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Concert brings back memories

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I would like to dedicate this column to Rozella Sargent. My piano teacher.

I studied under Rozella off and on for nearly four years, until we had a falling out over, if I recall correctly, either something to do with my personal artistic interpretation of Chopin or my practice habits.Whatever it was, it resulted in her picking up the phone, calling my dad, and shouting, "Mr. Benson, you're wasting your money!"

So that was that, but Rozella was an excellent teacher, and I couldn't help but think of her yesterday and how proud she'd be that I finally made it to my first international piano competition.

For $10, I got a great seat, squarely in the middle of Abravanel Hall, for the pressure-packed atmosphere of the quarterfinal round of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.

There they were, up on the stage, pounding the grand. All the kids who didn't quit. All the kids who practiced, practiced, practiced; and didn't flip out, like that guy in "Shine."

The competition runs through Saturday, when the winner will receive a gold medal, a check for $10,000, and a Stein-way grand piano, which I think seems odd. Don't they already have one?

In case you're planning on attending this week and, like me, you're a newcomer when it comes to big-time piano recitals, here's a tip: Eat before you go.

This is not like, say, a basketball game or a Tyson fight. You do not load up on nachos and popcorn and a big beverage and head for your seat. It's true, you can buy a beverage in the lobby and an over-priced chocolate snack (so it is like a sporting event in a way), but there is a sign that reminds you the food is to be consumed there. And if that doesn't stop you, there's an usher named Baxter who knows a little about the martial arts.

Also, refrain from screaming or cheering during the performance, or even whispering. This may be the Olympics of piano, but there are no Austrians with cow bells. The best strategy is don't do anything until the person on your left does it first.

I found the Bachauer, in fact, to be very much like Rozella Sargent's recitals, which were deadly quiet and held in the houses of her very best students. My fondest memory of those old recital days is when my friend Doug Berry got to the piano, froze, turned to the audience and said, "I forgot."

After that it was all downhill for Doug, although he did eventually find work as a football coach.

But the Bachauer was way better than the recitals of my youth in one major regard: I didn't have to play.

I just got to sit there, in Seat 9, Row 24, and ingest Schubert and Brahms.

My 10 dollars bought a varied range of performers, including an American named Ning An, who, it said in the program, takes his inspiration from Lou Gehrig; an Italian named Fedele An-ton-i-cel-li who actually stopped at one point, took out his handkerchief and wiped off the sweat; and a pianist from New York City named Andrew Russo, the son of a former catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies also named Andrew Russo.

Like father, like son. Both work with pitches, and both try to impress the judges.

The difference? It is not Andrew Jr.'s custom to position himself an inch from the judge's face and say, "Lack of allegro! Whaddya mean, lack of allegro?!"

The competition is named for the late Gina Bachauer, renowned Greek pianist and Utah Symphony regular who always said, "I adore to play the piano."

A saying she may or may not have stolen from Rozella Sargent.

I was also reminded yesterday of my parents' reaction when, after Rozella interrupted my study of the piano, I officially resigned.

"You'll be sorry," they said.

Nah. I'm glad I quit when I did. I could have never competed with those kids.