It was one of those days as a volunteer pianist when I wasn’t sure anyone had noticed I was there. I didn’t expect my audience’s undivided attention. After all, I was playing background music during lunch. I knew there’d be talking and scraping chairs and clattering dishes around me. I’m learning to accept that.
Still, I was caught off-guard when a half-dozen dining room servers gathered around a table and suddenly launched into a chorus of “Happy Birthday”—while I was a few yards away playing “Blue Moon.” It reminded me of another incident a couple of years ago at the same assisted living facility, when I competed with a musical Christmas tree.
Playing the piano in the midst of other activities is a job that allows little room for ego. Robin Meloy Goldsby is a professional pianist-in-the-background. She’s also a composer and author.
Her 2005 book, Piano Girl—A Memoir: Lessons in Life, Music and the Perfect Blue Hawaiian, is described on her website as “the story of one woman’s accidental career as a cocktail-lounge piano player.” Her early gigs in rundown bars and motels eventually led to work in five-star New York City hotels, then castles in Germany, where she now lives. Along the way, Goldsby discovered that being ignored was—and largely still is—simply part of the job. A sense of humor is required.
Piano Girl received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and I agree with their recommendation. It’s one of my favorite books. In 2011, Goldsby followed up with Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl. In it, she refers to the success of her earlier memoir this way:
“America is indeed a great country—perhaps the only place in the world where a person can write a book about being ignored, and everyone pays attention.”
The comedy in Goldsby’s writing often comes from that feeling of being disregarded as a pianist. Here’s part of one of the stories she tells in Waltz of the Asparagus People, when she has been hired to play at a wedding reception:
A bridesmaid approaches the piano. “Can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?” she asks.
“Downstairs,” I say.
“Oh! Are you the piano lady? Can you play the theme from Titanic for me?
“Actually, I’m finished playing for this evening.”
“But you can’t stop! I just got here.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll be glad to play Titanic for you.” I sit back down at the piano, start the piece, and she leaves to go to the ladies room.
Goldsby decides, That’s enough music for me tonight. I understand.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.