Carnegie Hall - Dec. 7, 1941

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That afternoon in New York City, the crowd of well-heeled theatergoers filed into the great hall that Andrew Carnegie built in 1891. Finally, all the small noises of an audience settling into place died down.

In the total silence that followed, the world’s foremost pianist entered stage left. Arthur Rubenstein, with his crown of shocking white hair, was a little fellow, but when he sat down at that Steinway concert grand, it must have quavered before his very touch. He was the acknowledged master of the keyboard.

The concert proceeded with Maestro Rubenstein’s usual fiery approach. But midway through a piece by Chopin, the director of Carnegie Hall walked onto the stage and tapped Rubenstein on the shoulder and asked him to stop the performance. One can only imagine the courage the director must have had to do such a thing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have an important announcement to make. The president of the United States has just reported on the radio that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!”

This news was like a bomb dropped into the crowd. Everyone began to cry out and it seemed as though there might be a riot.

But never let it be said that Arthur Rubenstein lacked ingenuity. He turned back to the keyboard and began to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” with all the verve that he would have applied to Chopin.

The sound of the national anthem electrified the audience and they all stood up and began to sing, with tears in their eyes and fear in their hearts, that marvelous old song that unifies all Americans.

This story was told to me by Gino Francesconi, archivist at Carnegie Hall.

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