There are, give or take, 39,000 residents of Cape Girardeau. Last Sunday afternoon nearly 200 of them were comfortably seated in the newly expanded and remodeled reception area at Chateau Girardeau for something so special that you have to feel a little sorry for the 38,800 folks who weren't there.
John Shelton, a retired Southeast Missouri State University faculty member -- he taught piano -- celebrated his 80th birthday anniversary by throwing what could only be called one of the classiest parties ever. It was more than an hour and a half of splendid piano pieces played by John himself and featuring a few of the many talented musicians who make our fair city a cultural stronghold. There were singers too, and a trumpet virtuoso, and some of the talented members of John's family who were on had to make it a special day indeed.
John called this musical extravaganza "Eighty on the Eighty-Eights," a fitting label for a concert featuring the 80-year-old guest of honor and the 88 black and white keys of the ivory baby grand in the Chateau lobby.
This was John's program, you could tell, because it was meticulously and painstakingly planned by a master of detail. It opened with a two-piano duo featuring John and one of his prize former pupils, the well-known Beverly Reece. Together their fingers wove a fantasy of a Bach classic.
John showed he still knows his way around the keyboard with a three-piece suite of Brahms selections and, later, another three pieces by Chopin. They were all marvelous.
And there was fun too. Trumpet maestro Marc Fulgham and his wife, Rebecca, on the piano delighted everyone with some Tony Plog takes on Ogden Nash poetry, the kind of poetry that rhymes and makes you laugh.
The husband-wife duet of tenor Chris Goeke and soprano Lori Shaffer filled the room with their outstanding voices. John, daughter Elizabeth, Goeke and Shaefer cracked up everyone with their version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Put that on YouTube and see what happens.
Finally, the amazing afternoon had to come to a conclusion, and John and Beverly touched every key on their two pianos with "Scaramouche Suite for Two Pianos" by Darius Milhaud. It is a complicated splash of notes that looks like the composer was having trouble with his leaky fountain pen, but the two pianists pulled it off with aplomb.
Thank you, John, for doing this, for inviting the whole town and for sharing a touching glimpse of life at the Shelton home.
But here's the deal: You have set the bar so high for elegant birthday parties that we may have to wait for your 90th birthday anniversary before we again hear or see anything so splendid. Think big, John. Have your next party at the River Campus. In the big performance hall. Or else the Chateau is going to have to expand again.
Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.