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Those crazy lazy hazy days

When I was about fifteen I went on a trip to Italy with my high school, to learn to Appreciate Art. First stop was Firenze, second was Siena. The final destination was Rome.

When we got to Rome, I hadn't touched a piano in more than a week and was getting a little twitchy. Fortunately for me, our school had lodgings in the monastery next to the San Andrea della Valle cathedral, which has a rather magnificent organ.

One of my Italian-speaking teachers made my case successfully, and I was allowed to have a go during the lunch break (when the church was closed) to get the jitters out of my system.

It involved a thirty-meter climb, afternoon sun spilling in through stained glass windows lighting up gold mosaic, lots of Bach, improvisatory harmony and some Italians gawping up at whoever was playing because at some point apparently someone decided to open up the church again.

It was one of the best music-making experiences I've ever had.

This summer, I found a grand piano standing in the fortress museum of Castiglione del Lago, next to the Lago di Trasimeno.

When sitting behind it, it offered an unimpeded view of the lake. The room itself was cool after the heat of outside. You could still hear the cicadas, and feel a slight breeze off the lake. It smelled of old frescoes, lavender and dry grass.

I played Grieg, Satie and Beethoven. My audience was whoever felt inclined to stay and listen - up to and including a five-year old, who apparently didn't move for most of the Beethoven.

I'm pretty sure I've got a new "most awesome place I've ever played".

The rest of my holidays were similarly eventful; wine, good food, a tent and books were involved. We even fitted in a visit to Lucca, whereupon we were obliged to visit the home of Maestro Puccini. I spent ten minutes gaping at each original opera costume; the most impressive of which (Tosca and Turandot) are included in the picture gallery.

Sadly I was not allowed to play his piano. I am happy to announce I succesfully drowned my sorrow in ice-cream.

And now, the weather has turned, and autumn is on his way. I am preparing accordingly and have started practicing Schumann's Waldszenen, which I think will make a lovely programme in combination with Grieg's Haugtussa lieder...

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