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Cover of "Star!"

Cover of Star!

Yours truly played a concert in New York on Wednesday. 

What a blast!

Actual program will be posted here as soon as it is received.

The countdown

Everything about daily life that could go wrong the week before, did. I felt like I couldn’t handle it all, nearly canceling the concert.

And then, things kept getting worse! The day before my trip, not only did some dental work fall apart, but my plans to stay with a friend fell through.

A Skype video call enabled me to put all the negatives in a box and forget about them. They would still be there when I got back, if I wanted them.

Fortunately, I have more than one friend in New York! An email resulted in a quick reply with a gracious invitation to stay with a lovely person in a beautiful apartment in Midtown.

Getting there

The trip into the City was easy and uneventful. I found a cab in 2 seconds, and even scored a friendly driver.

The street noise kept me awake ½ the night. It wasn’t particularly loud, but I’m not used to it anymore. We were on the 4th floor with a window open.


When I arrived at the concert venue, the music director was out of the building, the piano was in the corner, someone was praying aloud, and no lights were on. So I asked a desk clerk to have the lights turned on (which they were in 2 minutes) and moved the piano myself (but I’ve done that before). The desk clerk assured me that warming up would be fine while the prayer was in progress.

My practice time, about ½ hour, didn’t go well at all. Possible reasons are too little sleep, nerves, the extreme acoustics (reverb), and the climate (hot and humid). I felt like I had a fever!

Even just before the house was opened to the public, I wasn’t feeling good about the way I was going to play the concert. And that, for me, is very unusual.


I had a talk with myself. “So, what are you going to do, blow it? You’ve never blown it here!” (I’ve played there several times.)

I decided the way to go was not to rely on what I expected to come out of the instrument, but to listen to the actual sound and deal with that.

The concert

Things proceeded normally. The 1st half was Bach/Busoni and Mendelssohn. I felt completely settled in the 2nd half with Katerina Stamatelos’ piece and Gershwin.

Talking to the audience

I wanted to talk to the audience because it has always worked. Nothing profound ~ it wasn’t a lecture recital. I told them that the “Songs Without Words” don’t have any words and never did! Scholars have been searching, believe it or not. And I told them that Mendelssohn named only a few of his songs, publishers named the others. I encouraged people to make up their own titles.

Katerina’s piece

When I said that I’d “met” Katerina Stametelos on Twitter, some people said, “Oh!” Others smiled ~ all looked intrigued. I told them that Katerina lives in Greece and earned 2 degrees at the University of Iowa, and why I felt a connection with her.

Everyone in the audience loved this piece! Big smiles, long and enthusiastic applause, true appreciation without reservation.

A chance occurrence

The music director had asked me to assure him that my program was 30 minutes, not longer. Apparently recent concerts have been longer, making people rush for lunch. He has received complaints.

So I was conscious of the time frame during my concert. I omitted 2 repeats in order to allow talking time.

After my program, as the audience was applauding, I found myself taking a bow and then speaking again, saying something like, “That’s it ~ everybody go to lunch!” And I didn’t make a grand exit.

Audience engagement

That was a chance happening. And it worked! More than twice the usual number of people approached me after the concert!

Their comments included:

“You made my day!” I recognized the man from 2 years ago, when I had performed Messiaen. We had discussed Messiaen then.

One woman said she is the organist at a small church “down the street.” She had played “Ich ruf’ zu dir” on the organ, but this is the first time she had heard the piano version. Since the organ she plays had stopped working, she would look at the Bach/Busoni.

Another woman asked about Katerina’s “In Memoriam Béla Bartók,” wondering whether they knew each other, or what that was about.


I got together with 4 friends on this trip and had a great phone conversation with a 5th. Four of us (3 friends plus myself) enjoyed lunch on Amsterdam Ave. just South of 120th St. My friends had never met each other, but have common interests, so we all had a good time.

Later that evening, I had a sandwich and a wonderful time seeing someone who couldn’t make the concert. He has so many interests and so much curiosity, he is always fun to talk to.


After dinner, I had an ice cream attack. So I walked around the neighborhood in search of a deli. What I found was a Johnny Rockets restaurant (50’s or 60’s American diner) at 56th and 3rd.

At the takeout counter, I ordered 2 dark chocolate shakes to go. The cashier took my payment and made change for a nickel.

Her arm extended back, and she slapped the nickel on the counter!

Welcome to New Yawk. If my change had been a $5 bill, would she have turned around? What would it take to score eye contact?

The trip back

The bus driver had no clue.  At Port Authority, he announced that we were boarding a Hartford bus.  The destination, Springfield, is clearly posted.  In New Britain, he asked the passengers if anyone knew how to get to Route whatever.  Soon after that, he became lost for 10 mi.  Then we encountered traffic backed up from an accident.  After that, a passenger had to direct him to the gate in Springfield as soon as he left I-91.

Then we changed buses.  The next driver was very unpleasant.  But it turned out there was also an express bus to Amherst. So the last 45 minutes of the trip were normal.

We arrived in Amherst 2 hours and 20 minutes late!

I called the complaint number the next morning and demanded a refund.

I’m glad the mega-glitch in the trip happened after my concert!


Continue to facilitate audience engagement.

Look to NY as a reality check rather than feeling discouraged by recent changes in the focus of various concert series and the local situation.

Practice, plan future programs, incorporate more contemporary music, organize house concerts.  Twitterhouse concerts?

Network like mad!

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Looking for practice inspiration? “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” will give you a fresh perspective!

Goal-oriented Practice

August 2011 review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

When You Buy a Piano

How to Maintain Your Piano

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