I knew the concert was going to be good. The tall, light-haired man sat at the piano and laid his fingers on the keys, and the first chords of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 filled the hall. Sparky sat up and nudged me. “It’s that song!” he whispered excitedly. Imagine his ecstatic amazement as world-famous pianist Van Cliburn sat before us and brought Sparky’s favorite piece to life.

Some time later, I came across the Van Cliburn competition being broadcast on a public television station, and was amazed and inspired by the wonderful musicians sharing their talents and Cliburn’s love of classical music. The winner of this competition came to the same concert hall Master Cliburn did years earlier, and I was thrilled to be part of the audience. In supporting her musicianship, I felt I was both supporting Master Cliburn in his desire to introduce the public to some amazing musicians, and sharing his love of classical music.

I was then fortunate enough to hear Master Cliburn play in person once again. After treating us to a fine concerto and some beautifully crafted encore pieces, this fine man solidified my belief that he was a fine person as well as a great performer. As he was leaving the stage, he stopped at the chair of the last violinist and shook the musician’s hand. He said something to her, and she nodded and smiled. He continued to the stage door, and the grin remained on the woman’s face. The great virtuoso had taken time to recognize her—genuinely, because that’s how he felt about the performers and the music—and had made her day.

Performance Today devoted an entire edition to Van Cliburn on the day he passed, and they played a part of the speech he delivered as he returned to America after winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. After being honored with the first ticker-tape parade ever given for a classical musician, Cliburn expressed his joy at his fellow countrymen for honoring not only him, but classical music. So, to honor Master Cliburn, here are some lovely piano pieces for your enjoyment showing why Master Cliburn was great.

Van Cliburn plays the first and second movements of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 during the competition in Moscow (during which then Premier Nikita Khrushchev apparently said, “Is Cliburn the best? Then give him first prize,” putting to rest any reservations the judges had about awarding a foreigner with first place). Watch Cliburn’s lovely hands play on the keys.

In 2009, Hoachen Zhang was the first place winner of the Van Cliburn competition. At 17 years old, I believe he was the youngest winner. During the broadcast of the competition, the judges commented on how amazing it was to see such a love and understanding of classical music in a young person. Like Cliburn, Zhang has long pianist fingers that are perfect for the keyboard.

And here’s something that shows that Cliburn can have fun (and adopt a foreign accent): his appearance on the old game show “What’s My Line?”

Play and listen to some beautiful music and thank the amazing artists who share their talents. And smile at the joy good music brings to your life.