Or the time I was playing the Schumann Piano Concerto and in the last movement I was supposed to come in and didn't. . .silence is poison! Or another time I drove about thirty miles, in the wrong direction, going to a radio gig in New York City. I got to the studio at five minutes to eight for an eight o'clock broadcast. All sorts of things happen, more often than people realize, some funny, some scary, some lovely and they make for amusing reading. At least I hope they do because I’m sending you one such scene from my career. In 1992, there was a festival at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia, just as the Soviet Union collapsed. I was to open the American portion of a joint Russian-American Festival, devoted to the music of Liszt and his contemporaries. Then, my wife Julie was to talk to the students and faculty (with translator) about her special interest, stage fright. I was the second night performer with a program of music of Liszt and Tchaikowsky. The day before the festival, the chairman told me that the Russian pianist who was to open the festival would not be playing. Could I fill in? "With the same program I’m playing the next night," I asked, "Or do you mean instead of playing the second night, play the first?” "No", he said. "Can you play a different program?” "Not Tchailowsky and Liszt?" I replied, "I could do an old program I played a couple of years ago of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.” "Great,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. "You are on". (He is a long-time, dear friend of mine, was then, and is now.) The next night, after a busy day resurrecting the program, I played Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to open a Liszt Festival, in a three-quarters empty concert hall at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, on a fairly okay, but not great, piano. The audience wasn’t expecting a program change and I later learned the Russian pianist was as unknown, as was I, so few attended. I must have done okay, because the next night the hall was filled, but this is just the prelude to the story. In Russia at that time, piano benches, I was informed, were not to be had. Performers stacked two chairs inside one another and played concerts on none too steady foundations. Uncomfortably, that’s how I played the first program. Taking care backstage was a woman less than five feet tall and nearly the same width, with a tight bun of steel gray hair. She was of ancient, undeterminable age and, as am I, mono-lingual. She was severe in demeanor and clearly didn’t want to be there that first night, serving an unknown American pianist. Grumpily she showed me the light switch (read that again: THE light switch) and the door to the bathroom which was, I promise you, the only bathroom in the Conservatory , maybe in the entire city, that worked, and was not polluted beyond belief. I don't know why the transformation, but the next night, this same lady, same outfit, same hairdo, greeted Julie and me backstage with a warm smile and handshake. She brought me hot tea. She turned the light on for me and then she beckoned for me to walk with her. I did, a little puzzled. We walked for what, in my memory, was a very long time, back into the deepest recesses of the Conservatory. I began to feel uneasy, and more puzzled than ever. She took me to a room in which there was a large crate, the sort in which nine foot concert grand pianos are stored to protect them from humidity and temperature change. She took out a set of keys, unlocked the crate, and inside there was, miracle of miracles, a piano bench. I expressed my appreciation and offered to carry it. She wouldn’t hear of it. This diminutive woman picked up the bench. While not very heavy it was also not feathery and it was clumsy to tote around. We retraced our steps. She put it on the stage for me and even adjusted its height. I was very appreciative, because the Liszt Tchaikowsky program is far more athletic than the Mozart Beethoven Schubert. I’d be moving around a lot and wasn’t happy about doing so on wobbly chairs, stacked together. A big smile and many words in Russian were included in the service. I understood the spirit. The concert was a success. Ppeople actually came on the stage with flowers and hugs for me. There was a man in a threadbare suit, covered with medals I assumed were from World War II service. He gave me a bear hug. A little girl came up with a huge bouquet of roses, stems sopping wet. She handed them to me, along with a pen to ask for an autograph. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn't write holding the flowers and they were too wet to put down. Where she had kept them, I don't know. I motioned for her to come back stage and I would sign her program, but she retreated. Sad to say, I never saw her again. I was overwhelmed. After the concert, there she was, the back stage lady, our "babushka,” with a big hug for me and Julie. Feeling just a little materialistic, but knowing what it would mean, we gave her a five dollar bill and had a picture taken with her. She was smiling and giggling like a young girl. While beautiful may be excessive, she acquired a softness that was lovely. Maybe she was the wife of the old soldier, or the little girl's "bubbi?” I’ll never know. Somewhere in our unorganized collection of photos, we have that picture; but, as I write this vignette, I realize that I prefer the memory to the photograph. It was a high point in a career that has given me satisfaction I can’t adequately put into words.
Tales and Photos Supplied by '60 Classmates
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Vol. 50, No. 1 FERN CREEK, KENTUCKY - Location of Friendliest School in the County October 3, 2010
Louis Nagel in Russia: Memories of Franz Listz and a Gray Haired 'Bubushka'
St. Petersburg Conservatory in Russia
I was up until the not so wee hours of the morning, trying to clear my throat and chest of some unwanted viral presence. Tired of crossword puzzles and unable to sleep, my mind wandered to the Tiger Gazette. (These conditions are not a great endorsement for the paper, I admit.) I wondered "what in my life would be of real interest to write about?” The most interesting thing I can say, in fact the only thing I really want to say, is that I do what I love doing, surrounded by a family I love. I have a large number of friends to whom I’m devoted. I’m still learning about the world of music, a world that is so gratifying to me and evokes such passion still, at my (our) age. What more is really necessary? I also thought about the funny and human side of this wacky business of learning, performing, teaching and writing about music. It rivals sports, I assure you. For example, there was the time I was playing the Tchaikowsky First Piano Concerto with a regional orchestra, and at the wonderful moment in the first movement when the trombones are supposed to come in loud, they didn't. . .silence is not golden! When I was a junior at Fern Creek, I had an opportunity to take a typing class, taught by Leonard Hartloff. Why not do it? I reasoned it would be an easy class and, with no typewriter at home, no homework. My friend David Whitworth must have thought the same thing, because he sat behind me in the class. As a lot of boys do, we always tried to sit near the back of the room. One couldn’t help but hear all the latest gossip in a room full of girls. I kept hearing that Jerri Hornbuckle could type as fast as 95-100 words per minute. This is extremely fast, but I thought I could do it, too. Maybe. After all, what a girl does, a guy can do better. Can’t he? I took this as a challenge. One day everything came together perfectly. I felt it! My sense of touch was exceptional. My eyesight was outstanding. What coordination! I could move a mountain if I had to. This was to be the day! Watch out Jerri Hornbuckle. Ooh, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get started. When we began, I was typing so fast that I could feel heat emanating from the keys. I could actually smell smoke. I couldn’t believe how fast my fingers were moving. Imagine, I thought, what if I had one of those new electric typewriters? Why, I’d probably set a new world’s record. Suddenly, at the corner of my eye, I saw a hand and an arm snaking toward my typewriter. What was this? Before I could say anything, the paper was outrageously ripped from my typewriter and thrown to the floor. All my visions for a new record were ripped from me, just like the paper from my typewriter. I was so angry. I followed the arm back to its owner, David Whitworth. Without thinking, I reached for his paper and tore it out of his typewriter. Thinking I might get the magic back from earlier, I inserted another sheet of paper and started typing again. To my amazement here came that hand and arm again; and, they did the same thing as before. I had to retaliate, so I reached back and tore his freshly inserted paper from his typewriter. Meanwhile, as we were fighting this war, the room went quiet. Looking up, we saw Mr. Hartloff towering over us, eying the paper laying on the floor. He asked what we thought we were doing. David quickly told him that he had prevented a fire in the room, thus saving everyone’s life. He said I was typing so fast the paper was about to ignite. I quickly added that I smelled smoke, and thought it was coming from David’s typewriter. I pulled the paper out to keep from ruining the typewriter with smoke damage. Mr. Hartloff wasn’t amused. Instead of proclaiming us heroes, for saving the school, he sent us to the office, ordering us to tell the story to Mr. Klapheke. He suggested we might be able to take a couple of days off, to celebrate our bravery. Now I know how a condemned man might feel, walking to his execution. It was one of the longest walks ever. Needless to say, we walked very slowly. When we entered the office and told the lady we were sent to see Mr. Klapheke, our luck immediately changed. The gods must have been smiling on us that day, because she said Mr. Klapheke wasn’t present. He was probably out hunting for truants or checking things in the parking lot. Who knows? I’m sure he didn’t have to account for his comings and goings. The nice lady said we’d have to see Mr. Niman. After we entered his inner sanctum, and explained to him what happened, Mr. Niman, like Mr. Hartloff, didn’t believe our story. He asked if we wanted to continue the class or use it as a study hall. Not being sissies and, trying to be very macho about it, we told him we needed an extra study hall. He said that if we committed any more disruptions he would have to send Mr. Klapheke to straighten us out. “You don’t want that do you?” he asked. “No sir,” we answered. Later, I asked David why he did it. He just gave me a big grin and didn’t say a word. This was the only course I ever failed. I’d like to know why he did it. He never did tell me. Was he a henchman for Jerri Hornbuckle? Or was it jealously? Who knows? Anyway, that’s how I remember it. Submitted by Charles Buckman
Charles Buckman tells a typing tale with
a predictable result, a trip to the office