A musician's strange but true tales from the road

by Andrew Staupe, Special to MPR
April 2, 2014

Ask any musician who regularly travels for a living, and you are bound to hear some amazing, often hilarious, occasionally nerve-racking tales from the road. Here are a few of mine.

Stuck between a door and a hard place

I was on a recital tour of Latvia in April 2010, practicing in a conservatory the day before my performance. A security guard led me to a practice room and told me to finish by 10 p.m. I worked nonstop, but didn't have a watch so I unaware of the time. After finishing up, I headed out of the room and was shocked to see that the entire building was pitch black. I made my way through the darkness and eventually reached the ground floor. The front entrance was locked, and so was the hallway door behind me. I was trapped in the dark with no way out. I even tried to pick the lock with a hairpin that was on the floor. After what seemed like forever, there was some commotion in the school and I feverishly pounded on the glass. A night watchman opened the door and I made it back to my hotel room.

The next day's concert went well despite the previous night's total fiasco. Since that event, I always have a watch on me just in case. Maybe I should also learn how to pick locks.

The greatest excuse ever

I was in Bucharest and had just performed my debut at the Atenuel Roman; I was a day from going back to Houston. However, Iceland had other plans for me. The volcano that no one can pronounce, Eyjafjallajokull, erupted just as I was about to leave and I was stranded in Romania. Normally it would be an excuse to have extra vacation time, but I was in school and needed to stay on top of my coursework.

After a long week, the airport opened again but was completely chaotic due to exhausted passengers desperate to get out. I nearly missed my flight since the travel agent couldn't find my original reservation; I rushed to the gate with only minutes left. Though I was relieved to be on the plane, I must say that seeing volcanic ash outside the window over the Atlantic is not the most comforting thing, since I had been hearing all week about the dangers that volcanic ash poses to jet engines.

Thankfully, my professors at Rice University were quite understanding. One of them told me, "I must say that volcano is hands-down the greatest excuse ever for missing one of my classes."

Can you speed it up?

This past February I was playing a recital in Saugatuck, Michigan. Getting there was a daunting challenge, since I had to fly into Chicago's O'Hare Airport and then drive for three hours in a blizzard; I finally arrived at the hotel at 3 a.m.

The performance, despite reduced attendance due to the previous night's snowstorm, started out very well. This didn't last long, though. As I was introducing the final selection of the recital to the audience, I heard some very distracting commotion backstage.

The events coordinator walked onstage and came up to me. She told me, in front of everyone, "Sorry, we have another event happening really soon after your recital, so could you...um, you know..." and proceeded to gesture with her hands, effectively telling me to speed it up.

Turning to the audience, I shrugged with a smile and proceeded to play the entire Chopin Scherzo significantly slower than normal. Someone later told me that I should have also played an encore. I wish I had.

Andrew Staupe, a native of St. Paul, is active internationally as a concert pianist.

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