Do you think that playing concerts all over the globe is glamorous
and exciting? Sometimes it can be exciting, rarely is it glamorous
and it can be fraught with unexpected surprises, perils and every
sort of pitfall. Years
ago a dreamy-eyed music student at a Midwestern college asked me
"What's life like on the road?" expecting me to pour out stories
that would make Tales of a Thousand Nights sound tame by comparison.
Last December I returned from a month's concert tour
that took me to Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland for a number of
concerts and master classes. It was a wonderful trip in many
ways. I will tell you a few details and you decide what kind
of life the "road" is.
When I arrived in Budapest in the later evening, it was
snowing. Budapest was transformed into a magical and fairytale
city. Little did I know that the snow was part of an
unexpected winter storm, the likes of which Europe had not
experienced for quite some time. It was freezing cold and the
snow kept coming. I got soaked and caught a nasty cold.
After my concert in Budapest, I caught a train for
Vranov City, Slovakia, my next concert stop. At the train
station and in the train nobody spoke English or German, the only
languages I could communicate in, which created a minor problem
regarding the correct connections. I had to resort to sign
language and pointing to my watch. The platform where I had to
wait for my train was freezing. There was no warm place to
wait. To make matters worse, the train was 1 1/2 hours late
because of the storm.
I was rescued, I mean met, at Vranov City by a very
interesting Slovakian who is an English instructor. He was my
translator. After a pleasant lunch with the concert organizer, who
gave me an informative history of Vranov City, one of the oldest
cities in Slovakia, we went to the hall for a rehearsal and to check
The hall wasn't designed for
concerts, but was rather an all purpose meeting room that was part
of the Town Hall. It was wall-to-wall carpeted with an
acoustic deadening rug. Because I was not happy with the
position of the piano, I tried to help things along by moving the
piano by myself while my translator and concert organizer tended to
other matters. Big mistake! The rollers on the piano did
not move easily against the grain of the thick rug. When I
applied ever so gentle a force with the deftest of touches, the back
leg of the piano snapped like a gingerbread cookie and the back end
of the piano crashed to the ground with the most sickening groan and
deafening crash, not unlike the fall of Valhalla in
Gotterdammerung, or so it seemed to me.
The commotion that ensued was out of a comic opera.
Here is Michael, the Piano-Destroyer Klutz from Los Angeles, who has
come to Slovakia to perform a concert and thereby to represent the
United States, and who has single-handedly demolished the piano for
that evening's concert. Fortunately, the internal parts of the
piano were O.K. There were chairs in the room that had arms.
With the greatest of Chutzpah, I directed the translator and concert
organizer to lift the piano and I pulled over a chair and placed it
under the back end of the piano. Miraculously, the height of
the arms on the chair fir the piano and the chair was able to take
the weight of the piano. That's how I played the concert a few
hours later. The concert went very well. I was received
with warmth and enthusiasm. There was a large audience,
curious to hear, more specifically to "see" an American.
Foreigners, particularly Americans, barely come to Slovakia.
The next morning I was driven to Kosice to take the
train to Poland, and that's another story.
This is the first in a three-part series about Michael Seller's
experiences while on a recent European tour.