Have Piano, Will Fly

Musicians are great at freaking out, especially in the face of deadlines. Notes have to be learned and settled. The calm but sharp focus required ahead of concerts feels frighteningly ethereal. Memory has to be checked continually. So, what if you are scheduled to join a family vacation for two weeks, in the two weeks leading up to concerts in Europe? I did not see canceling a rare family vacation to Athens, the Greek Islands, and Rome as a happy solution at all. Had I not been sick for a very extended period this spring, I would have been ready for my concerts by now. But I wasn’t. I was at a total loss for what to do and feeling unwell about it.

The problems with bringing a piano began in Cleveland. Photo Tom Bueno

The problems with bringing a piano overseas began in Cleveland. I had no clue what to do. (Photo Tom Bueno)

The solution was suggested to me by Elizabeth DeMio, and then I remembered that Christopher O’Riley does this regularly and advised me in great detail–to fly an instrument over there. Great solution, but the problems only piled on from there. I had to think though, that over 100 years ago in 1909, Rachmaninoff sailed to New York by ship and was so nervous to premiere his own Third Concerto that he brought a silent dummy keyboard to learn the notes. He disembarked the ship and went straight to the rehearsals with the NY Philharmonic, and the conductors were none other than…Gustav Mahler and Walter Damrosch.

Rachmaninoff--pictured here in Amsterdam--took a dummy keyboard with him when sailing overseas

Rachmaninoff–pictured here in Amsterdam–took a dummy keyboard with him when sailing overseas. I don’t think he would have blogged about it though.

Many colleagues of mine have asked how I pulled this off for solutions for practicing on the road. I’ll keep and update a brief blog about practicing here on a traveling instrument through Europe. Cellists and violinists do this all the time. But cellos and violins are lighter.

An Entirely New Instrument, Because of 1.5 Pounds…

In Cleveland, in addition to a grand piano (somebody on a bus there once asked me if I play “acoustic piano”), I have an electric piano for evening practice. The new Casio Privia instruments are weighted to feel like grands, have naturally-sourced sound with an incredible dynamic range, and can work also with headphones. In the last few years, they’ve also attained a range of colors enough that a pianist can work on craft. They are also somewhat portable.

To order the expensive TSA certified case seems simple enough, but the total weight must be 50 pounds or less. The problem? My keyboard and case were 51 pounds, which would cost over $2000 to fly the instrument.

I went to look for a lighter piano. I drove over in a balmy summer day with my windows down to cover my nervousness. I arrived to a vast array of digital pianos. Everything over 50. After an hour of weighing, we all sat down and started ripping some heavier pads out of the case. The new Privia PX150 weighed in at 49.5. I had no choice but to buy it–a mere 1.5 pounds lighter than my old one. I didn’t even try it to see how it sounded. I felt dizzy.

I consoled myself with the thought that I could practice anytime and anywhere, without having to pay 30 Euros per hour, six hours a day–if hours were available, to practice far from my hotels with no chance to rest.

The Flying, the Saving, the Yelling, and the Rolling

Liz DeMio brought me to the Cleveland airport, bringing all the sunshine and optimism that I didn’t have. I crossed my fingers at the check in line and tried to turn up my charm meter in case the fees could be waived in cases of charm. They weighed–49.5. Now the oversize fees? Was to be $200-600 per leg of flight, I was quoted. But, they didn’t charge said fees. It saved about $1100 that day.

We flew the new 747-8, and so did the instrument

We flew the new 747-8, and so did the instrument. Note the raked wingtips rather than winglets

In Athens, I rolled the piano to the subway, where it took up space. Apparently in Greece it’s a mortal offense to hog up more than one chair, so I experienced the wrath of a young woman who aggressively needed to sit for three stops. As this was in fact the three year anniversary of the tourist lady in the Frankfurt airport asking me and my younger brother if we “spoke Asian” so as to translate for the Asian lady having difficulty, I thought it best to play dumb and just keep shaking my head until she finally gave up.

Subway transfer in Athens--after getting yelled at on the first leg

Subway transfer in Athens–after getting yelled at on the first leg

Carrying the instrument of that shape up stairs is not easy, but there was a view of the Parthenon at the same time. I tried the piano for the first time in the hotel in Athens. Sounded pretty good. I was jet-lagged. Was I imagining one note being slightly out of tune? I wanted to sleep. But none of my program is any good yet. Upset stomachs are the musician’s repertoire… you see, we have several stomachs. One for food, one for dessert, and one for an appetite for such insanity as deadlines and nerves on stage.

We briefly navigated the slippery steps of the Parthenon before I bolted off for practice

We briefly navigated the slippery steps of the Parthenon before I bolted off for practice

An odd place to practice Schumann in Athens--wrong height from bed to piano

An odd place to practice Schumann in Athens–wrong height from bed to piano–too much of this arm position would injure a pianist. My teacher Bob Durso would be horrified. For some reason, there are sunglasses on while practicing.

Arrival in Mykonos

Arrival in Mykonos


When we reached Mykonos Island, we were greeted by the rich flora

When we reached Mykonos Island, we were greeted by the rich flora


Classical pianists don’t usually get to practice outdoors–maybe that’s why most of us are pale and tubercular, like Chopin

I highly recommend the Hermes Hotel in Mykonos

I highly recommend the Hermes Hotel in Mykonos, or just anything in Mykonos in general, starting with the gelato

P1040513I have been practicing at all hours here in Mykonos with greatest pleasure and the best views (even if the pressure of the deadlines is no less) and am still with my family. Tomorrow we will take a boat journey to Santorini. Can I practice there? I will post my next blog update when I can.

Gelato in Mykonos

Gelato in Mykonos

This made the hassle worth the trouble

This made the hassle worth the trouble, though the telephone pole could go

Even with clouds, Mykonos is a fairy-tale and the light other-worldly

Even with clouds, Mykonos is a fairy-tale and the light other-worldly

Mykonos Sunset at dinner--no color correction

Mykonos Sunset at dinner–no color correction

User Guide

Seems we’ve found the path for success for pianists–here’s what you need to travel with a piano for free:

The lightest keyboard in the industry:

•Casio PX150 88 Key Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action (23.5 pounds) Usually between $500-800

•Portable pedal, music rack, and outlet adaptor for Europe (carry these in a separate suitcase or it’s too heavy.

The only case that works:

•Gator Cases GKPE-88SLIM-TSA with wheels and TSA latches. (26 pounds) This is the only case that is not oversize. Remove all but three pads to be underweight–put one behind music rack position, and two black pads on keyboard. Usually about $360-400

Total weight–49.5 pounds. When checking in, state that you have a musical instrument–the size allowances are more generous, at least on Star Alliance.

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