?

A person’s birthday is the one day a year when friends and family members make that person the focus of attention.  It’s a special and highly personal day. Shouldn’t the birthday music also be special and personal?

Not long ago, one of my adult students (Tereza) came to her lesson on her birthday. Since she loves to dance tangos, I wished her “happy birthday” by playing the birthday song as a tango in the key of C minor. She loved it.  Playing Birthday Variations adds needed joy to the world.

So please share and enjoy. If you have suggestions about these Variations or wish to propose an idea for yet another one, please contact me.

My Compositional Approach

In making variations in the styles of famous composers, I generally avoided using direct quotations from their pieces.  For example, I resisted the temptation to quote the opening of Moonlight Sonata when making an arrangement in the style of Beethoven. Direct quotations from masterworks can easily cheapen both the original and the arrangement, so I tried to write in the familiar style of the composer while keeping direct quotations to a minimum.

Copyright Issues

The melody for Happy Birthday was written in 1893 for a song called Good Morning to You, so the tune (when played without the lyrics) is in the public domain. However, when the tune is performed with the familiar lyrics to become Happy Birthday to You, it is still under copyright in the U.S. There are currently legal battles being fought to determine whether that copyright claim is legitimate, but for now, that is how it stands. The copyright has expired in Canada.