When I played for the King of High C's

An unexpected encounter with Luciano Pavarotti.

Long before the Three Tenors began singing together, I had the unexpected pleasure of accompanying Luciano Pavarotti on the piano. The problem is, I didn't know it was Pavarotti. With hindsight, it's probably just as well.

My sister and I had gone to meet our cousin Joy, who was visiting from Michigan and staying at a hotel just outside Chicago. At some point, the three of us discovered an unoccupied piano in the lobby and decided to while away the time singing a few show tunes.

So I put my play-by-ear piano skills to work while they joined in song. Since I was focused on the keyboard, the singers were out of my sight once the music started. One by one, several bystanders joined in. Then, a surprisingly beautiful male voice sent things right over the top, blending in song, suggesting favorite tunes, and even asking me to change keys on occasion.

We went merrily along in this way for about 15 minutes or so. Then our impromptu concert was suddenly interrupted by a determined woman who whisked our special singer out of sight, apologetically but firmly explaining, "He has had a very busy day and needs his rest."

In the silence that followed, my cousin turned to me wide-eyed. "Do you know who that was?" she asked in amazement.

No, I didn't know. I was so busy putting notes and chords together, it hadn't occurred to me to wonder who the voice belonged to.

"It was Pavarotti! Luciano Pavarotti," Joy said with a gasp.

As I look back on the incident, I'm glad I didn't know who was asking me to change keys. I might have stopped playing altogether!

Not only had I unknowingly accompanied Pavarotti on the piano, but Joy and the others had actually sung with him. I never see my cousin without being reminded of it.

The maestro was said to have received 165 curtain calls during his singing career. Besides opera, he also performed with U2 and appeared on "Saturday Night Live." But the one event I'll never forget was when he joined a motley group of singers for an informal – perhaps even restful – songfest, after an apparently busy day.

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