Published January 23, 2014
I recently performed in a private concert at the Vatican in Rome for Pope Benedict XVI (the Emeritus), in honor of his brother's, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger's 90th birthday.
To be asked to perform for the pope seemed like Divine intervention alone. But other things happened that convinced me God’s hand was in it, guiding my path.
The first was the music itself. The program was organized into three segments: sacred, sacred- inspired, and secular.
For the sacred selection I chose Johann Sebastian Bach's “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring;” for the secular piece, an Intermezzo by Johannes Brahms (another German).
However, for the sacred inspired piece, I didn't have anything in my repertoire. So I had to not only find a new piece, but learn it, memorize it and have it ready to perform in the space of about five weeks. And with a demanding, full-time job, it's quite difficult. It was extremely stressful. Could I even do it?
My piano teacher suggested several pieces, but one that seemed best was the Franz Liszt (1811-1886) piece called “Sposalizio.” It's from the Hungarian composer’s second volume of works called “Annees de pelerinage,” or “Years of Pilgrimage.” The volume is about "Italy". A good sign.
The music in “Sposalizio” was inspired by a painting of the same name by the great Italian artist Raphael. The painting depicts the marriage of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph are the names of the parents of Pope Benedict and his brother. Another good sign.
My mother traveled with me to Rome for the concert. Since I had to pay my own expenses, I didn't want to splurge on a big hotel room. But when we arrived the hotel upgraded us because it's the off season.
Our room was on a floor that didn't have numbers. Each room was named for a famous Italian. Our room was called “Raffaelo,” which is Italian for Raphael. An even better sign.
The next big sign was the performance itself. In order to have the new piece ready, I had to find places to practice the piano wherever I was.
In Minneapolis while home for Christmas, a local church let me use the beautiful Steinway in their sanctuary.
Two weeks away from the concert I practiced performing the pieces for two different groups, in two different locations. Both groups had seven foot Steinway pianos.
In Rome the day before the concert I was able to practice on the actual performance piano. It was a concert grand Bösendorfer; a big piano with an even bigger sound. So big, in fact, that the next day, the day of the concert, the Vatican Radio engineers turned the piano around so the sound would go away from the audience, and not rend the pope and his brother deaf.
But that made it nearly impossible for us as musicians to perform. It gives you the feeling you’re playing backwards.
A cacophony of people speaking Italian, German and English began arguing about a solution.
Finally I spied another smaller piano tucked in the corner and covered. I went over to it to see if it was playable. Lifting the cover I saw the words across the front of the piano, “Steinway & Sons.” I knew at that moment, it was a God thing!
You could easily look at all of these “signs” as mere coincidences. But I prefer not to.
This was just one of those times that’s confirmed for me that old saying, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” And in that, I will trust.