It started like a Stephen King novel.

A reader contacted me about my books initially, but we got to emailing about our dogs, and the exchange went on for a few days. I mentioned that I had to go practice piano, and Ms. H asked what I was working on. So I sent a link to Valentina Lisitsa playing Schumann’s “Traumerei” as an encore after a concert in Seoul, and said, “I’m working on the B section of this piece.”

Ms. H writes back that Valentina Lisitsa is a buddy of hers, and furthermore Val would be doing a concert with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at the junior high in Parkersburg, WV, at 3 PM, and would I like to drive down from Cleveland for it, because Ms. H has extra tickets.

Um. Lemme think about it… World-famous Ukrainian classical pianist. Parkersburg, West Virginia. A junior high auditorium. Seriously?

Cue “Dueling Banjos.”

Add fog.

Author never seen again.

Oh, well. What the hell. YES YES YES YES.

After a three-hour drive, I was in the lovely small city of Parkersburg, having lunch with Ms. H, who also really does know Valentina Lisitsa, who really was playing with the WV Symphony Orchestra that afternoon. And, as Val herself said, playing Prokofiev’s 3rd piano concerto in a small auditorium in a junior high simply shows how magical music is. The surroundings disappear. There is an immediacy and connection between performer and audience impossible to reproduce in a grand concert hall.

We had fantastic tickets: on the left, so we could watch Valentina’s hands, which moved so fast in some passages that the the human eye could not resolve the action and saw only a blur. And yet, every note was played with accuracy and authority, the left hand dancing over and around and under the right. It was glorious and astonishing.

After the concert, Val came to a reception at the Art Center.  She was funny and informal, calling herself a Redneck Pianist because she now lives in a double-wide in North Carolina with her charming husband Alexi and their “Little Dude” Benjamin. I got over my dumbstruck awe at that point and told her that I had just started piano lessons. She signed my sheet music for Traumerei, and showed me that our hands are nearly the same size: “Thumbs are exact!”

And after the reception, we all went over to Ms. H’s house and ordered in pizza. Before I left, Alexi ran out to their car to bring me two of Val’s unreleased CDs to listen to on the drive back to Cleveland. There was a little fog on the way back, but no banjos. Just Valentina Lisitsa playing Rachmaninoff…