One summer in college, Robin Meloy Goldsby takes a waitressing job in Nantucket, far from her hometown of Pittsburgh. She misses her piano. She wanders into the Club Car, a famous old restaurant, asks the manager whether she might practice on his piano in the mornings, and leaves with a gig playing five nights a week. One problem: she knows only twelve songs, eleven of them by Bach.
So begins Robin Meloy Goldsby’s enchanting and laugh-out-loud funny memoir, Piano Girl, my Selection of the Month for July. Piano Girl is literary chick-lit in which the piano has a starring role. (It’s equal in caliber to one of my favorites that has nothing to do with the piano, Super in the City, by Daphne Ulliver). For students of adult piano lessons, Piano Girl is difficult to surpass for a good read on the beach this summer.
As the book gets underway, Goldsby’s story veers away from classical piano music to jazz and pop and eventually even to her own compositions as her career develops as a cocktail pianist. Yet in her passion for playing the piano, I recognized a kindred spirit. From the time that she takes her first piano lesson in elementary school all the way through performing in exclusive chateaus in Europe, the piano is her most constant companion.
The book does not swim too deep into her private life. Goldsby does not spend much time exploring, for example, her failed, first marriage. What keeps the reader captivated is the question of which scrape Goldsby will need to extricate herself from next, from an ill-conceived audition for the circus; to surviving several golf cart accidents on a luxury island; to handling inebriated customers while playing a Yamaha Grand in Manhattan’s Marriott Marquis hotel.
In addition to the book’s zesty action, Goldsby’s voice entrances with its dauntless, confiding, and honest tone. “I’ve traveled a long way from the Nantucket Club Car,” she writes in the Introduction, “but basically the scene is the same. Fancier clothes, slightly better piano, same ratio of lunatics to normal people. I play. . .I feel peaceful, exhilarated, and sure that I’ve chosen the right profession. It’s almost a magical feeling, and I allow it to sweep me away.”
After I finished Piano Girl, words from Fred Rogers–the star of his eponymous children’s television show and a family friend in Pittsburgh–lingered for me. Mr. Rogers once said to Robin after he heard her perform: “You make people feel good with your music. What a wonderful feeling that must be for you, Robin. Isn’t the piano a marvelous thing?”
Robin Meloy Goldsby, who has released five CDs, many of the songs her own renditions of piano classics, is a Steinway Artist. In addition to Piano Girl, she has published Rhythm, a novel, and Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl.
The soundtrack in this video, Pachelbel Canon in D: Variations on a Theme, is from her newest album, “Songs from the Castle.” Schlosshotel Lerbach is a castle in Germany where Robin performs.