"It's like running in the Olympics with a broken shoestring," explained Charles Crowder, music director for the Phillips Collection's Sunday afternoon recital series. "You can't think about anything else."

Though it happens to string players fairly often, pianists rarely have to deal with the problem of a broken string. It happened to Jerusalem-born Natan Brand a few weeks ago on the first piece in his Washington debut recital at the Phillips. Contrary to the dramatic scenario of such movies as "The Competition," in which the player breaks off, Brand kept on going.

Crowder, who said it was the first time in over 20 years such an accident had occurred, rushed backstage as soon as the work was over to offer Brand the option of canceling the concert. Brand decided to continue. The sound difference made by the loss of one string out of the dozens on the piano is barely perceptible to the average listener. Brand did, however, agree with Crowder that a return engagement was advisable for the taping of the program, which will then be broadcast by WETA-FM and other public radio stations around the country.

When Brand appears again at the Phillips today at 5 p.m., he need have little fear that another string will break. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place -- or does it?