Sunday, April 03, 2005


This morning I was thinking about all the Rosens in my life and started smiling at some memories. That smile froze quickly when the doorbell rang. I had forgotten about the return of Daylight Savings time and there were two students with their families waiting for my wife and me at the door when I thought it was only nine o’clock. We all had a good laugh about it and the two gifted young ladies had wonderful lessons.

After lessons my mind wondered back to Rosens and particularly an icon of yesteryear in the musical life of Los Angeles, Ben Rosen. This man was known by every musician in town and he was a landmark for a reason. He ran a sheet music business of an unusual kind on Western Avenue. It was a messy place and smelled quite awful. Every space was covered by sheet music which didn’t, to the outsider, seem to be particularly well organized. Yet you could find just about every piece of instrumental music in there, even works that had been out of print for several decades.

Old Ben Rosen (he lived to be over a hundred) told me his trade secret: he used to go to estate sales where he could often find boxes and boxes of old sheet music that nobody wanted. I don’t think he ever paid for any of it. Quite the contrary, he was bragging that people were paying him up to $30 per load (quite a lot in the ‘60s) to haul it away. At home he would go over the contents carefully and any interesting item would be stamped with “BEN ROSEN EDITION” in large block letters, Xeroxed and put on the shelf with a reasonable price tag. No publisher ever went after him and why would they, as that music was usually out of print anyway. He did, however, carry the mandatory brand new International Edition Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Paganini 24 Caprices and such, so not everything was copied.

Ben Rosen was respected by everyone in the business. Occasionally he would visit the Heifetz Master Class at USC and I would see him at concerts. He was always most cordial to me and I have nothing but the fondest memories of him.

Since he had lived through the depression and learned to stretch a penny, he lived on an incredibly low budget. Although it was strictly against the city law, he lived in the back of his store where he had a small kitchen and a bedroom. Later in life he started speaking in a slightly unusual manner. He admitted that he had inherited his brother’s old false teeth and since they didn’t fit his mouth particularly well, every time he would open his mouth to say something, it would take the dentures a fraction of a second to follow!

I’m sure everyone who knew him, misses him as I do.