I was contracted to play at a party to honor the contestants in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The party was held at the beautiful Eagle Mountain Lake home of Dr. Bill Bonnell.
The house sits on a high bluff with a magnificent view. It had been featured on the cover of an architectural magazine, as an exemplary Texas-style waterfront home. It was a beautiful spring day, the kind where everyone just feels great to be alive. The air was charged with a vernal energy.
My assignment was to play music to entertain some of the greatest musicians in the world. The contestants were highly trained piano students from many countries, and their lodgings were in private homes owned by Cliburn competition sponsors. It was an honor to host a Cliburn competitor in your home; in Fort Worth society, it meant you had arrived.
Despite the auspicious nature of the guests and the awe-inspiring surroundings, the party flowed as most great parties do. I had worked in plenty of fine homes and beautiful locations, and had entertained my share of public figures. It was just another day at work, and I am not one who is easily starstruck.
Then I saw him, The Man himself, Van Cliburn, considered by many to be the world’s greatest piano player. I actually felt myself getting a little nervous as he strolled toward me in my DJ booth enclave. He had a graceful elegance in his movements that was both distinctive, and yet completely natural.
This was not like meeting professional athletes, entertainers, or politicians. This man was the Best in the World at his job, and I was, indeed, starstruck.
He introduced himself humbly and politely, as though it was he who was the one who was meeting the famous star. Then he gently shook my hand.
“Gently” is the key word here. I am accustomed to meeting people, and schooled in the theory that a man should have a firm handshake. Firm, but not too tight, nothing is more unsettling than some jerk who tries to crush your hand, in what is supposed to be a gesture of friendship. But a gentle handshake?
Then it hit me: This man’s hands are probably insured for millions of dollars! These are some of the most gifted hands on the planet.
I hope that Mr. Cliburn didn’t think I was one of those hand-crushing guys!