Van Cliburn's Piano

It was an ordinary day at the beginning of June, on the brink of becoming a mundane day, but with a single phone call, the mundane became extraordinary!  How so, you ask?  What happened?  Let me tell you…

As I was in the midst of tidying the kitchen, my dear friend Nancy Wrenn, former Executive Director of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, called to ask if I would be interested in having the opportunity to play Van Cliburn’s piano at Steinway Hall in Dallas.  The Steinway showroom was scheduling thirty minute playing appointments as a promotional of the Van Cliburn Competition, and there were a few appointments left. Would I like to make a reservation?

 I asked, “Who will be there listening? Is this like a recital?”

“No one,” she said. “It is a private appointment. You can have his piano all to yourself for 30 minutes.”

“What repertoire do you have to play?” I asked.

“Anything you want, it is your time," Nancy said.

Well, in that case, of course! Nancy made the reservation for June 16, 2017, at 12:15pm, just two days away. 

I arrived with my 50th anniversary TASO bag full of music - J.S. Bach’s French Suites, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Teil I and II (Henle Urtext edition, of course!) some Handel, other baroque composers, and my favorite hymns.  No big concertos, just music I loved and could still play! I left the Carpenters Greatest Hits at home. 


Steinway associate Laurie Hoar greeted us and showed me to the piano. 


I opened my music, adjusted the bench, took a deep breath and started to play.  Woosh!  Sound just went everywhere.  Big, booming sound from the bass, and bright, clear, cutting sound from the treble.  I couldn’t help but smile as I felt the instrument resonate through the keys.  This was thrilling! Amazingly thrilling! Joyously thrilling!  I was playing Van Cliburn’s piano, the world  famous Van Cliburn. I, ordinary Joi Smith, was playing Van Cliburn’s piano.  I was lost in the sound.

Thirty minutes passed very quickly and at the end of the appointment, Laurie Hoar presented me with a certificate of Legendary Instruments in recognition of playing the Steinway and Sons Piano CD-375, owned by “the Immortal Van Cliburn”.  I was very excited and thankful to be given this certificate to commemorate this special day.


 Before leaving Laurie also asked if we wanted to see the signatures.  "What signatures?" we asked.

“Underneath the piano are the signatures of people who tuned the piano, loaded and moved it onto concert stages, and technicians who kept it in pristine condition.   You can look if you want to.”

And so we did...


We could not believe our eyes.  There were hundreds of signatures.  It was fascinating to see them in every crevice.  What a kind and humble thing Van Cliburn did to have these folks sign his piano, thereby giving them a place in history!

I realize I will never be famous, but to be given the opportunity to play the piano of such a famed musician changed what would have been an ordinary day into a most extraordinary day that I will always remember.

As the saying goes…you never know what a day will bring!

- Joi Smith, 2017-18 TASO President