The world has lost a wonderful musician in the death of Van Cliburn. He proved that music is the international language and that there are no diplomatic restrictions to its performance. A dear friend of mine, Norm Champ, served on the National Council for the Arts with Van Cliburn and described him as a “gentle giant with an undying passion for the arts.”
As a young girl growing up in Beckley, W.Va., I remember vividly listening to the radio in 1958 as it was announced that the young American, Van Cliburn, had won the Tchaikovsky Medal at a piano competition in Russia. Listening to him play, I made a promise to become a great pianist. Alas, I did not have the dexterity in my fingers to allow that. But I did study voice and opera at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and have sung throughout Europe and the United States.
One evening in 1998, I noticed Van Cliburn sitting in the far back corner of a theater where I was attending a play. I was thrilled that I was in the same room as this musical genius. During intermission, a photographer sought me to have my picture taken with him. It was such an honor to meet him.
I told him I wanted to become a classical pianist after hearing him play, but that I became an opera singer instead. While the photographer was taking our picture, Van Cliburn leaned down and told me he always wanted to be an opera singer, but couldn’t sing and became a pianist instead. Whether it was true or not, it was a lovely gesture.
His legacy is his music, his charm and his passion. He will be missed.
Cultural Council of Richland
and Lexington Counties