Van & Me

There’s a picture around the house of Van Cliburn and me at Interlochen, 50 years and a few weeks ago, standing by the Wishing Well. He was making his annual visit to give a benefit concert, and that year—1963—donated a new concert grand. By chance, I was to be the first camper to perform on it, so we talked a bit; and, friendly and available as he was to everyone—and schmoozer that I am—more than a bit. Along the way, his dear mother commented, “Whah, Van, he’s taller than y’all are!” (She must have been a wonderful teacher. I’d love to know more about her teaching and her own playing.)

Van Cliburn and James Boyk 1963

National Music Camp, Interlochen, 1963. Van Cliburn and James Boyk discuss the concert grand Cliburn just gave to the Camp, on which Boyk, as a winner of the concerto competition, will play the first performance.

At some point, Van and I visited the new piano, in the wings of Kresge, and he showed me his way of dealing with new hammers. Bang the hell out of them, eight times each, up and down. (Don’t do this; it’s risky!)

I was still hanging around when he spoke with some other campers. After a while, one girl said teasingly, “You’re no fun! Whoever we mention, you say something nice about them. Don’t you dislike anybody?” And he leaned over — he was sitting on a table — and said with a twinkle, “Aw, honey, don’t ya’ know I’d sell my grandmother for a nickel!”

A nice man, who could do as he chose with the piano. I’m sad he’s gone.

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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