I knew from several of his masterful performances at Norfolk Academy that one of our students, Alex Barton, is an extremely talented pianist, and, throughout the course of our journey, I have learned more about his dedication to his passion. Day after day Alex has logged innumerable hours in order to hone his craft and develop the dexterity and mental acumen needed to honor the great composers. One day, Alex asked me what were the chances that we would find a piano somewhere on our trip for him to play, for we had seen a couple in the airports in Charlotte and Rome that were already in use by other enthusiasts. Recalling my past experiences in Italy, I responded unhesitatingly that I highly doubt we would encounter the instrument along the journey. I could not be more happy that this statement would turn out to be false.
After our 8 hour marathon from Messina to Paestum, we arrived at our hotel drained of all mental and physical ability. Lo and behold, tucked away in the far corner of the reception hall, Alex spots his quarry. Immediately his face lights up with true joy, and he rushes to take his place on the bench. When he reveals the keys, I could have sworn I saw a feint bloom of dust rise into the air. The piano, a purely aesthetic piece, must not have been touched since it was put into place. Nevertheless, with a quick crack of the knuckles and a minor warm up, Alex was taking us through a tune. The ivory clanged and clunked, and the peddles would not sustain the notes. I was reminded of an old western film, where the maestro would play some catchy jingle to a raucous room full of ruffians holding cards and trying to cheat their opponents with a furtive ace up their sleeve. Despite being in desperate need of a tuning, Alex continued to wail on the piano without a care in the world. Nothing could disappoint this moment.
What a remarkable group of students! How fortunate we are to have so many wonderful young men and women on this trip. Each night, as the Pollio’s and I recount the day’s events under the blistering Italian sun, we have been consistently blown away by our unique bunch of students. No one is the same, and we would not want it any other way. Each one chose to embark on this journey, and each has received double, if not triple, returns on their personal investment into the experience. Every night we retell innumerable stories of the student’s triumphs. No matter how large or small, each has proven to be monumental in their development. From Jenny mastering the rolled “r” of quattordici, to Mackenzie facing her fear of heights upon the precipices of Etna, to Kaleb and Bennett leading their respective groups, unsupervised, through the sprawling city of Pompeii, or Anne Burns teaching Natalie how to dive into the pool, we have witness personal growth on an unprecedented scale. It would take 1,000 blogs to chronicle all of these moments, and I am sure by now you are tired of reading these long winded expositions. I must leave something for the student’s to share at the dinner table!