Dr. N.A.N.'s Blog

News, views, and how the world skews from San Antonio, Texas

Go west about 1500 miles and turn right

I have always wanted to visit Alaska but I could never justify a trip somewhere during which  I wasn’t playing the piano or teaching someone else how to play.  But then my parents announced that they would like to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary by taking the whole family on a private cruise through the inland waters of Alaska. We all jumped at the chance to visit the land of bears, eagles and whales.

I didn’t know what to expect–was this going to be endless days on a boat looking out the window but not really experiencing nature Alaska-style? I was also worried about becoming seasick. I have always avoided boats because I am so prone to it. Ugh.  Well, the first day on the boat, I discovered the  non-drowsy formula for dramamine and that solved my problems.  (Actually, it worked so well, I ate everything in sight!)

During this trip, we were treated to first class cuisine (thank you Chef Stef), kayaking trips to deserted islands, hiking through old growth forests and non-stop eagle and whale watching. I particularly enjoyed focusing my binoculars on land  near the water’s edge (usually at dusk) when bears were more likely to come out and forage.

I would fly at the chance to go again…

My favorite time of the year

Actually, summer is my favorite time of the year but this spring has certainly been wonderful. Several weeks after returning from my two week sojourn to Texas and Colorado, I now have some perspective on this trip. It was a really nice work vacation–I performed and taught and still had time to relax, admire the bluebonnets on many of my walks, eat a lot of sushi (and of course La Fogata hot sauce) and spend time with my parents.

I look forward to playing many more recitals in south Texas (including Christ Church and First Presbyterian Church) and even in Vail, Colorado at the Vail Interfaith Chapel.

I also enjoyed spending time with my sister while exploring Vail and Grand Junction.  Thanks to her job, she has amassed some amazing stories about life on the western slope of Colorado.

Back in Lincoln, I have returned to my practicing workbench. And when I’m not practicing, I’m probably planting, mowing, sewing, baking, teaching or dreaming…

Cowboys, longhorns and pico de gallo

In just a few days, I will be enveloped in the warmth we call San Antonio where I will give a masterclass and play a recital. I’m very excited for this trip because it has been a long time in planning–I can’t wait to meet the young students at the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio and hear them play! Many of them are preparing for auditions, festivals and competitions and I will have the honor of listening to the results of their hardwork.

I will also be presenting a recital under the auspices of Alamo Music Center. Since I am returning to my Texas roots, I decided that some cowboy music had to be part of the program.

And a visit to south Texas in the springtime wouldn’t be complete without some bluebonnet gazing and of course a trip to La Fogata (see my earlier post on this wonderful restaurant).

Coming Home

My piano has finally came home! It was late of course and it spent two weeks sitting in various warehouses (I am very disappointed in the availability of reliable piano-moving companies in this country.  You would have thought for almost $1000, the piano could have been shipped directly from my house to The Piano People and back.  But no such moving animal exists.)

For the first week after it arrived, the piano sounded stiff and somewhat colorless. As I have practiced more and more on it, its unique colors and brilliance are starting to come out. Of course, it was out of tune to begin with and now it is REALLY out of tune but that’s ok. It just needs to be played and played some more. The action is somewhat heavy but I like that for practice purposes.

It almost looks brand new!

What you are seeing is a cleaned soundboard, restored bridges,  new pinblock and new strings.
The frame was also rebronzed and re-lettered. The damper system was rebuilt as was the action. The Renner hammers

are also new. I don’t think there was much felt left on the old ones!

Someday, I hope to play this piano in a great hall. Right now it sits in my smallish living room, sharing space with my Yamaha C-7. It deserves a stage of its own!

And look--no cat hair!

Big changes

It’s been a while since I posted on my blog so I decided it was time to update the world on my recent activities. Besides playing, teaching and exploring new career paths (only part-time ones), I recently sent away my big grand piano to be rebuilt. Now, it took a lot of courage for me to do this because this piano has been a part of my life for more than 25 years and when a piano is restored (new strings, pinblock, action including hammers), it’s fundamental sound can change. You see, this piano has helped me prepare for so many concerts and recording sessions, I feel lost without it! I realize that it will return home but most likely, it will have changed significantly. Will it still have the bell-like quality I cherish? Will the action still be a little heavy yet very responsive? Will it still be capable of a whisper one moment and then a roar the next?

So, with some trepidation, I wait….



“Rock stars play guitars, hillbillys play banjos”

Such was the response to my query, “What is the difference between a guitar and a banjo?” from a young man in Oshkosh, Nebraska during “Piano-in-Tow”, Part Trois. Of course, his comment brought the house down and left me scrambling to recapture the students’ attention. I didn’t mind–it was just another memorable moment from my adventures with “Piano-in-Tow”. The Spring 2010 tour focused on schools and communities in the northwest corner of Nebraska as well as west central Nebraska. I logged more than 1000 miles in a rented van and a trailer named Lovely. My Yamaha C-7 was loaded and unloaded 16 times in 5 days but held its tune remarkably well.

Early morning unload in Bridgeport, Nebraska

Although my trusty piano mover would prefer that I just use a digital keyboard, it’s nice to know that the piano can withstand that much upheaval!

This tour had a profound effect on me not just because I met so many wonderful people and students but because I was reminded of why I go to the effort–“Piano-in-Tow” allows me to bring my passions for music and teaching TO the people.

“Piano-in-Tow” Which part?

A mean little MissyA mean little Missy

It’s 6 pm Gordon, Nebraska time (7 pm Lincoln time) and I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs until it’s time to leave for the Methodist church where my next “show” will take place.  Heath and I have now been on the road for 3 days and    it feels like 3 weeks.  In that time, Heath has unloaded and loaded my 1000 pound piano six times in sunshine, pouring rain and 35 mph winds.  Nothing like springtime in northwestern Nebraska. Heath and I left Lincoln on Monday and drove to Ainsworth, Nebraska (255 miles).  We were supposed to leave mid-afternoon but Heath had class and work so we didn’t actually hit the road until 7:30 pm.  By the time we pulled out onto I-80, I was a blob of anxiety–here we were hauling a huge trailer with my precious piano in a rented van headed for parts unknown.   Heath wasn’t bothered at all by my audacious plan to unload and load the piano multiple times.  He also didn’t think it was outrageous that I scheduled myself to play 6 performances in 4 days…I finally started to relax somewhere along Highway 183 when we  were forced to stop while a beautiful herd of deer crossed the road.  That gave me the opportunity to gaze at the night sky which without city lights was ablaze with stars.  I felt reassured by that sight.   Furthermore, we found a radio station that was playing some great seventies southern rock so Heath and I rocked out.  We rolled into Ainsworth at exactly 1 am.  I was relieved to see that the hotel had internet access and a sauna.  (Little did I know that these amenities were going to be short-lived.) The next morning, Heath and I drove the short distance to Ainsworth High School where I was scheduled to play at 12:15pm.  I had alerted all of my contacts that we would need several STRONG men to help Heath unload/load the piano.  I guess there are many different definitions of strong because on several occasions, Heath had to do most of the lifting himself.  Heath's assistantsHeath’s assistants

We got the piano unloaded into a nice little auditorium and then I waited for the students to file in.  I was a little apprehensive because this was my first presentation since I had revamped the show.  Turns out, I had nothing to fear because the middle school students were enthusiastic, engaged and attentive.

After the show, Heath and I grabbed some lunch at Big John’s family restaurant.   A specialty of the area is cauliflower salad. Enjoying some of Big John's cauliflower saladEnjoying some of Big John’s cauliflower salad

Heath still talks about it to this day.   After lunch, I went back to my room and crashed for several hours.  It isn’t easy staying up until 3a.m. and then getting up for a show at noon!  The evening concert took place in the same auditorium as the noontime gig–this time, members of the community came and were very enthusiastic.  They asked a lot of questions about my piano, about the music, about hauling the instrument and one woman even asked me if I would sight-read some four-hand music with her!  After I did that, she offered to hem my pants leg because the hem had come out completely.  We decided to meet at her shop the next morning.  Her fabric and notions store is called In Stitches and it is the only quilt and fabric store for at least 100 miles in any direction! A modified "Stitch and Bitch" A modified “Stitch and Bitch

Next stop was Cody, Nebraska, population of 149 according to the 2000 census.  If you blink while traveling along Highway 20, you might miss it!  But, whatever Cody doesn’t have in size or population, it makes up for in a welcoming spirit.   The students and staff at the Cody/Kilgore High School were all enthusiastic about the show, the piano and the camera crew.   Megan with her boomMegan with her boom


My Vanna White imitation

GroupiesGroupies Toby and CharlieToby and Charlie Toby doing his best puppy imitation

From the very beginning of “Piano-in-Tow”, I talked about catching an interview with a stray dog.  Although not strays, Toby and Charlie did like to hang out at the high school during the weekday. The other thing remarkable about Cody was the wind.  Not only did it NEVER stop blowing but it would give drivers on the Salt Flats a thrill.

The next day, Heath and I drove to Gordon, NE, an even more remote town along Highway 20.   I was scheduled to play at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in the evening so that gave us some time to check-in at our five-star hotel accomodations and have some tacos at the restaurant next door. Nebraska's answer to Hong Kong's Peninsula HotelNebraska’s answer to Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel

Since it was considerably colder in that part of the state, I found it necessary to warm-up in my jacket…Where are my hand warmers?Where are my hand warmers?

And, because all of the restaurants in Gordon close at 9pm, my “PiT” contact kindly arranged for the Italian Inn to feed us after closing! The weather the next morning proved to be just as miserable as the day before. Dr NAN runnin' on fumesDr NAN runnin’ on fumes

In order to get to Bassett in time for the afternoon gig, Heath and I had to leave Gordon very early.  We were basically re-tracing our miles (153 of them), leaving the northwest corner of the state and returning to north central Nebraska.  The weather could not have been more uncooperative and there certainly weren’t any classic rock stations in the vicinity.  Those 3 hours were pretty miserable! When we finally pulled into Basseet, we immediately went to the Bassett High School in order for Heath to unload the piano.  By now, Heath’s back was complaining steadily so he was glad to find that the unload was pretty easy because the gym was on the same level as the main entrance to the high school.  Heath was also provided with some very strong students which made the job even easier.

A side story

Before leaving Lincoln, I had called around trying to find a piano tuner to tune the Yamaha at least once during the trip.  My first contact was fully-booked for the week but he suggested a woman-tuner who lived in Verdigre.  I found her phone number and called her up.  When I mentioned my name, she said, “Is this the same Nicole who used to live in Colorado Springs?”   I said, “Well, yes it is.  Why do you ask?”  She said, “My father and your father used to work together at Peterson Air Force Base outside of C. Springs, Colorado…”  Whoa.  Very small world department.  Katie agreed to meet us in Bassett and said she would bring her parents with her.  We had a very nice reunion and Katie aptly tuned my piano before the two shows. After the final concert, Heath and I wandered around downtown looking for something to eat.  Someone had told us that the Corral Bar served dinner so we decided to stop in.  When we walked in, the jukebox was blaring some great tunes–I knew I had arrived!  Bassett's PR machineBassett’s PR machine

The next morning, I woke up wondering where my next stop was–I had to remind myself that we had reached the end of the “Piano-in-Tow” road at least for this season.  I think the tour was a huge success but I was happy to be going home!”Dr NAN's breakfast snoozeDr NAN’s post-“PiT” breakfast snooze


Not now, please.Not now, please.

No more carrots, please.No more carrots, please.

Lose the camera before I lose you

Lose the camera before I lose you