A few weeks ago, HBO premiered Behind the Candelabra, a movie based on Scott Thorson’s book, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace. The movie starred Michael Douglas as Liberace, Matt Damon as Scott, Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother, and a few other stars. The movie is about the relationship between Liberace and his live-in lover of five years, Scott.
It’s the premiere of this movie that made me want to share my story about my connection to Liberace.
My story starts in my birthplace of Veracruz, Mexico. At the age of either ten or eleven years old, my parents took me to see a movie called Sincerely Yours, which starred Liberace and Dorothy Malone. I remember being impressed with Liberace’s flashy piano playing, his arrangements of popular songs, the glamorous city of Manhattan, and the charm of the movies of that era. Afterward, my father bought me the LP (a Long Play record for the young reader) soundtrack of the movie. I played that record so many times that I knew every song by heart.
My next-door neighbor and friend, Santiago Suarez, came to my house one day and saw the LP on top of my piano. He said to me: “We’re living in Veracruz, which means you’ll probably never meet Liberace in your life. So, let me sign it for you.” I let him sign that record which I still have. And, this is where my connections with Liberace begin.
Now, let’s fast-forward a few years to where I’m playing in Mexico City at The Camino Real Hotel and am a student at the National Conservatory of Music. It was at this time that I read in a newspaper that Liberace was playing in Las Vegas. The article mentioned how spectacular Liberace’s shows were with its flashy costumes, dancing fountains, orchestra, dancers, etc. As I read this, I was very, very curious to see his show, but the lack of financial stability was an obstacle to my plans.
So, I came up with an idea to make some money to finance the trip from Mexico City to Las Vegas, which was to make my own raffle. I cut many little squares of paper, and I wrote on each one of them a number, starting with 000 all the way to 999 for a total 1000 little squares. I put the squares in a jar, and I would bring the jar with me everywhere.
Now, the way my raffle would work, I would have a person pick a square out of the jar and then give me the amount of money written on the chosen square. (For example, if the paper read 475, the person would have to give me $4.75.) The cheapest price was the 000 (free), and the most expensive was the 999 ($10). Once a person had the paper square with a number on it, the person would use the newspaper to check said number against the National Lottery’s number picks. If the last three numbers of the National Lottery’s first prize matched the numbers on the person’s square, the person would win from me a prize of $100.
At the end of my raffle, I was left with ten pieces of paper squares. As luck would have it, the paper with the matching three numbers was in my possession, which meant that I could keep my prize money in addition to the money collected from selling the other paper squares. So, I was able to go to Las Vegas.
Once in Las Vegas, I stayed – I think – at the Stardust Hotel, which is no longer there since it was one of the few remaining hotels of the “old Vegas days”. It was the least expensive. I went to see Liberace’s show, I don’t remember if it was at the Hilton or Caesars Palace, but I gave a tip to the Maître D’ and he gave me a great seat. The show was absolutely spectacular; he came on the stage on a chauffeur driving a Rolls Royce with an amazing white mink and sitting on a custom built piano that was covered with little mirrors, creating a stunning effect on the large stage. What a showman! By the way, his playing was clean and with a good classical technique. A few years later, I listened to his recording of the Liszt Piano Concerto # 2, and it was pretty good.
Now, let’s forward a few more years, and I just moved to the United States. I was playing in Tucson, Arizona in a beautiful elegant restaurant called “Charles”. One evening, I was playing in the beautiful living room of the restaurant when a gentleman stood next to my piano and said to me: “You are a wonderful pianist”. When I look up to see him, it was Liberace! He was in Tucson to do his show, and he had dinner at Charles that evening. We talked for a couple of minutes and he signed his autograph to me with a drawing of a piano with his signature candelabra on top of it. I still have that framed autograph. The following day, I was invited to a reception in his honor, and I had my picture taken with him. If you go to my Facebook page, you can see that photo in one of my albums.
Liberace died on February 4, 1987 at his home in Palm Springs, California. Let’s fast-forward a few more years in my story. I’m now living in Los Angeles, California, and I made a trip to Las Vegas to see a few shows and take a break from my performing schedule. During that trip, I went to the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. It was a one of a kind place with amazing pianos, including the mirrored piano, a Steinway that somebody at the museum told me that Liberace bought from George Gershwin; the piano featured in the movie “A Song to Remember”, and other spectacular pianos. You may find it interesting that that movie was based on the life of Chopin, played by Cornel Wilde and Merle Oberon in the role of George Sand, Chopin’s lover for a few years. By the way, George was not a man; it was the pseudonym of the French writer Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. Chopin’s favorite or one of his favorite pianos was the Pleyel. For a while, Liberace thought that it was an original Pleyel played by Chopin but later they told him that it was an exact replica. Merle Oberon was married a few times, including to Bruno Pagliai. After they were married, they lived in Mexico in a lovely place called Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. I met Cornel Wilde once and told him how much I enjoyed that film. The actual piano playing in the movie was done by the great Spanish pianist Jose Iturbi, which I also heard in concert and met once.
Anyway, let’s get back to my story. During my visit to the museum, I kind of played a few notes on the mirrored piano when a lady came in to the room. During our conversation, I found out that she was the director of the museum. She asked me if I were a pianist and when I responded yes, she asked me if I wanted to play a couple of songs on that piano. I did and pretty soon had a nice little crowd around the piano. After that piano, I played ALL the pianos in the museum including the “Chopin piano” featured in the aforementioned movie. It was by then in not so good shape.
A few months later, I received a phone call from the director of the museum asking me if I would like to do a concert to celebrate the Christmas lighting of the museum, as Christmas was the most important holiday for Liberace and he always made a big production of it. Of course, I accepted and was driven in one of his fancy cars with Santa Claus to the entrance of the museum. I think I played on the “Gershwin piano”. It was a great experience and I met on that evening a few people who were very close to Liberace.
Now we’ll fast-forward a few more years, and I’m playing at the Hotel Bel Air where one evening an older gentleman was sitting there with a friend. After a few visits, we started talking. He always had very kind words concerning my piano playing. He was James Hobson who was the Producer/Director of “The Liberace Show” which was on TV back in 1952! He also told me that he directed “The Lawrence Welk Show” on TV for many years. My bass player at the hotel was my friend and excellent musician, Richard Maloof. He was also the bass player for the Lawrence Welk orchestra for many years. Talk about a small world. Mr. Hobson just died a couple of months ago on April 26, 2013 at the age of 90. He was a fine gentleman.
My last connection with the Liberace story happened a few months ago when the producers of the film where looking for a pianist to double with the hands, some long shots and some actual playing in the film. With an agent that was helping me, I sent, by their request a video of myself playing and photos of my hands. In the end I was not chosen to be part of the movie but the agent told me that out of the hundreds of pianist that they took a look at, I was one of the two left at the end. According to him it was that closed. The producers end up using most of the actual Liberace recordings in the film, which made a lot of sense.
So, that’s my story. The film was very good but I think that it didn’t portrait one the qualities that Liberace had, to be very kind, generous and nice to family, friends and fans. Many people who knew him very well, had told me throughout the years that he was that kind of a man. The film did not reflect, unfortunately, that very important aspect of his legacy.
So, if my friend Santiago happens to read this story, what an end to something that started back in Veracruz when we were children.
Antonio Castillo de la Gala
July, 2013 A.D.
I am a professional pianist and a happy human being, and playing the piano is one of the main purposes in life. Perhaps my life would have taken a different path, if I didn’t have a piano in our living room at our house in Veracruz, Mexico where I was born. The earliest recollections of my life are intrinsically attached to a baby grand black piano, a Knabe. I started playing the piano at the age of 3, and I’m still doing it. As an interesting “coincidence”, when I started playing at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills back in October 2009, I told the General Manager that we needed a new piano as the old one there has seen better days, and it was not the proper instrument for a lovely, elegant Living Room where I was and still am performing. After spending a few hours in a piano store, I gave the management of the hotel two choices, a Yamaha and a Knabe, both great pianos with the right sound for my almost daily performances. The management chose the Knabe. It was during my first performance on that piano at the hotel that I realized it was the same size, color and brand of the first piano that I ever played in my life.
For me, the piano has an interesting history. It was invented around 1709 by a harpsichord maker and tuner in Florence, Italy by the name of Bartolomeo Cristofori. Perhaps the invention of the piano had a few unintended roads, some of them maybe a touch of luck. Ferdinando de Medici, The Grand Prince of Tuscany whose family had ruled Florence for centuries was the accidental Godfather of the piano. Yes, those powerful Medicis who produced Popes, banks, and an amazing amount of artwork commissioned from some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and many more. Ferdinando took a trip, without his wife, to Venice to enjoy its famous Carnival. On the return home, he brought good and bad news to his family. The bad news was that he caught a venereal disease that eventually and probably killed him. The good news was that he had met Bartolomeo, and offered him a position to take care of his many musical instruments that he had in his palace, as he had just lost his tuner and harpsichord maker.
The main contribution to the beginning of the piano by Cristofori was the revolutionary idea of using hammers to strike the strings instead of quills as they were used in the harpsichords. My ideas about that after reading so much about pianos is that Cristofori was not trying to invent a new instrument, he probably was trying to improve the harpsichord. That original first piano was named by him, Gravicembalo col piano e forte. Other music historians have found the name of “Un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte,”a keyboard of cypress with piano and forte. Piano in Italian means soft and forte means loud. Eventually, over the years the instrument was known as pianoforte, until the final shorter name, piano. The earlier Cristofori pianos had a range of only four octaves, half of the modern grand piano. In those days those early pianos had forty-nine notes as compared with the pianos of today which have eighty-eight. More keys in the lower range if you own a Bosendorfer. The fact that when one strikes a key on the harpsichord, the quills pluck the strings and the volume is consistent; it doesn’t change no matter how hard you strike it. On the pianoforte, because of the use of hammers to strike the keys, you could immediately modulate and play piano (soft) or forte (loud). It was the beginning of the end of popularity for the harpsichord and the beginning of the piano as the favorite instrument for composers, performers, and many families that made it the center of their social life. Cristofori only made about twenty pianos in his life time.
The modern concert grand piano that you see in a concert hall or like the one I have in my home has 88 keys and three pedals. The far right is called the sustain or forte or damper pedal. When you depress that pedal, it lifts the dampers away from the strings and therefore the vibrations of those strings will continue until we let go of it and the dampers return to its original position. The one in the far left is called the una corda (one string) or soft pedal. When you depress that pedal, it shifts the action sideways, so instead of the hammer hitting three strings in the middle and upper register, it strikes two. And in the lower register, instead of hitting two, it strikes one; therefore, you get a softer sound, hence the name “soft” pedal. I have played upright pianos where the soft pedal when depressed doesn’t shift the mechanism, but instead, brings the hammers closer to the strings, therefore producing a softer volume. The pedal in the middle is called the sostenuto, which sustains only the keys that are (usually in the lower range) strike while depressing that pedal. I use it in some pieces by Rachmaninoff and Liszt. Your everyday pianist probably never uses it.
During the times of Mozart, the pedals were operated by using the pianist’s knees but that didn’t last long, and eventually they were moved so the feet would be in control. Those earlier pianos which were a far cry from ones of today were not embraced by the composers of that time. A couple of the pioneers of that new instrument were J.S. Bach’s children, Johann Christian and Carl Phillip Emmanuel. Mozart was the first star of the piano. Once he started concertizing and composing for the piano, he didn’t go back to the harpsichord. The piano went through many improvements and transformations for many years. Johann Christoph Zumpe went to England and produced his famous square pianos that Johann C. Bach performed his first solo piano recital on. The English, German, Viennese and French piano makers developed different systems to improve the piano. Andreas Stein of Germany produced a simpler piano that was played many times by Mozart. John Broadwood, a piano maker from England, made a piano that Beethoven loved; it had a stronger case and strings that helped increase the volume. He added one octave to his piano, giving the piano a wider range. Sometimes during a performance by Beethoven, he would have a friend sit next to him to help remove the broken strings and push down the hammers that would become entangled, due to his powerful playing which perhaps enhanced the rapid loss of hearing that he suffered for most of his life. Sebastian Erard, a French piano maker, made some great improvements on the piano. He perfected the mechanism that allowed the notes to be played faster and more polished, improved on the soft pedal, and used iron braces to make the frame stronger and the strings capable of sustaining greater tension. Some historians gave credit to Jonas Chickering, an American, for using the first iron frame in a grand piano. Chopin loved to play on a Pleyel, a French piano built by his friend and by whom the piano was named after. He described in a letter to a friend, “. . . silvery and slightly veiled sonority and lightness of touch.” Steinway became a powerful force in the making and selling of pianos. They introduced a cross-stringing method that helped economize space without reducing volume, used a cast-iron plate, and improved action. Their attention to detail and perfection became a trademark adored by pianists worldwide. There is a painting of Franz Liszt playing on a piano built by Ludwig Bosendorfer which helped create the mystique and fame of that wonderful piano that I personally love to play. Another piano that I love is the Italian Fazioli, a newer piano on the market. I recorded my classical CD on a wonderful concert grand Fazioli, and I loved the action, the warm tones, and the strength of the lower register which helps me to “sing” some passages that called for it. Fazioli manufactures the longest piano in the world available on the market; it is a concert grand 10 Ft. 2 in.
In future blogs, I’ll write more about more interesting facts about this amazing instrument. I consider myself very fortunate that I can make a living doing what I’m most passionate about and that is to play the piano for people. I think that the purest expression of my ideas and who I am as a human being can be described through my playing and my love for music. If I can touch one heart or caress someone’s soul with my playing, then I feel that my life is not a waste. One of my goals, if not the main goal of my life, is to bring a sense of peace, harmony, joy and hopefully open a window into the world of beauty that I know beautiful music has to offer us. I play almost every day just for me on my beloved piano in my living room, and I wish I could describe the joy that it brings to my heart. I can’t find the words to explain that feeling. It’s just me, my piano, and the music that I love. I am the only audience, and I love every second of it.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: “The pianoforte is the most perfect of all musical instruments, its invention was to music what the invention of printing was to poetry.” Amen.
I welcome your comments.
Antonio Castillo de la Gala
Would you sell your cell?
We all have pet peeves about some things. Today, for me, it’s the ubiquitous cellular telephone, or as it’s commonly called, the “cell phone.” I have even heard it referred to as “my cell.” For me, I grew up knowing a cell was either a term in reference to jail or a small unit of living matter. I always thought that when I came to the USA, English would be the only language that I had to master. Yet, with this age of the cellular telephone, there comes a new language that is at times… funny.
I’ve been upgrading my cell phone over the past few years, and now for a whole year, I have had an iPhone. The first time I heard about the iPhone, I immediately thought, “It’s an ‘eye phone’? Why is it not an ‘ear phone’?” It is with the purchase of this iPhone that I’ve had to learn about “apps,” which in “phone language” meant “applications.” (Great, yet another language I had to master!) It is also with this purchase that I came to realize that I couldn’t understand the obsession over the device or any idea about how it’s affecting the way we are behaving in private and in public.
For the last 20 years, I would drive to work to Beverly Hills or Bel-Air by way of Benedict Canyon or Beverly Glen, and I would notice that there are no phone booths along those routes. So, even though those are quick, convenient routes that link Beverly Hills with the San Fernando Valley, they lacked what I would need to call for help in case of a flat tire or my car breaking down. Yes, I know I have an iPhone, but what if it didn’t have any reception? What would I do then?
I do NOT like Blackberries, iPhones, tablets, laptops, cell phones and every other device that falls in between. It would make my life better if these devices would all disappear, because it would mean an end to the annoyance I’ve come to experience frequently over these last few years.
For example, I love to go to the Walt Disney Concert Hall to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform. However, it is during almost every concert, despite the pleading and requesting from the loudspeakers to “turn off your electronic devices,” that there is always an inconsiderate person that forgot to turn off his/her device. Therefore, this is not only a distraction to the public, but also disrespect toward the musicians and composers.
In addition, I also come across inconsiderate people on their phones in the movie theatre. Isn’t it absolutely rude and annoying to have a brightly lit screen in your face while you’re trying to watch a movie? I sure think so! Really, why do these people even bother going to see a movie anyway?
To further drive the point home, I have been monitoring and taking notes of changes stemming from cell phone usage over the past four years. It is during these past four years that I have noticed the gradual increase of groups of people talking on their phones and not to one another. You wouldn’t believe how often I witness this every night at the Peninsula Beverly Hills! For example, I arrived earlier than usual one evening, saw a group of twelve ladies finishing High Tea in the Living Room, and eleven of those ladies were on their phones. I’ve even gone to the restroom to wash my hands and witnessed a gentleman trying to use the facilities without letting go of his phone. I have witnessed families where the father and mother were using their iPads while the children were on their phones. It’s constant exposure to what I see as an ugly ballet performed by thumbs on the keyboards of cell phones.
A couple of nights ago, a lady seating by herself was typing on her laptop, talking on her cell and those little thumbs were jumping on a Blackberry. Talk about multitasking. The waiter tried a few times to catch her eye but it didn’t work, she was living in a virtual world where most people today seem to navigate very comfortably.
My fiancée and I go to have coffee practically every day, and I find it kind of sad that usually we are the only people doing something that is practically rare in a coffee shop…we talk. Yesterday, there were nine people at the coffee place that we patronize, and ALL of them were on their electronic devices. There were four people in line, and ALL four were moving those thumbs at lightning speed. Today at my bank while I was waiting in line, there were four people behind me and one in front all looking at their phones. I had to tap the lady’s shoulder in front of me, because she didn’t notice that the teller was ready for her. A few days ago at the Post Office, there were about twelve people in line, and ten of them were fixated with their phones. When we go to the movies, it is quite annoying seeing those lights come on and off quite often during the film. What are they checking out? Is it that hard to wait for the end of the movie to turn on your toy again? And of course, as soon as the movie ends, before the first credit rolls, you can see a sea of cell phone lights illuminate.
I witness quite often people crossing the street while texting. Are they nuts? I saw a couple sitting across from my piano some nights ago, and they were texting the entire time. I finally asked them about it, and they told me that they were texting each other! What? Do people know how to have face-to-face conversations, anymore?
On a personal note, I have been playing tennis with my friend, Bob, for the last 28 years. We used to talk between games, but since his obsession with his iPhone, we don’t talk much anymore. He practically runs to check his phone with every change of court. I’d have to estimate that he approximately checks his phone about a dozen times during our hour-long game. I miss that we used to talk about politics, world affairs, life, etc. I can’t compete with the wonders that he finds on his cell phone.
Fortunately, my guests at the hotel over the age of 45 talk to each other, request songs and they seem to enjoy my music. Before smartphones became all the rage, customers at the hotels I played for gave paid attention to my music. I am not simply playing the piano every night; I see myself as giving my audience a concert. Night after night, I give my audience the very best of me, and their undivided attention shows me that they appreciate my playing for them.
Despite the fact that movie theaters and concert halls already have rules prohibiting cell phone usage, there’s still a lack of enforcement to ensure people follow those rules. How about leaving the cell phones at the entrance of concert halls and movie theaters? I attended a concert in Las Vegas where the management requested the audience to leave their phones at the entrance, and retrieve it after the performance. I did enjoy that concert.
According to statistics, teenagers’ texting while driving have caused mayhem and tragedies on our roads. And, to mention the problems that parents and their teenagers have come across with regards to “sexting.” My solution to the problems is to give teenagers cellular phones without the option of texting. These phones DO exist. I wish that Dr. Phil would suggest my solution on his show.
I guess I am not the only one annoyed by this modern trend, because some private clubs and NY restaurants are requesting no cell phones in some areas of their properties. Maybe there is hope for all of us that enjoy a nice conversation or a theater going experience uninterrupted by inconsiderate people. Many people today love to live in the virtual world, but I prefer the real world. Maybe it’s the death of silence. People today seem to be afraid of silence, because it would mean having to face their own thoughts and rethink their goals and reasons for being. For some people, that is probably a scary thought, so the numbing effect of cell phones and devices are the perfect “escape” and distraction. Last night I was playing a Nocturne by Chopin and during the 3 minutes that it lasted, the horrible (for me) sound of three cell phones were an unwelcome intrusion for most guests.
OK, it is off my chest. I welcome your comments.
Antonio Castillo de la Gala
A few days ago, looking for some papers, I found a letter that my mother wrote to me. She had written it a few months after I had moved to the USA. It was a four page letter with loving thoughts that were characteristic of my mother. The letter not only triggered memories for me, but another thought came to mind. Does anyone write or receive letters anymore? An era of receiving letters ended with her passing.
People can find or get in touch with me in several ways: letter by mail, phone, e-mail, fax, my website, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Linked-In, Twitter, Plaxo, hi-5, etc., just to name a few! Practically every week I receive an “invitation” to join more social network sites. Just the other day, for my own curiosity, I Googled my name, and it resulted in over half a million entries… 507,000 to be exact! I’m quite busy, but I do my best to answer all the e-mails from my personal address and website. I also try to respond to all the kind and wonderful comments I received from my YouTube videos. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to respond to questions and comments from my sites. I tweet every day, and I try to write something fun or interesting on Facebook as often as possible. I have over 1,000 connections on Linked-In, but I wonder if it’s going to make a difference in my career as a pianist. Are we more or less connected with all the modern social networks available to us? To me, there was nothing more personal than getting a letter from my parents or a phone call from my family. Nowadays, the only letters that I get are from an elderly friend that I shall call Mrs. M. She writes a few letters a year, and not only to me but to all her friends. She is going to be 91 in a few weeks, so I guess she is one of the last ones from the bygone era of letter writing.
Although I miss receiving hand-written letters from friends and family by mail, I do appreciate the many great conveniences created by today’s technological advancements. From my computer, I can assess the amount of people from all over the world who visit my website. It’s just amazing to know that people from Hong Kong, Chile, Greece, Ukraine, Slovenia, Israel, India, Morocco, Hungary, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Portugal, just to name a few, have visited my website. I receive comments about my videos from people all over the world. A few years ago, it would have been practically impossible for my music to reach people from around the globe. The Internet and social networking sites have been quite helpful to my career. I’ve heard on the radio and have read about the financial world when experts in the field talk about keeping up with the global markets. If I don’t join that train, I’m going to be left alone at the station.
I spend approximately 2 hours every day on the computer managing my business. A few years ago, I used to spend that amount of time at my piano trying new pieces or playing my favorite music just for the pleasure of it.
I’ll go back and read my mother’s letter one more time or perhaps a few more times. It is not only a reminder of life with my parents were alive physically speaking, as they are very much alive in my heart, but also a reminder of what I perceive as being more gentle, less hurry, slower times. When I was a little boy, the mailman would arrive with one or more letters, and it gave me a nice sense of excitement. Every day I receive lots of junk mail, bills, and tons of solicitations for donations but never a letter, unless it’s from Mrs. M. Many years ago, when I moved to the USA, I began supporting a few charities that were close to my heart. As the years went by, I have added more charities to my list, because the requests for monetary help from new charities are daily and never ending. Most of those “letters” with the ubiquitous presence of a sad looking child or elderly person on the cover have created a Pavlovian effect in my psyche prompting me to send a check. I guess they know what they’re doing. It reminds me of when I’m at the mall having an ice blended coffee, and I see one of the food retailers giving away samples of their product. By some sort of unexplainable reason, one teenager tries a sample, and a few seconds later every teen in the mall is there finishing up the samples faster than you can say “free food”. How does that happen? How do they tell all the other teens in the mall about the free samples? If you have an answer, please let me know.
I hope that some of you have had the pleasure of getting a letter in the mail from a loved one. There is something unique about hand writing a letter, affixing a stamp, and sending thoughts to someone dear to you. If you don’t get a letter this year, then write a letter to yourself. You won’t have to deal with a rejection.
I welcome your comments,
Antonio Castillo de la Gala
Just a couple of days ago, I was thrilled and excited to attend my son’s Swearing-In Ceremony to the State Bar of California. While waiting for the ceremony to begin, my mind started recollecting the many joys of being a father.
I remembered his first graduation from Kindergarten, and subsequent graduations from elementary and high school. In the U.S., it is a bit confusing for me with all those names, but I never missed any of those important occasions in his life. After he graduated from Pepperdine University in 2000 with a BA in Advertising and a minor in Intercultural Studies, I thought then that it would be his last school function that I would be attending. In between, he participated in many summer and Christmas concerts/plays, and I volunteered to play piano for them. The experience of performing and being on stage with my son was wonderful. Those were incredible and fun times.
Growing up, he had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. He adores animals, and animals relate to him in an uncanny and gentle way. I remember how thrilled he was when I took him to Sea World in San Diego. I had a friend who worked there, and my son was invited into their office where he surprised the marine biologists with his knowledge of the different types of whales that he was describing on a big poster on the wall. (He was also very knowledgeable about dinosaurs and other animals.) Afterwards, he was invited to enter the penguin exhibit to pet the penguins while I watched him from the outside. He was so happy; it was priceless.
Because of my love for tennis, I introduced the sport to him at a young age, and he became very good at it. I never missed a tournament or any of his matches. I took him to tennis camps and plenty of private lessons. He even took a few lessons from Alex Olmedo, a 1959 Wimbledon Champion, at The Beverly Hills Hotel. For a while, he thought about becoming a professional tennis player while going to school. We used to play together quite often, until he became too good for me to handle. He is still much, much better than me, and I practically play every day!
I was surprised when he told me that he wanted to be an attorney, because that career was never on the radar of our conversations. I realize now that law is his passion. I used to tell him, “Find a job that you love and then it won’t feel like a job, and you’ll be a happy man.”
While waiting for the ceremony to begin, my mind went to so many special places and occasions that we have shared throughout the years. Too many to mention here; it would require probably a book to enumerate them, but a few are now present in my mind. We both love baseball, so I used to take him to see the Dodgers quite often. A highlight of those days was our first and only World Series game at Dodger Stadium in 1988. We had amazing front row seats where you practically could touch the players! The seats were compliments of a guest of the Beverly Hills Hotel (where I was performing those days) who had heard me say how much I would have loved to take my boy to the game, but it was sold out and I would not have been able to afford the tickets. The incredibly generous guest paid $1000 dollars for those amazing seats! We watched the Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics in a great game.
A true rarity in baseball is to watch a perfect game. In the modern era, out of the millions of games played, I understand that there have only been 18 perfect games. We were at Dodger Stadium on July 28, 1991 and we had the tremendous thrill of watching Dennis Martinez throw a perfect game against the Dodgers. That was a game to remember forever.
In 1984, the XXIII Olympiads came to Los Angeles. I had played at a couple of functions for a bank, and they gave me some tickets, so my son and I were able to attend our first Olympic games. We were also at the Closing Ceremony on August 12th. This was another page in a wonderful mental book of memories. When the games returned to the USA in 1996 in Atlanta, I wanted to take my son but I couldn’t afford it. Playing the piano gave me plenty of satisfaction and joy, but not a lot of money. But Fate smiled upon us, because I had heard about a contest on a local radio station. Guess what? Yes, I won and I took my son to see the Games in Atlanta.
Since childhood, I enjoyed challenging his mind with problems of logic or as some people call it, lateral thinking. My father did the same with me. With time, my son enjoyed those games, and he became better than me. I always thought that my love of books, classical music and mental games would help to develop his intelligence and his abilities to think outside the box. I taught him how to play chess, and he became very good at it. I took him to the swimming pool when he was a toddler; in no time, he swam better than me. Maybe all those mental challenging games were a small contributor to his intellectual capacities. He is a member of American Mensa.
Since he was a little boy, I took him to many concerts at the Music Center. We saw the Los Angeles Philharmonic quite often and attended many Broadway shows. We had the pleasure to see Luciano Pavarotti live at the Hollywood Bowl; it was another unforgettable evening. I was always trying to provide him with as many tools as possible, so he could have a better life. My father used to tell me, “You are the architect of your own destiny.” I shared the same words to my son when he was small.
As I watched him being sworn in to the U.S. District Court, Central District of California and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, I was very, very proud of him. His wife Brianna was and is a great help and cheerleader of his efforts, and maybe my influence and conversations while he was growing up were a tiny contribution to his development as a man, but he should take full credit for his efforts and determination. He studied countless hours, got up every day for school, and went through the grueling task of taking the bar. He determined his own destiny and again, all the credit goes to him.
I am very proud of my son! He surpassed me in practically everything that I thought him: tennis, swimming, logical thinking, etc. Well, the only little edge I have left against him is that I can still beat him in chess, but I have the feeling that that won’t last for long. As I am approaching the final stretch of my life, he is just starting the most exciting years of his, so he is becoming better and stronger in every possible way. The Swearing-In ceremony was perhaps the last school function that I will attend for my son, but I’m hoping for many more celebrations of our lives.
There is no other father more proud of his son than me.
Antonio Castillo de la Gala
Why am I going to Blog? I think is a legitimate question on a time when everybody and their mother is connected and broadcasting through their Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. My reasons are simple; I want to talk about my American Experience.
I was born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico. After I graduated from the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City as a Concert Pianist, I moved to the United States. The cultural, political, social and economical differences are very interesting to me. One of my first goals in this country was to have a complete (or as much as possible) control of the language. I believe that in order to become part of the fabric of a nation, to understand the idiosyncrasy, the humor, the social structure and in other words, be part of a complete integrated life of a country, you have to be able to read, communicate and interact in their native language.
My mother language was, obviously, Spanish. At the Conservatory, I studied French and German. Because of my work as a pianist for opera singers, opera companies and voice teachers at the Conservator, and in private practice, Italian became very familiar to me. I think it is a close “cousin” to Spanish. English became the last language that I learned. Today, I’m comfortable communicating in Spanish, English and French. I have basic knowledge of German, Italian and Japanese. There is a moment when you study a language and everything just “clicks.” That moment happened to me when I saw shows and concerts by Robin Williams, Don Rickles and Bill Cosby. When I saw Woody Allen films, they made sense and were very funny. Johnny Carson was a staple of my television favorite shows, and everything was clear. I didn’t have to first translate in my head and then laugh about it. At that moment, I knew I had arrived at the promise land of understanding a language. Reading between the lines and understanding the political humor was achieved after countless newspapers, magazines, and books, one my great passions in life. Mr. Webster’s Dictionary was my constant companion.
I hope that my blogs will be sometime funny, provocative, and interesting. I believe I’m a personification of the American Dream. Whether you’re listening to my piano, reading my Blogs, Twitter, or my sometimes silly comments on Facebook, I hope that I will not bore you. In his wonderful and witty definition of a bore, Oscar Wilde wrote, “A man who is never unintentionally rude.” I’ll try very hard never be that man.
This is my introduction to you. I welcome your comments.
Antonio Castillo de la Gala